It's time for Derrick Rose to return...
Ravaged by injury, the Chicago Bulls have given Deron Williams and the Nets a chance to climb back into their first-round affair, as the series shifts to the United Center for game 6 tonight. Tom Thibodeau's proud bunch heads home with a 3-2 lead, but reinforcements would surely help.
Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of the day that froze time in Chicago, when reigning MVP Derrick Rose tore his ACL in the final minutes of the Bulls' Game 1 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of last year's playoffs.
Through the entire ordeal the organization has supported their golden jewel. The players and coaches have said the rights things all along: that it’s up to him and that if he doesn’t feel comfortable coming back this season they’ll take their shot with him next year.
At this point Rose is outside the 8-12 month timetable doctors originally projected and no one thought he'd sit out this long. Yet here we are with a crucial game six upcoming and a chance to move on and face the Miami Heat, yet nothing has changed.
Surely, it's no easy task coming back from a torn ACL and it's hard to question Rose's dedication. In last year's lock-out shortened season he was plagued by a number of injuries such as a bad back, turf toe and a stiff neck. He missed only a few games and he's as tough as they come. But the reality is doctors have been telling him to play for almost two months now.
The 24-year old started taking full contact in practice on Jan. 31 and on March 9 ESPN Chicago reported doctors cleared him to return to games. The team still remains very much open to the idea of his return and the understanding is that it's just a matter of him waking up one morning and telling coach Thibodeau he's ready to play.
He's been seen performing drills during shoot-around for weeks, even throwing it down off his left foot now without a problem. He's apparently been dominating practices for months, participating in 5-5 scrimmages since Feb. 18. But even as his team desperately needs him, or any point-guard for that matter, he continues to watch in a suit and tie.
The question now is, if the Bulls do make it past the Nets and meet the Heat in the second round, is he going to continue to watch? Say they advance and he does, it will be a PR nightmare and he will be blasted by media. People will point to that in a 361 day span after tearing his ACL Vikings running-back Adrian Peterson amassed 1,898 yards rushing, and Knicks guard Iman Shumpert tore his ACL on the same day as Rose and has been playing since January 17th.
The Bulls should be very good next season with Rose back in the fold and people will quickly forget about this saga once he returns to form. However, it's not about next season, as the Bulls are right in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference.
Thibodeau's resilient group grinded through the regular season, finishing 45-37 despite missing Rose and other significant pieces throughout the year. There's no better NBA coach at taking lemons and making lemonade, but the magic can only last so long.
On Monday during their 110-91 loss in Brooklyn, the team was without Kirk Hinrich, who was in a walking boot and Nate Robinson was forced to start and log a season high 44 minutes. Rookie Marcus Teague was the back-up point-guard and TNT commentator Steve Kerr confessed that even he thinks it's time for Rose to return.
"I think where the Bulls are now with this series with Kirk Hinrich struggling with the calf injury -- if Derrick is OK and there's no threat to further injury, I think he's got to play. He has to put himself out there for 15-20 minutes," the 5-time Champion said.
"Look at what Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich are putting themselves through with their injuries. I think it's time for Derrick ... maybe he owes it to his teammates I guess that's what I'm saying."
His teammates have done all they could possibly do to convince Rose to rejoin them in the trenches. They snapped Miami's 27 game-winning streak and the Knicks 13-game run a few weeks back. On Saturday down 14 with under three minutes left to play they stormed back from the dead and took the series lead. Over the last few days Rose has watched Hinrich play through injury and Noah play with plantar fasciitis, meaning that every step he takes probably makes him want to vomit from pain.
The Bulls have proved that with or without Rose that they wouldn't be going down without a fight. They are a fearless bunch, but they could certainly use they fearless leader back as the fun is just getting started.
Steve Simineri covers the NBA (Knicks) for WFUV Sports.