This week in 'The Return': Derrick Rose runs! Derrick Rose dunks! Derrick Rose might be closer to getting back on the practice floor! And through it all, Chicago fights off a general sense of uneasiness, something that starts to resemble a mild anxiety attack with every lightly-sourced update on the health of Chicago's pride and joy.
There's a reason for this, and it's because Chicago cares deeply about Rose and because Rose cares deeply about Chicago. It's the type of romanticizing I'd usually be ready to wave a finger at, to dismiss entirely because it's all a business with lots of money and too many handlers involved. But the sentiment -- Chicago cares, Rose cares -- doesn't feel haughty or like some sort of ethical breach in this exact scenario, because we all realized long ago that Derrick Rose is too good to be true. There's a saying about things like that and how they usually end, but Rose seems to overcome all of it. He is as genuine and likable as a superstar can possibly be; he is a transcendent figure to the local poverty-stricken youth, the rare mega-celebrity they can relate to on a unique level. This is why the return of Derrick Rose matters so much and why everyone gets so nervous when it's talked about.
We all want Rose back and heaven knows the Bulls desperately need him. The Bulls without Rose are a car with a flat tire. Sure, it'll move and get you from one place to the next, but the ride will be bumpy and you'll have to watch your speed. With Rose, the Bulls are super-charged, eminently watchable and capable of inspiration at any moment. Without him, the Bulls are a chore: not really all that enjoyable, something you do out of duty more than anything else. Maybe it will build character? The day Derrick Rose returns to the court will truly be one of the happiest days in recent Chicago sports fandom, but it will also be one of the scariest. Again: it's because Chicago cares.
The Doomsday Scenario here is clear as day and scary as hell. Rose is as competitive as they come and surely wants to be back on the court as soon as humanly possible. The Bulls and their brilliant head coach have a long history of recklessness when it comes to player safety. That the team will likely be clawing for a playoff spot during the exact time Rose is entertaining the possibility of coming back makes it all even more frightening. Rose and the Bulls cannot screw this up. They can't rush him back too early; they can't risk another injury. It would be too devastating to the franchise and the city.
But who's to say what date would amount to 'too soon'? Who's to say how Rose's body will recuperate? Who's to say Rose doesn't know his own body best?
This is why it's all so scary. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson tore his ACL on Christmas Eve of last year, the last second-to-last game of the season. He was back for Week 1 of this season, nine months later, and he's just as good as he's ever been. Peterson found the end zone twice in that first game back, and it only set the tone for what's been a brilliant season: he's the NFL's leading rusher by more than 300 yards, he has six more runs of 20+ yards than any other player and he's fourth in rushing touchdowns. It's been amazing to witness. He's even offered some advice for Rose, namely: 'attack' rehab.
Cue that same sense of dread. Different bodies, different sports. Rose and Peterson each rely on the ability to make quick-cuts; each require their top-end speed to overwhelm the opposition. But Peterson doesn't start and stop without a break in action the way Rose does. He doesn't have to jump. One plays on grass or turf, the other on hardwood. You want to take solace in Peterson's spellbinding return, you want to believe his advice to Rose will only help, not hurt. But it's scary. All of it is.
Ric Bucher dropped a Twitter report on Wednesday that flew in the face of the more optimistic reports that surfaced this week. It was a sobering but necessary reminder of exactly what's at stake here:
He's not anywhere close to practicing or playing. There are those in his camp who don't think he should play at all this season...
But any suggestions that he could come back before March, from what I'm told, is filling the fan base and everyone else with unrealistic hope that a championship run is still in the equation. This season will be worthwhile if, and only if, it convinces management not to exploit Rose's talent, refusal to complain and never-say-die attitude and accept that what they have around him right now is not enough.
And there's the final layer: ownership's general disinterest in the team and their refusal to play like the big market bully they could and should be. Derrick Rose is better than the current mess the Bulls call a roster, but he's also single-handedly capable of turning an average team into a very good one. But please, don't rush back. The stakes are too high, the risk is too great. Perhaps those that want Rose to sit the entire season are being overly cautious. Those that think he could be back on Christmas, or something, are likely lunatics. Truth is, no one knows how Rose has responded to rehab and when he'll be ready. We can only trust Rose and his people to make the right call. They better. Chicago's counting on it.