By Peter Melling /// Sports Editor
After several false starts and publicity snafus, the long awaited return of Derrick Rose is approaching. The Chicago Bulls’ point guard and 2010-11 NBA MVP seems to have finally recovered from the ACL tear he sustained in 2012 and subsequent injuries during his recovery and aborted return last season. This series of injuries has kept him away from the game for the entirety of the 2012-13 season and most of the 2013-14 season (playing 10 games, averaging 15.9 points per game and 31.1 minutes per game). Now that he seems to be back, how has situation changed?
One of the most critical issues surrounding his back-to-back knee injuries is how it has affected his development as a player. If one were to ignore his ACL and meniscus injuries, his career resume would look outstanding. A #1 overall pick in 2008 (with a Rookie of the Year award to go along with it), an MVP winner by the time he was 22, three All-Star selections, and a bright future ahead of him if he kept this pace up. Unfortunately, his knee injuries took much of the momentum out of his rise. While most star players would spend their age 24 and 25 seasons honing their game and shifting away from the raw athletic style that Rose exhibited in his MVP season and throughout his career, Rose has spent most of the past two years rehabbing his knees. It would be easy to say that he has missed this important maturation and that his style of play would be too unpolished for a soon-to-be veteran player. His first comeback was not very promising either, as he averaged only 15.9 points and 4.3 assists per game and shot 35.4% in the 10 games he played before tearing his meniscus. It would only be natural to assume that he would be unable to return to his MVP-caliber days. However, reports on his development have been promising. He has started to compete again with Team USA (for the FIBA World Cup), and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau (an assistant on Team USA). The videos of Rose practicing bear a striking resemblance to the highlight reels from his MVP season, with all his raw athleticism further refined. It would seem that he has adapted to work with his less-than-ideal knees, and that he has been able to keep up with players of a similar age (like current MVP Kevin Durant, who Rose has played against in Team USA practices). Since his rehabilitation and first comeback, his style of play has not missed a beat in his development.
Despite positive developments in his rehabilitation, Rose still has to deal with the publicity mess left in the wake of his injuries. Since he first tore his ACL, Derrick Rose’s rehab has been one of the primary concerns for the Bulls organization and the national press. Just about every press agent and hopeful fan has leapt on teases of his return and medical reports. Probably the most infamous leak was a report that said that he had been “medically cleared” to play basketball by the time the 2013 playoffs started (after he missed the entirety of the 2012-13 regular season with his recovery). However, his media camp (Rose, his agent, and his family) went back and forth on whether or not he was ready/willing to play in the playoffs. Rose and his media camp found themselves in an impossible situation with this dilemma. If they had allowed him to play, he would have been risking further injury and probably would have been incredibly out-of-pace with the rest of the team. If Rose had refused to play, the media and fans would have blamed him for the Bulls’ playoff exit. Ultimately, Rose ran out of time to make a decision as the eventual champion Miami Heat eliminated the Bulls in the conference semi-finals.
What followed was a flood of negative press, from fans and the media demanding a real answer as to why Rose never made it onto the court to one fan suing Derrick Rose for making him fat due to stress eating (I really wish I made that last one up). This negativity was only furthered by Rose and his media camp’s lack of rapport with the press, as they tried to shield him from direct questions, gave vague answers to the press, and OK’ed his somewhat boastful claims about his rehabilitation before the 2013 season (which were quickly proven false by his performance). He came across as immature with his attitude towards the media and his team, and his reputation suffered as a result. Some even believe that his lack of presence hurt the Bulls in their attempts to lure free agents. In addition, less than credible sources fed off this negativity to spread rumors about his desire to leave the Bulls and a rift between him and management, both of which the Bulls debunked.
However, recent interactions with the media have shown him in a more positive light. He seems like he legitimately regrets making the boastful claims he made during the 2013 offseason, and that he wants to better his game in his return to the league. The vagueness about his condition is gone, which hopefully means his family is no longer controlling his media relations. Derrick Rose seems like his game has changed both physically and emotionally, making his re-integration into the NBA more thorough than it was the first time out.
Derrick Rose’s return could not have come at a better time either. The league has taken on many new shapes since Rose last played an NBA game. Lebron James has returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers as a free agent (and will most likely be bringing Kevin Love along with him), the Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards have risen from low-level teams to contenders, and the Indiana Pacers have lost their grip on the conference after Paul George’s graphic broken leg. The Bulls have been bust this offseason too, bringing in Pau Gasol from the Lakers and have drafted well by selecting Creighton’s Doug McDermott. The Chicago Bulls are in a prime position to seize a niche within the conference and provide a legitimate threat to the favorite Cavaliers, and the addition of Derrick Rose, now more mature, healthy, and media savvy will certainly help.