It’s the moment that hurt more for Bulls fans than any other in recent memory. No, not watching an impressive 1-0 lead slip through stunned fingers in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat. No, not wincing whenever the 2009 Cinderella Bulls got clotheslined by the Celtics in what proved to be one of the most grueling playoff series of the last ten years. And, no, not watching Tyrus Thomas crash and burn over a 4-year span.
After battling an injury-plagued year, Derrick Rose and the Bulls seemed primed to get revenge on the 2011 Heat just a year later. Rose was still the reigning MVP, the Bulls had managed to secure the first seed in the East, and the team still brandished a height advantage that could easily be the Heat’s downfall. But then, with 1:10 to go in the opening game of the playoffs, played against a Philadelphia 76ers team that were going to need a miracle to win the series, the collective spirit of the Windy City tore louder than any ACL ever could. As we all know, the 76ers went on to advance past the Bulls, who were without Rose (and Noah).
Some cynics would say that LeBron James got his first championship in the year D. Rose was injured.
The former MVP has been seen for some time traveling with the Bulls squad, and since the beginning of January has been involved in “predictable contact” in team practices. Bulls management, along with Tom Thibodeau, have been incredibly tight-lipped about Rose’s return, which isn’t wholly surprising. Rose might be on the brink of one of the NBA’s most anticipated comebacks, and given his inherent passion to excel beyond measure, the Bulls’ front office is worried about risking a hasty return. Ricky Rubio, for example, experienced a similar injury and has been plagued by back spasms on his return, possibly because he’s overcompensated for his knee, says coach Rick Adelman.
It remains unclear if the speedy All-Star has yet been cleared for full contact practice, after announcements were made last Tuesday that Rose was nearing that stage. But the ubiquitous prediction is that the Chicago native will make his league appearance sometime after the All-Star break, or around February 17. The league will be better for it when he steps back on the hardwood.
But a weight heavier than all the “what could have beens” of last year’s playoffs still looms over Chitown: what version of Derrick Rose can we expect to get back?