Nearly one year after suffering a horrific ACL tear, Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose has been cleared to return to the NBA. But after an offseason rehab campaign fueled by heavy media coverage, Rose still isn't ready to suit up for Chicago.
LeBron James and the Miami Heat are steamrolling competition as the Eastern Conference leaders, the Indiana Pacers control the NBA's Central Division – with Chicago a close second – and with every game that Rose misses, the window might be closing on a possible Finals appearance for the Bulls. However, the Bulls' faithful are still hopeful for a deep run in the Eastern conference playoffs with Rose at the helm but should the injured Bulls star bother to return this season?
Stephen D. Riley: Things are shaping up for a Heat/Pacers Eastern Conference finals this season. Rushing Rose back into action isn't going to do anything for Chicago except risk Rose re-aggravating his injury, which could hurt the Bulls for years to come.
You can't expect a guy fresh off an injury like that to return to MVP form just two months before the playoffs start. I don't even think Chicago has enough talent to compete with those two teams, or even the New York Knicks, even with Rose playing. The best strategy for them right now would be to play the season out, add a piece in free agency and bring Rose back naturally with a full offseason and training camp under his belt.
Perry Green: You're talking about a team that made the Eastern Finals in 2011 with Rose running the show, why wait until next season? We've already seen NFL running back Adrian Peterson nearly rush for 2,000 yards – and win the MVP award – coming off an ACL injury, and Rose is every bit as much an athlete as his gridiron counterpart.
This isn't like years past, where an ACL would require extensive rehab. If the doctors have cleared Rose, then it's time for him to step on the hardwood. Miami and Indiana are both talented, but nobody plays defense like Chicago and nobody has a game-changing point guard like Rose. I would give them every bit a chance to make it out of the East with Rose in the lineup.
SDR: Remember, Peterson started out slowly before eventually cranking it up for the second half of the season. Early on, he had to figure his knee out before fully trusting it. How ready would Rose be by the time playoffs started in late April? And how good would Chicago be?
Basketball is all about chemistry and you'd be asking them to topple teams that have pretty much played together all season. It's too much to ask a team to quickly gel in a month and a half around the return of a star player, one that's coming back from a major medical procedure on his knee.
PG: Throwing away a season, and simply handing an open road to the NBA Finals to someone else, because you feel your team won't gel in time to put up a significant fight is inexcusable. You're paid to compete and I don't see any competiveness in the franchise or the franchise player if Rose doesn't return this year.
I love Rose's game and fearlessness, but as the best player on a team full of veterans Rose owes it to those guys to not let them give away a season because he's not "mentally ready" to return. He doesn't even have to come back as the daredevil superstar he used to be – his mere presence alone would elevate the play of his teammates.
SDR: The thing about Chicago is that every contending team in the East – Miami, Indiana, New York and even Brooklyn – has added more firepower and superstar players, while Chicago has stood pat. Even Rose's return might only buy them an extra playoff game, or push them into the second round, until the more talented and cohesive teams start showing their true colors in the playoffs.
This isn't years ago when a healthy Rose was good for 60 wins and domination of the conference. The landscape has changed in the Eastern Conference. Both Rose and the Bulls need to understand this, and do what's smart and what's right for every party involved. Let Rose sit out the season and try to retool for a big run next year.
PG: Just because he hasn't played all year doesn't mean he won't fit right in with the team chemistry. The Knicks just signed veteran power forward Kenyon Martin after he hadn't played basketball for nearly a full season, and he's already making an impact for them. According to reports, Rose has been cleared to play, and he's only holding back until he can leap and dunk off his left foot like he did pre-injury.
With Rose's work ethic, it should only take another week or two before he's back to 100 percent. If anything, I say put him back into motion as soon as possible, especially if the rest of the East has improved as you claim. You say Chicago has no realistic chance of winning a championship this year. Well, if that's the case, let Rose play now and gain some meaningful playing time before heading into next season. The more reps he has with his team, the better off he can serve them in the future.
Remember, this is Rose's team. He's still the biggest star on the squad. If he's cleared to play, let him play and let the cards fall where they lay. You can never go wrong with playing a legitimate superstar.
(Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley wrote this column for the AFRO Sports Desk.)