Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose began rehabilitation work Saturday, just one day after undergoing surgery to remove the damaged portion of the torn medial meniscus in his right knee, and is reportedly fully on-board with the Bulls' stated timeline of a four-to-six-week recovery period that would allow the former NBA Most Valuable Player to return to the court before the end of the regular season.
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The 26-year-old guard, who has now gone under the knife for surgical repair to his knees three times in the last 34 months, "displayed full confidence he will return to action this season" as he began post-meniscectomy rehab work at the Bulls' practice facility, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:
Though Rose won't address the media formally for a while, he roamed the Advocate Center hallways in good spirits, walking fine, openly vowing to overcome his latest setback to play down this season's stretch. [...]
"He'll get past this hurdle," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He has made it through two tough rehabs. This one will be much shorter, and he'll get back to being who he is." [...]
"When you're off the amount of time he has been off, there are going to be ups and downs," Thibodeau said. "Right before the [All-Star] break, he was finally getting into a real good rhythm. I think he's confident he'll get back to that. It may take a little bit of time. Obviously, he won't be playing the same amount of minutes when he does come back. But he knows he can get there. And that's the most important thing."
It's worth noting here that, as ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell reports, Thibodeau described the Bulls' feeling on Rose's recovery as "cautiously optimistic," and that Rose starting his rehab work on Saturday represents only "the initial steps" toward a full on-court return that would see the former No. 1 overall draft pick available to participate in postseason play for the first time since the opening game of the 2012 playoffs. Given all the setbacks and stumbling blocks that Rose has faced over the past three years — all the times the Bulls and their fans have seen their hopes for a fully-operational-once-again Rose dashed, leaving Chicago without the offensive firepower to stand toe-to-toe with elite competition in late April and May — "caution" seems both an appropriate practical response and a reasonable emotional hedge.
Still, given the specific difference between this surgical procedure and the first two Rose experienced — the ACL tear was orders of magnitude more serious, and its recovery significantly longer-lasting, than the meniscus injury, and removal of the damaged piece of the meniscus carries a far shorter recovery time than attempting to repair it — and the fact that the procedure was "minor" enough to allow Rose to leave the hospital on his own two feet, it does seem like there's more cause to feel positive about his short-term possibilities than there's been before.
Plus, if Rose is indeed on the same page as the Bulls about his prescribed rehabilitation program and return timetable, then perhaps the potential skirmish that some of us have feared — with the Bulls deeming Rose fit to return to the floor, but Rose declining to do so until he feels "110 percent" healthy, as was the case late in the 2012-13 season — won't materialize after all. Where there has, in the past, been whisper-fueled tension, perhaps this time — with Rose better understanding and more comfortably undertaking the task before him with a pair of rehabs already under his belt — there will only be a uniform effort, all parties pulling in the same direction toward the hoped-for outcome of a healthy Rose able to return to game action with somewhere between three and nine contests left before the start of the playoffs.
If Rose — whose play this season was at best uneven prior to reinjuring his knee — can return to full health and rediscover enough rhythm during the balance of the regular season to look somewhat like the man who led a blowout of the Cleveland Cavaliers just before the All-Star break, he can give Chicago the sort of attention-demanding, defense-shifting, shot-creating playmaking force that has been largely absent during the Bulls' past two playoff appearances. Even if he's more akin to the often-underwhelming-but-still-capable-of-moments-of-explosiveness triggerman he was for most of the first four months of the season, he'd still offer Thibodeau more spice and spark than backups Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich. As such, Rose represents perhaps the Eastern Conference's greatest X-factor; a Bulls team without him feels like a tough out that will still exit before the NBA's final four yet again, while a Chicago crew with him retains a puncher's chance of reaching the Finals for the first time since Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson left town.
We're still quite a while away from finding out which path this postseason will take, but for the time being, it's heartening to hear that Rose himself seems as confident that he'll be able to impact that outcome as his team's front office does:
Something would have to go very unexpectedly wrong during Rose's rehab for him not to play for Bulls this season.
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) February 28, 2015
Here's hoping that, this time around, the other shoe never actually drops.
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