NEW YORK – All around Derrick Rose, there are these unforgettable images of the way the Chicago Bulls willed themselves into the path of the Miami Heat. All around Rose, there's blood, puke and voices screaming in pain. All around him, these are the reasons for him to tell the truth now.
All around Rose, there's Joakim Noah dragging one good leg across seven games and Nate Robinson heaving into a bucket. All around Rose, there's Kirk Hinrich in a walking boot and Luol Deng fighting to get out of a hospital room and onto the team charter flight.
All around Rose, his teammates are the most inspiring, spectacular substance in the sport now. These Bulls beat the Brooklyn Nets99-93 in Game 7 on Saturday night, and they reached to the ends of the roster, reached beyond reason.
For the good of his franchise and fans, for everyone's focus to be where it should belong now – Bulls-Heat, Game 1 on Monday – Rose needs to drop the illusion that his return in these playoffs remains a consideration.
"Who knows?" Rose told reporters hours on Saturday. "It's still up in the air."
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Who knows? Derrick Rose knows. His choice has been made to sit out the season and it includes no provisions for turning back, sources with direct knowledge told Yahoo! Sports.
Inside and outside of the organization, that isn't much of a revelation. After all, the surgery to repair the torn ACL in his left knee was May 12, 2012. Doctors cleared him to start scrimmaging with the team in mid-February. After all that, he isn't walking out for the first time with LeBron James and the Miami Heat waiting to jump him.
Between Rose and the public, this has become a tiresome dance. His brother, Reggie, recently said Derrick could return in the second round. Only, Reggie's brother isn't returning in the conference semifinals, or the conference finals, or the NBA Finals. He is sitting out the season.
Of course, Derrick Rose could make everything easier and simply say so publicly. He refuses. So, Rose will still needlessly linger over this Heat-Bulls series.
Make no mistake: The issue shouldn't be Rose's unwillingness to play until he believes his reconstructed knee meets his standards, but rather this charade of refusing to rule out his return in these playoffs. He's done so much to construct a deserving, rightful image as a star who always puts team over self, who cares deeply about leading, winning and sacrifice. That's who Rose was with the Bulls – who he'll be when he plays again – but this has needlessly chipped away at that reality of himself.
Rose isn't creating false hope with coach Tom Thibodeau, nor the rest of his teammates. They've never sat around waiting on him this season, and none of them privately believe that he'll be back before next season. Nevertheless, Chicago fans have started to become more critical of Rose because they hear him publicly say a return is possible and they're holding on to hope.
The spectacular nature of the Bulls' injuries – and players' willingness to fight through them – have served to erode the benefit of the doubt that long accompanied Rose. It is too simplistic, but the question still looms: If they're all willing to try, why won't you?
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Rose is a son of Chicago and an NBA MVP. He has a $100 million playing contract, and $200 million shoe deal. With that comes the burden of expectation and criticism when doctors have cleared a player two months earlier and he still isn't on the floor.
To Rose's credit, he hasn't bristled over the growing chorus of public frustration. In fact, he's handled it the best way: Pretending he's unaware of it.
"That's my first time hearing about it," he said Saturday. "I barely turn on the TV."
He doesn't need a television to hear the static, but he could make it easier on everyone else – even himself – with a simple end of semantics. He isn't a day-to-day with these Bulls. He's planning on a full return to the NBA in the 2013-'14 training camp. Between now and the end of the Heat series, these Bulls deserve to be the story in Chicago. What they've done demands it.
Once more on Saturday, Rose hinted at the end-game of his comeback. "If I do take the whole year off and don't play anymore, I know I'm going to come back a better player," Rose said. "My body will be healed more."
All along, this has been Rose's belief. And all along, he has probably never planned to play for the Bulls this season. He wants to come back bigger and better than ever, come back with a lessened risk of re-injury, come back freer of doubt and possessing a revitalized disposition to dominate. Derrick Rose owes that to himself, his career.
For now, though, he owes this to everyone else: The truth about a decision that's been cemented, the truth that this remarkable Bulls run belongs to his teammates without a shadow, without the public specter of a savior who won't come back in these playoffs.
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