The highlight of Tuesday night’s Pacers-Knicks Game 2 was undoubtedly Iman Shumpert’s thunderous put-back dunk. While the monstrous throw-down had the immediate effect of pumping up the MSG faithful, and acting as a catalyst for a much improved Knicks performance, it also put the spotlight straight back on Derrick Rose—not that it had been off him for very long. The fact that Shumpert, who tore his ACL on the same day as Rose, was able to exhibit such explosive power and athleticism, was seen by some as another indictment on Rose’s unwillingness to suit up and play—hey if he can do it, why can’t you?
Whether or not Rose plays this season has been the dominant NBA storyline for the past few months. He’s been cleared to play by team doctors, warmed up with the team prior to games, and has participated in full-contact scrimmages for months now. But still, he doesn’t feel ready to return. Rose has stated repeatedly that he won’t return until he feels 110 percent—until he fully recovers the muscle memory in his left knee. All perfectly rational.
When Rose tore his ACL last April the worry among many was that, given his hypercompetitive nature, he would try and return too soon and run the risk of reinjuring his knee. The idea of him taking the whole season off wasn’t offensive to anyone, in-fact, it seemed like the sensible idea. Since that point, however, Adrian Peterson won the MVP and almost broke the single-season rushing record, Shumpert returned, and David Lee came back—albeit briefly—after tearing his hip flexor. None of this, however, should have anything to do with Rose returning. His knee isn’t Shumpert’s knee, nor is it Peterson’s, but the success stories of others have contributed to a growing public perception that Rose is somehow cheating his team.
That notion is ridiculous and unfair. There’s nothing weak or irrational about a player wanting, not only to be psychically ready to return, but mentally ready too. Only Derrick Rose knows how his knee feels, and he’s the only one who can truly make an educated decision about when he should return. No player took more punishment over the last three years than Derrick Rose. No player since Allen Iverson has put his body through more. He’s earned the benefit of the doubt on this one. The Bulls, with or without Rose, aren’t winning a championship, or even getting past Miami, despite their valiant efforts thus far. It makes no difference to their overall chances this season whether he plays or not.
If Rose decides to sit out the season, then it’s probably the correct decision. His big mistake, however, has been his failure to end the ‘will he, wont he’ speculation by not coming out with a definitive answer regarding his status. If he’s not going to suit up for the playoffs he should just come out and say that’s he’s done for the year. The lack of a concrete statement probably reflects the fact that in his own mind he’s still not 100% sure that he isn’t coming back, but telling the media that he’s shutting his season down, wouldn’t prohibit him from making a U-turn and coming back later. What it would do is mercifully end the constant chatter and distraction in the short-run.
The Bulls aren’t blameless in this saga either. It’s hard to understand why the media were told that Rose was cleared to play when he was clearly not ready to return. They did the fans and Rose a disservice in that regard.
If Rose makes a shock return in these playoffs, then great, the playoffs will be better for his involvement. If he waits until next season, then that’s fine too. Again, he’s earned to right to come back on his own terms. But as long as there continues to be no definitive statement on his status—as long as he’s game-to-game, or his return is ‘up in the air’—the discontent among Bulls fans will continue to grow, and the focus will remain firmly on him and away from events taking place on the court.