After Derrick Rose’s injury last season, many fans called for the team to retool so that it could contend immediately once he returned.
For the most part, the Bulls did retool. They added three serviceable point guards in Nate Robinson, Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague, along with the shooting guard they had been looking for in Marco Belinelli.
All of this was fine except for one major fact – Rose never played a minute in 2013.
This might be old news, but with the Bulls’ season finally over, Rose’s injury stings just as much as it did when he went down in Game 3 against the 76ers last year.
What was supposed to be a triumphant return ended up being a disappointment that left fans rightfully angry.
It didn’t help with all the media attention that was brought to Rose’s situation, particularly in the playoffs. Having stolen the first game in Miami, the writing was on the wall for Rose to return to the United Center and make an impact for Game 3. The storyline was so perfect that some could have seen it as a distraction.
However, don’t blame the media for the letdown of Rose not playing. The Bulls, and more importantly Rose himself, never ruled him out officially for the series. Leading up to Game 1 against the Heat, Rose described his status to a pool of reporters as “still up in the air. I might have a chance.”
Rose’s decision to sit out the entire 2012-2013 campaign was based on the fact he wasn’t mentally prepared to see full game action. He had been practicing 5-on-5 since March with his teammates, but never felt like the explosive Derrick Rose of old.
It’s a hard predicament to judge him for. What if Rose returned less than confident and he injured himself again? Rose’s teammates and his fellow NBA players aren’t judging Rose for not playing, so why should fans?
Then again, during Rose’s recovery the world saw Adrian Peterson recover from an ACL tear and rush for over 2,000 yards. In the NBA, Iman Shumpert, who tore his ACL the same day as Rose, returned and helped the Knicks during their recent playoff run.
What’s more frustrating is that in the meantime, the Bulls battled through injuries themselves. Joakim Noah fought throughout the playoffs with planter fasciitis in his foot. Luol Deng was battling flu-like symptoms until they worsened, causing him to miss the entire Heat series because of complications from a spinal tap. Hinrich missed the Heat series with a sore hip. Even Nate Robinson and Taj Gibson dealt with the flu in the Nets series, but willed themselves to play.
Coach Tom Thibodeau got the best out of what he had available, using brilliant defensive schemes and instilling a mental toughness in his team. Rose never displayed that toughness at any point in the whole process.
Rose let his team down, whether his teammates want to admit it or not. He let his city down. Perhaps the most cynical part of this are the comments that Reggie Rose, Rose’s brother, made to ESPN Chicago in February.
“It’s frustrating to see my brother play his heart and soul out for the team and them not put anything around him,” said Rose. “What pieces have you put together for a physical playoffs?”
While Derrick didn’t agree with his brother publicly, the damage was already done. Throughout this whole saga, one can’t help but wonder if Rose would have been more eager to return if the Bulls had a player the caliber of Lebron James or Dwyane Wade.
We’ve seen the commercial that Adidas put out once Rose began his rehab, a campaign that utilized that now-legendary Twitter hashtag, #TheReturn. It begins with the Kevin Harlan dialogue of Rose going down, then a quick transition to Rose holding his knee, fans devastated. We get footage of Rose going through physical therapy, while the city stops for him.
The music builds. Soon, it changes to clapping and we see Rose, in a Bulls uniform, ready to walk through that tunnel. The commercial ends with “All in for D-Rose #thereturn.”
Chicago is done waiting.