The signs are everywhere.
Chicago Bulls megastar Derrick Rose is closing on a return from the torn left ACL he suffered in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs. Coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters earlier in the week that Rose was "very close" to beginning full-contact practice (via nba.com).
There's an obvious desire to see the former MVP return to action, even with the Bulls (25-16) playing well in his absence. But there's no need to rush things.
Especially not if they watched how Minnesota Timberwolves star Ricky Rubio has lumbered through his own ACL recovery.
The second-year guard knew his journey back would be rough, but even he couldn't have imagined it unfolding like this.
His sophomore campaign has wreaked havoc on his career stats. Although he didn't find his way to the league because for his shooting ability, his 24.6 field-goal percentage is alarming. But perhaps not as much as his 4.0 turnovers per 36 minutes, not when his ball-handling and decision-making are supposed to be his bread and butter.
With Timberwolves players filling the trainers' room like analysts racing to claim the Timberwolves as their sleeper pick when the Rubio-Kevin Love duo first formed, it's hard to identify a low point over the club's 17-22 start.
At least, it was tough before the Timberwolves hosted the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 23.
It wasn't the result that was so disheartening to see (seven losses in eight games have given defeats an uncomfortable familiarity), but rather how the team operated down the stretch. No, not in the way they performed (their minus-two scoring differential in the period was their second-best quarter of the night), but rather whom acting coach Terry Porter called upon for that performance.
For the first time this season, an available Rubio did not make an appearance in the fourth quarter (per Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press).
Rubio was clearly not happy with Porter's decision:
"We're going to talk," he said. "I don't know what to say. I don't like it."
It was that uncomfortable moment in the year when people started admitting to themselves that perhaps Rubio hadn't fully recovered prior to his Dec. 15 debut.
Rather than the obvious health risks of a premature return, there are other equally ominous dangers.
For starters, there are the unknown threats to Rubio's psyche. He can't be comfortable knowing that he's shooting at a rate that could get baseball players benched if that were their batting average.
And now there's this, a more potentially damning consequence.
Rubio knows what this club has invested in him (far more than just the fifth pick in the 2009 draft). He knows there are expectations that aren't being met, and sees the very real possibility of another season without playoff basketball for the franchise.
Like every other good player, his competitive drive pushes him to rectify the situation, to do more than his body's able to handle.
So the coach is left with an unwinnable situation. Either he strokes the ego of his biggest star (even at the expense of his team), or he puts his team in the best position to win, at the risk of alienating his talent.
No, that doesn't seem like something Bulls fans or Rose would envy.
The Bulls have done their part, cementing their standing near the top of the Eastern Conference. The training staff has executed its job as well, offering Rose the best opportunity for a complete recovery. Rose and Thibodeau have done what they needed to do, patiently waiting things out to lower the risk of re-injury (or worse, an underperforming Rose potentially undoing all of this hard work).
It's easier for the Bulls to stay more patient than the Timberwolves could. They're healing their superstar and bolstering their record at the same time.
When Rose is able to return to game action, his teammates will be ready for him.
More importantly, though, his knee should be too.