Derrick Rose has taken the final medical step in his recovery from an ACL tear, as doctors cleared the Chicago Bulls point guard on Friday to return to game action, according to ESPN's Melissa Isaacson.
Don't mistake that for an imminent return, however. Rose has reportedly told the team he will not return to the lineup until he can dunk off his left foot, per Isaacson:
[Rose] has been videotaped dunking off each foot, but more casually than he would during a game. A source said that although he has been practicing and scrimmaging hard, he told the Bulls that until he feels "in his mind" he can confidently dunk off his left foot in a game situation, he is not 100 percent mentally ready to return to competition.
UPDATE: Friday, March 8 at 4:01 p.m. ET by Tyler Conway
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has also put the brakes on Rose's potential return. According to a report from NBA.com, the star point guard is "not quite" ready to return to game action.
"We'll see when he's ready," Thibodeau said. "He's getting there. He's not quite there yet."
---End of update---
The 2011 NBA MVP has missed the first three-quarters of this season while recovering from an ACL tear suffered during Game 1 of the Bulls' Eastern Conference playoff matchup versus the Sixers. He returned to full practice and five-on-five team drills after the All-Star break, but has remained steadfast that he would not return until fully healthy.
While it's clear there is still some work to do, Chicago's native son looks closer than ever to helping out his team again.
Expected to hang on the fringes of playoff contention without their superstar, the Bulls have firmly planted themselves as a virtual postseason lock. They are 34-27 heading into Friday night's action, good for sixth place in the conference standings. Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng have all stepped up in Rose's absence in various ways, with Tom Thibodeau playing each in extended minutes.
However, not having Rose in the lineup has begun haunting Chicago. The team is 4-6 over its past 10 games, falling from fourth in the conference standings and cratering on offense. A bottom-tier scoring bunch to begin with, the Bulls are averaging only 94.7 points per 100 possessions over this current downturn, which would rank worst in the league, per NBA.com.
As such, the spotlight on Rose's return has only gotten greater. He's seen as the only elixir for Chicago's woes, the only player who can take the team from a guaranteed first-round exit into possible championship contention.
With the Miami Heat looking like the prohibitive favorite, the Bulls' struggles have even made some wonder whether Rose should even return at all.
Medical clearance certainly isn't the same as Rose setting foot on the United Center floor. It's apparent that Rose is unwilling to rush himself back before feeling comfortable, and the Bulls are understandably giving him that leeway.
However, with Friday's report, the ball is now in Rose's court, so to speak. There are no more medical roadblocks in his way, so the question now is not if he will come back, but when.