Chicago Bulls superstar point guard Derrick Rose must return to the very playoff stage that saw him suffer an injury last year that has held him out of action ever since. Otherwise, this scrappy, resilient Bulls team has no chance of reaching the NBA Finals.
Rose tore his ACL during the team's postseason opener against the Philadelphia 76ers and has endured an extensive recovery process.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters ahead of Thursday evening's matchup with the New York Knicks that there is "no drop-dead date" regarding Rose's return to the lineup, as documented by CBS Sports' Royce Young.
The team has publicly kept everyone in the dark about Rose's timeline—for better or worse. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reported on Friday that Rose sitting for the remainder of the season is a near certainty.
However, the report also points out that Rose has been cleared to play in full scrimmages since February 18, and that he has practiced well.
It's definitely a delicate, polarizing debate, and Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin sides with Rose, insisting that it is unnecessary for him to reenter the rotation until he's absolutely ready:
Kurt Helin @basketballtalk
If you say "Derrick Rose was cleared to play, it's mental" I say "so what?" His call. Not yours. His body, his mind, his call.4/12/2013, 3:22:21 PM
Games are obviously a different matter than scrimmages—particularly games in the playoffs, where the competitiveness and intensity are ratcheted up several notches.
That might cause some hesitancy on Rose's part to take the hardwood again in the 2012-13 campaign, yet his presence is absolutely critical to Chicago's success—or lack thereof—once the regular season ends.
The argument could be made that the Bulls will be title contenders next year when Rose will definitely come back. That's what Helin uses to justify his stance, but title shots aren't guaranteed, and Chicago would have a strong chance with its 24-year-old stud running the point right now.
There is plenty of potential for a deep playoff run on this defensively stout squad, which has persevered through a rash of injuries largely thanks to yielding just 93.8 points per game. These Bulls are used to stepping up when stars are out, which is why it would be so exciting to see what Chicago could do at full strength with Rose.
No one on the floor currently provides a go-to scoring option, which will be a must if the Bulls want to advance past the likes of the Miami Heat.
Rose provides the necessary firepower to give the Bulls a puncher's chance of emerging from the Eastern Conference. Allowing the heavily favored Heat to potentially repeat as NBA champions would actually be a detriment to Chicago's chances of winning the Larry O'Brien Trophy next season.
So, Rose's absence in this crucial time frame actually has ramifications for the Bulls' bright future he is apparently waiting to return to in training camp.