Despite being reportedly cleared to play by his doctor more than a month ago (according to what a source told Melissa Isaacson of ESPNChicago.com), the former MVP has been reduced to a cheerleader's role as his team has taken a 2-1 lead in their opening-round matchup with the Brooklyn Nets.
The heavy pressure levied on him by fans and media members alike hasn't been doled out by his teammates or anyone within the organization. At least not publicly anyway.
But Chicago's postseason success doesn't make life easier without Rose. Even while admitting that his floor general is "most likely out" for the playoffs (via ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell) Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau reiterated the team's open-door policy for Rose to return whenever he feels his ready.
Clearly there are some conflicting emotions at play here, and implications that extend well beyond this year.
Rose is a fiery leader, as humble as one could expect anyone with a pair of plus-$90 million contracts to be. He's as vocal as he needs to be to keep the Adidas endorsement checks flowing in, but looks far more comfortable in a lead-by-example role.
His contagious energy could fill in whatever cracks would be left behind by his addition at the top of Thibodeau's pecking order over Kirk Hinrich (36.0 field-goal percentage in the postseason) or Nate Robinson (five assists and four turnovers in 62 playoff minutes). Chicago's a strong enough defensive club to dispose of the inconsistent Nets, but doesn't have the offensive depth to keep pace with the defending champion Miami Heat in the next round.
Rose knows all this. As an elite point guard, it's his job to understand the intricacies of the roster around him and how to productively blend his own talents with those of his teammates.
But he's also now had a season-long look at what those teammates have accomplished without him. Could there possibly be a hesitation to insert himself at the end of the race knowing full well he had nothing to do with the grueling 82 steps the Bulls took to get to this position?
Hinrich and Robinson are far from a perfect point guard tandem, but they've been good enough to earn Chicago a middle-of-the-pack playoff position and have the Bulls primed for a second-round venture. Is there something inside his competitor's mindset telling him his best course of action is to let those two see this through til the end, fully reaping the rewards of what they've sown over the past six months?
Rose has never shied away from the fact that this as much a mental struggle as a physical one, perhaps even more so. He's shunned target dates or tangible goals in this process, promising to return to the floor only when he felt comfortable.
Thibodeau's clearly made his starting spot readily available, but again touched on the psychological process of this ordeal saying "We don't want him out there until he's completely comfortable," (via Phil Taylor of Sports Illustrated).
We all assumed that this was an intrinsic comfort, a return delayed until a complete reintroduction of body and mind had taken place.
But what if this has nothing to do with his physical form at all? What if that comfort won't come from Rose building trust in the ligament, but rather what his return will mean to his team and his city?
He's not the type of player, or man, to back down from a challenge. That is if the single-mother raised, Englewood product even considers this to be a challenge at all (via Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times).
This is bigger than the game of basketball. He's sparked a media frenzy for shooting warm-up jumpers, drawn heated responses on both sides of the should-he-or-should-he-not debates that have surrounded the hoops world since the turn of the calendar.
He knows he can help this team.
But I'm not convinced that he thinks that he should, not without earning his spot through a rigorous training camp and a grueling regular season first.
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