The catcalls in Chicago for a Derrick Rose return have been loud since early March. After the Bulls' Game 6 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night, what's been a disappointing season for Rose got even worse.
Brooklyn forced a Game 7 with a 95-92 win on Thursday evening at the United Center, and the series will shift back to the Barclays Center in New York with a chance to face the Miami Heat in Round 2 in play. While Chicago is certainly disappointed about having to play in Brooklyn, this game was more about how difficult it was for head coach Tom Thibodeau to even compete to the tune of a three-point loss.
No Kirk Hinrich.
No Luol Deng.
Joakim Noah playing on a broken body.
Nate Robinson, in the midst of one of the greatest stretches of his career, throwing up on the bench during a timeout.
And yet, there was no hint, mention or even the tiniest rumor that Rose would be returning to the lineup on Thursday night, five days before we hit the two-month mark since it was first reported that doctors cleared Rose to return (h/t ESPN).
Things got worse when David Lee made a surprise return to the Golden State Warriors' lineup later on in the evening, only five games after he tore his hip flexor during the team's Game 1 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
Although Lee only grabbed one rebound in one minute of action, he no-doubt provided an emotional lift to his teammates at home as they managed to close out the Nuggets and move on to the second round of the playoffs to face the San Antonio Spurs.
Those waiting for a Rose return (Tim Reynolds, SportsNation and Royce Young, among others) took notice of the latest disappointment in the Rose saga on Twitter during last night's Warriors-Nuggets game:
Right decision or not, things got worse for Rose as he sat on the bench on Thursday night.
If the Bulls lose Game 7, expect morale to officially plummet for good about whether or not Rose is justified taking a more-than-cautious approach to his rehab and return.
There's been a lot of chatter on whether or not Rose "owes" it to his teammates to return for a potential shot at the defending champion Heat in the second round.
On the no side, points for Rose to continue sitting include the fact that he is only 24 years old, is coming off a horrific, non-contact injury to a knee that has already been bothersome in his NBA career and that his teammates, so far, have been in full support of his decision to delay a return (via K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune):
"We don’t feel that way [that Rose owes it to teammates]," Hinrich said. "It has been a very difficult year for Derrick. I’ve never experienced any sort of injury like that. I’m not one to speak on how anybody else’s body feels. We know what kind of guy he is and what kind of teammate he is."
"[Thibodeau] When he’s completely comfortable, that’s when we want him out there. If that means we wait another game, if that means we wait until next year, so be it. Derrick owes it to do what’s right and the more I’m around him, the more I’m impressed with this guy’s character. He’s not being swayed by anybody. I would never question him, ever."
Strong words of men in a position to make a judgement call on a teammate, player and friend.
On the flip side, proponents of Rose "toughing it out" continue to ring out as the injuries continue to mount for the Bulls. Noah, Taj Gibson, Marco Belinelli and others have all missed time due to injury, and Robinson's show of toughness on the bench was a flashback to Michael Jordan playing through sickness during Game 5 of the 1997 NBA finals (h/t Nate Jones on Twitter):
To stay on the MJ line of thought, it's important to note that an unfair typecast of the "perfect" NBA player has been established in Chicago because of Jordan's dominance, loyalty to the Bulls during their streak and ability to play through pain.
But, at the end of the day, this is Rose's decision. He's maintained that he will not return until he's 110 percent, and that apparently isn't where his body is after months of rehab and practice-only sessions of play.
That also doesn't change the fact that things are going to get worse for Rose before they get better.
Barring a miraculous return to the lineup in Game 7, a comeback against the Heat in the second round or any other form of return before Chicago's season is over, fans are going to chastise and wonder what could have been for the Bulls if they do not win the championship this season.
As a professional athlete, I doubt Rose has a problem with that theory. He's paid to play basketball, is well past the medical trajectory of his injury, and teammates are falling by the wayside while he's playing it safe with a knee injury that happened a full year ago.
No matter your opinion on the Rose return, or lack thereof, Game 7 promises to be just another chapter in the book that has turned out to be the most disappointing aspect of the NBA this season.
With a Bulls win, chatter will begin about a Rose return for Round 2. With a loss and a playoff exit, chatter will begin about how Rose did not make the right choice and that NBA championships, while certainly attainable with Rose in the future, are never a sure thing—a "seize the moment" mentality, if you will.
Either way, this disappointing saga got worse after more changes came to the Chicago lineup via injury, Robinson left it all on the court (and in a trash can on the bench) and Lee took a tough-it-out approach to be in uniform.
If the pattern continues, it could get even worse on Saturday night in Brooklyn.
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