Perhaps Derrick Rose isn't the self-serving villain he's been made out to be.
Rose has faced unyielding criticism since he was medically cleared to play more than two months ago. The doctors were telling him he was fine, yet he sat. And he still sits.
He's watched as his Chicago Bulls have fallen behind 3-1 to the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat and still sits. He's seen Joakim Noah play on a debilitating foot, Nate Robinson play through stitches and a vomit-inducing illness and Luol Deng pine for the liberty to play from a hospital bed, and still, he sits.
The Bulls clearly need him, and still he sits. But it might not be a bad thing.
His detractors will paint him a coward, someone not man enough to face the standards to which he is held. They'll chastise him for not playing and instead continuing to rehab a torn ACL that should be fine by now. And they'll use the returns of Ricky Rubio and Iman Shumpert as a means to emasculate him even further.
Rose's supporters, though? They'll now look at Shumpert and commend Rose for his patience in hopes of rendering his haters speechless and apologetic.
The knee in question is the same one in which Shumpert tore his ACL against the Heat last season; the same knee that tied him directly to the fate of Rose.
Shumpert and Rose tore the same ACL (left) on the same day during the 2012 playoffs. They both faced extensive recoveries and an inroad of unanswered questions. And they both were sorely missed by their respective teams.
But it was Shumpert who returned first.
New York's sophomore returned in mid-January, roughly eight months after going down. He appeared in 45 games and went on to have a spectacular playoff series against the Boston Celtics. He soon became known as the "Paul George stopper" in the second around against the Indiana Pacers as well.
Where was Rose during all this? Still rehabbing. Still sitting. To the dismay of so many, he didn't suit up. Not once. And in many circles, he was abhorred for it. How could he not return in Chicago's hour of need?
Arguments against Rose began to gain momentum, and even worse, merit. He truly wasn't who we thought him to be if he wasn't playing by now. Not even close.
Then Shumpert. Again.
He had (unintentionally) opened Rose up to an onset of criticism by returning so soon. And by excelling during the postseason, he wasn't giving Rose a chance. He was playing; Rose wasn't. End of story.
Only it's not that simple.
Shumpert has hardly had the easiest of times since returning. Through his 45 regular-season games, he averaged just 6.8 points on 39.6-percent shooting. He had upped his deep-ball clip to 40.2 percent, but the Knicks were a plus-5.1 per 100 possessions with him off the court compared to with him on.
What's more is he wasn't moving like he used to. He wasn't taking to the air with ease or attacking the rim with the same type of explosion he was during his rookie campaign. And somewhere along the lines—during his recent stretch of dominance—we lost sight of that.
“It felt good,’’ Shumpert said after his first game back (via Marc Berman of the New York Post). “I put in the work. If my knee fell and collapsed today, it wasn’t meant to be. I’m pretty confident what’s going on.’’
Initially, Shumpert's assessment was enough. When he wasn't putting up the sort of numbers New York needed, his presence was enough. His teammates fed off his energy and his potential continued to trounce any arguments against him.
Soon enough, though, the trade deadline loomed and Shumpert's name was tossed around in a vast array of scenarios, almost as if he wasn't the player the Knicks needed anymore.
“His lateral movement is not where I think it should be,’’ coach Mike Woodson said at the time (via Berman). “His timing is off a bit. He’s not playing big minutes. He’s still on restrictive minutes."
"He’ll be fine," Woodson added. "When it counts, he’ll be there.’’
And he was right. The trade deadline came and went, and Shumpert stayed. His offense left much to be desired, but his defense began to pick up.
Then pop. Literally, "pop."
During a March 20 victory over the Orlando Magic, Shumpert felt a "pop" in his left knee and was forced to leave the game (though he admitted he could have returned).
"I took a step to explode and go up to the rim and I felt it pop," said Shumpert afterward (via Barbara Barker of Newsday ). "Last time I felt it pop, I was out for eight months. I was nervous and more scared than anything."
Could you blame him? Like he said, the last "pop" he heard culminated in an eight-month absence. Of course he was scared. All of New York was scared.
Alas, the Knicks and Shumpert appeared to dodge a proverbial bullet. He was cleared to play in the very next game and appeared in every contest for the rest of the regular season.
At this point, Rose has just been cleared to play, only he wasn't playing. Shumpert's tapered production, along with an injury scare, afforded him some extra time, though. Seeing how Shumpert was faring made many appreciate Rose's restraint. Just not for much longer.
Shumpert began to improve. He averaged 13.7 points on 51.7 percent shooting to go along with 2.3 steals in New York's final three first-round bouts with the Celtics.
As the Knicks prepared to move on, his knee wasn't an issue. He was back.
Even though he was playing well, Shumpert couldn't admit that he was 100 percent, because he wasn't.
"I've got the whole summer to work on things, to get myself to where I want to be individually, athletically," he said (via Al Iannazzone of Newsday). "But right now, with what we've got and how my knee feels, it's good enough to play and I've got to go out there and make plays."
Simply being "good enough to play" shouldn't instill much confidence, but it did. He seemed to finally be rounding into form—even dunking some—so there was no cause for concern.
One nasty spill in a Game 3 loss to the Pacers later, there was. Shumpert missed practice following the loss and the Knicks are now forced to take precautionary measures like flying in his doctor.
"There's always concern," Woodson said (via Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com). He took a bad spill and he hasn't been (able to play) the last two days so sure there's concern.
Of course there is. How could there not be? He was playing well. Everything seemed to be fine. Shumpert was the antithesis of Rose and he was supposed to be rewarded for it.
Instead, he's left to wallow in equivocation. The doctors have once again cleared him to play, but he's still left to wonder "what if," even if he says otherwise.
Ah, Rose, the man that most of us have at one time or another questioned, myself included. And the same man who should be subject to far less criticism after seeing how turbulent Shumpert's return has been.
To be sure, I'm not condoning nor condemning Rose's decision to sit out. After watching how the Bulls have been to hell and back, I still firmly believe he should have suited up in Games 3 or 4 against the Heat. Not to necessarily play 20 or 30-plus minutes, but to get the crowd riled up. To inspire his team.
To show that he still cared.
On the subject of his absence, though, we have to understand this is what he wants to avoid. Shumpert could wind up being alright, he could be done for the year or suffer from something in between. We just don't know.
For Shumpert, that's fine, and we should admire his attempts to play through these types of setbacks. But he has plenty of people to defer to. Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Tyson Chandler and even Amar'e Stoudemire all have to answer for New York's transgressions before he will.
Rose doesn't have that luxury. He's catching flak while in street clothes; he's Chicago's end-all. Not Joakim Noah or Luol Deng or Carlos Boozer. Him.
Before he makes his return, his actual return (pulling a David Lee wouldn't count), he wants to be sure. He wants to know that he won't suffer the same fate he did before or be impeded by the same ambiguity Shumpert has.
And after watching what's still happening in New York, even Rose's most outspoken of flouters must at least entertain the notion that he may not be so misguided or as self-absorbed a soul after all.
*All stats from this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.