Bulls and Rose ready to bloom as camp opens


Sep 28

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

How could anyone not like him?

It was just a few minutes Friday into his first press conference at the Bulls annual opening-of-training-camp media day when Derrick Rose, preparing to return to the basketball court for the first time in almost 18 months after reconstructive knee surgery, was asked how he felt about being criticized so much last season about not returning to play sooner.

Earlier in the day, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, one of the more politically correct of speakers, labeled criticism of Rose unwarranted. “The people that criticized him, they don’t know what the hell they are talking about,” huffed Thibodeau.

Joakim Noah, even ebullient for him, the guy who lives every day like the first day of the rest of his life, added Rose did the right thing in sitting out last season, thus further adding to Noah’s optimism about the team’s chances to win a championship this season.

“I feel like this is our time,” said Noah, whose couleur de rose was widely shared among teammates.

And the other guy who sees the world through not only Rose’s colored glasses—well, maybe when reading small print—said not to condemn anyone too quickly. After all, said Rose, he could understand why people would criticize him even though he knew he wasn’t able to play at anywhere near his previous level and risked further injury and that management and Thibodeau were holding him back.

“You’ve got to look at both sides,” said Rose, back in his familiar No. 1 Bulls jersey as players also filled in picture taking duties. “As a fan, they were fans of how I play. Of course, I would want my favorite player to be out there.

“At the same time,” Rose went on, “I had to be selfish with the idea, the thought of me going out there and injuring myself again. I did not want to put myself in that position. I just tried to stay as far away from it and get through it and stay positive.”

And Friday was a very positive day.

Of course, all opening media days of team camps are positive as everyone is undefeated with hope boundless. The Bulls were among a handful of NBA teams who opened early because they travel overseas in the preseason and then have time off.

But perhaps as big a story as there is to open the season in the NBA, as well as in Chicago, is the return of Rose. After all, there never really has been a league MVP to suffer this serious an injury so early in his career and then miss so much time as Rose sat out all last season.

There was much documented local and national criticism and second guessing about Rose’s decision. So that added to the drama and curiosity of Rose’s return.

Though there was perhaps even a longer hiatus.

Rose was spilling over with his quiet confidence about how good he feels, how ready he is for the season, even noting a few times he feels better than he ever did and his injury was even something of good fortune. Yes, ACL’s all around.

But perhaps Rose didn’t even truly understand that he probably hasn’t felt this good in two years given a season long series of injuries in 2011-12 that led up to his severe knee injury in April, 2012.

“I think I’ll play the same way,” said Rose. “I think the only thing that will change is my confidence level. I think I’m way more confident in my game. Out a whole year, I trained my body and want to show people I’m the same player, but more efficient. That’s what I’m trying to prove.”

Asked about mental hurdles, Rose moved by that like he would a back peddling defender.

“Not at all,” he said. “The way I look at it, the way I trained this summer that I am talented enough and can play and produce the same way I did in the past.”

No one will truly know, as Rose and Thibodeau agreed, until Rose is out there on the court, which will be first in the preseason Oct. 5 in Indianapolis and then to open the regular season October 29 in Miami. But Jimmy Butler, Rose’s new backcourt running mate, went to Los Angeles this summer to train with Rose and Butler insisted he saw even a better guy than he remembers.

“I think he’s one and the same,” said Butler. “He’s better knocking down shots. He’s getting to the rim, finishing strong. I’m not worried about anything. He’s the same caliber MVP, same caliber Derrick Rose, if not better.”

But the explosion, I wondered. That’s what made Rose so special, so different.

“Off both feet, either leg,” insisted Butler. “He’s back. I like it.”

So we’ll all be watching, which, of course, is what the run up to the season has been all about.

Rose didn’t get asked at his general press conference. But earlier in the day in an interview for ESPN, Rose told Mark Schwarz in answer to who was the best player in the NBA that he was. Not bragging, mind you, just as that MVP declaration came out a few years ago. But Rose shrugged, offered that familiar wry smile and said that a player given his station and responsibilities has to look at it that way. Not to insult anyone, but if he didn’t feel that way management shouldn’t want him around, he wouldn’t be the competitor he need to be.

Really, this is an amazing kid.

Which is why the Bulls do have a chance this season to fulfill Noah’s hopes and dreams.

But I liked the way Thibodeau put it in the spring training of the NBA.

“You go to 30 camps and everyone is saying the same thing,” said Thibodeau. “Talking about it doesn’t make it happen. It’s your willingness to work and make a commitment and build habits over the season. Are you disciplined enough to do that, can you concentrate over a long period of time? Are you strong enough to have the commitment to play for one another? To talk about it doesn’t do any good. You’ve got to put in the work. Last season, maybe we were a little undersold. Maybe this year we’re being oversold. None of it matters other than are you willing to put in the work every day?”

It’s another reason why the Bulls have a good chance. Though they played well without Rose, everyone knows there never would be any talk of titles without him. But also thanks to Thibodeau. Not everyone likes that sort of work schedule all the time. And the amount of minutes played, of course, came up as it often does in Thibodeau discussions. But it’s also that work ethic that Thibodeau demands that gives the Bulls an edge on many teams. You have to put in extra if you want to do something special. That’s always Thobodeau’s point that often gets overlooked.

There were, obviously, questions about Rose’s playing time given the circumstances. General manager Gar Forman mentioned it being fluid and Thibodeau, predictably, moved into his not skipping steps approach quickly.

Thibodeau spent almost a week with Rose in Los Angeles this summer and said Rose made it clear he doesn’t want limitations placed on him. Nevertheless, Rose said he would abide by Thibodeau’s wishes. Rose said he expected to return to a regular starters’ portion of playing time. But everyone agreed any numbers remained premature.

Forman said the plan for now is for Rose to play in all the preseason games, though Thibodeau said as with all the starters they’d proceed slowly.

“I just want to go out there and play,” said Rose. “If I’m in a game and he’s feeling he wants to pull me out, I’m cool with that. I wish I can go and play the same minutes, but I’m leaving it up to Thibs.”

Rose did add specifically that what most held him back at the end last spring was, in effect, limitations on his quickness and side to side movement. He didn’t exactly say it that way. But he said he could not take on double teams.

“I knew I could get past one person,” said Rose. “But in the playoffs, people are going to throw different strategies at you, different defenses. I knew I wasn’t ready. I had to made the decision I was not coming back.”

Some would say if he or the Bulls had only said so. But the truth is Rose never fully knew, and Thibodeau always preached a day to day approach. Rose didn’t want to be put out permanently for the season because he always held out hope, like anyone with an injury or disability. Maybe, just maybe, when I wake up tomorrow..

But Rose also was wise enough not to be a false hero.

He looked more mature and sounded more self assured and confident. He looked more solid, even stronger. His mustache was thicker and there was a bit of Fu Manchu connecting with a beard covering his chin. He turns 25 next week the day before the first preseason game against the Pacers.

He’s not that kid anymore going into his fifth NBA season.

“The opportunity to be walking, running, doing things I did previously. It’s great being here seeing you all,” Rose said to reporters, several of whom called him all sorts of names last spring. “To be back in Chicago a basketball player, that excites me.”

Rose said he perhaps most missed his teammates and the team. And though he traveled with the team, anyone who’s ever been around something but not a part of it understands. Rose said he missed the half times, the post games to discuss what is and had happened. That was them. They experienced it. He observed it. Not anymore.

So he monitored and minded his new family and young son, and he just loved it.

“Man, having a kid, he runs everything,” Rose said with a smile. “It’s a blessing at the same time, having a kid, just being around him. My father wasn’t in my life. So I didn’t have the opportunity to be around him like that. If I do everything opposite of what he did, I should put myself in position to raise my son the right way. Seeing his traits, seeing how he’s starting to show emotion, laughing, taking steps, it makes me feel good as a father and a young man that I’m actually doing something right where he doesn’t have to worry about anything. And it makes me feel good that I’m able to take care of my family.”

Really, how can anyone not like him?

Rose said the basketball part of being confident is because he worked do hard for a year, improved his shooting range and health and conditioning, That’s why, he said, he’s so ready now. Because Rose was such a great athlete he did skip steps. Trainers and coaches around the Bulls since his rookie year had talked to him about greater conditioning. But it’s tough to convince someone who is jumping over everyone else. But Rose conceded the injury did awake him to the realization that he wasn’t maintaining his body like an elite athlete should. Cars will run when the oil is low. But there can be big potholes ahead.

“I watched that video (of his injury) 20 or 30 times,” Rose admitted. “I try not to think about it. I tried to put it out (of mind) as quickly as possible. (But I knew) at that time I did not train my body the way I train now. I know I’ve improved every area of my body. I should be more prepared than I was in the past.”

There was some other talk Friday.

Luol Deng, whose pending free agency has been a recent media issue, said he didn’t care to talk about it and was looking forward to the season. Deng is an enviable world citizen who spent the summer traveling the world holding camps for kids. His mood seemed buoyant and Thibodeau noted in his best Rosanne Roseannadanna mind set that it’s always something for everyone around the NBA, and you just deal with it and move on. But that sort of personal character was mentioned many times Friday by players as another reason they felt so positive about this team, that you need high character individuals comfortable with sacrifice to succeed ultimately.

Carlos Boozer was exceptionally trim after a summer working out and traveling through Europe. Noah pronounced himself and his feet planted firmly on the ground. Kirk Hinrich said he was healthy and the only issue, said Noah, seemed to be a curious outfit Taj Gibson was wearing that Noah said disoriented him. I do have to see that outfit if it bothered Noah.

But this Bulls outfit appears to have a most rosy outlook.

“It should be,” said Rose, “a crazy, magical year.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below: