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Somewhere deep down, Derrick Rose must know it isn't realistic to expect that his knee will return to a pristine 100 percent. And this 110 percent stuff that he busted out last week in his first extended interview in months, well, that's a little out there and not just because, you know, there's no such thing as 110 percent.
Rose reiterated that he essentially would not return until his knee felt exactly the way it did before his injury, if not better.
That would be never.
The sad truth here is that Rose suffered significant, structural damage to his knee. No matter what he does in the aftermath of major surgery that entailed grafting his anterior cruciate ligament back together, he isn't returning to perfect. Ever.
The sooner he figures that out, and the sooner he adopts reasonable expectations for his rehabilitation, the sooner he'll put together the right timetable for a return to NBA basketball.
And by "reasonable expectations," I mean returning to full stability in the knee, a standard that is meetable.
Exactly who is saying that some team executive should hurry Rose along? The answer is no one.
No matter how it all plays out, a little perspective will be in order. Rose must feel cursed by this injury but he is blessed to have suffered it last year and not, say, a few decades ago. Chicago sports fans have bitter experience with knee injuries that do far more than force players to miss seasons and to come back slightly less perfect than they were before.
They may have wrapped up their playing careers in the '70s but legendary Bears Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus could still fill Rose in on what it is to have beautifully promising careers cut completely short by this sort of injury.
And so expectations for this Bulls season must be reset. It now seems unlikely Rose will return this year. That is probably a good thing because the grind of a seasonal stretch run followed by the intensity of the playoffs is clearly not the best time or place for an athlete to cautiously dip his toe back into the water of competition.
(Yes, Michael Jordan returned at just such a time and place in 1985 after recovering from a foot injury. But a broken foot is very different than a torn foundational ligament in a knee.)
As for the Bulls, here's one thought going forward: It appears general manager Gar Forman may have hit a jackpot at the end of the first round of the 2011 NBA draft when he drafted shooting guard Jimmy Butler out of Marquette. Butler is now showing many signs of specialness; he's already gotten props as an exceptional defensive player, and now his offensive game is showing great promise.
It is time to, at the very least, move him up in the rotation. In fact, it might very well be time to put Butler in the starting lineup- or at least set two-guard Rip Hamilton aside (he's just about out of gas), start Marco Belinelli (he has shown he plays better when he starts), and make Butler a first-off-the-bench super-sub playing extended minutes and getting plenty of opportunities to make plays at both ends of the floor.
The Bulls clearly aren't a championship-caliber team without Rose. Of course, coach Tom Thibodeau will just keep driving, trying to win as many games as possible whatever way possible. But it shouldn't be that difficult to sync up that goal with seeing more of what Butler can do.
Just so long as Butler promises not to try to pressure Rose to return too quickly.
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