DEERFIELD – Derrick Rose stood chatting with coach Tom Thibodeau for several minutes Wednesday after practice. Then, the Chicago Bulls' superstar worked on his jumper.
When he'll suit up in a game remains anyone's guess, and just for the record, Thibodeau insisted they weren't discussing a return against Philadelphia on Thursday.
"Nope," he said with a grin. "Just talking about basketball."
Everyone else, it seems, is talking about Rose.
Thibodeau wanted to make one thing clear: Don't blame the Bulls' recent slide on the speculation surrounding the star point guard's possible return from knee surgery.
"Hey, we knew going in what the circumstances were going to be this year," Thibodeau said. "There was no timetable. There was no date where we were saying, 'OK, he's going to be back this date.' It's when he's ready, and we knew that going in. We can't allow that to be an excuse for us not getting the job done. We got to get the job done. We've shown that we're capable and obviously capable of playing better than we have been recently."
The Bulls (32-25) are coming off a loss Tuesday to a Cleveland team that was missing star Kyrie Irving, and have dropped seven of 10 heading into their game with the struggling 76ers. They've been blown out by Denver, Miami and Oklahoma City and failed to hit the 70-point mark twice during this stretch. They've dealt with injuries, too, with Kirk Hinrich missing time because of an elbow problem and Taj Gibson expected to be sidelined about two weeks because of a sprained left knee.
Then, there's Rose.
His status has been the big question hanging over the team ever since he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in last year's playoff opener against the 76ers, an injury that contributed to the top-seeded Bulls being ousted in the first round.
Rose has granted few interviews since then, mostly limiting his comments to a shoe company campaign focusing on his recovery, but he raised a few eyebrows two weeks ago when he told USA Today he might not play at all this season. He reiterated that to reporters a few days later after a game in Boston. Then, his older brother and manager Reggie caused another stir when he blasted management for standing pat at the trade deadline in an interview with ESPNChicago.com, saying it would be a "big factor" in Derrick's return.
It's all created a blurry picture. Yet, at the same time, Rose has been participating in five-on-five drills since the All-Star break, and a video of him dunking before the Oklahoma City game on Sunday sparked more enthusiasm among some fans.
"He sees how he's improving," Thibodeau said. "As I've said all along, we all have to understand the intensity of an NBA game is totally different than practice. So he's preparing himself for that and he'll know when he's ready and we'll know he's ready. So we just got to be patient."
Is it more mental or physical for him at this point?
"There's physical, there's mental, there's both," Thibodeau said. "He's handled himself great. And as I said, we'll know when he's ready."
For now, he's searching for solutions, a way to stop this slide. The Bulls are 4-8 in February, just their second losing month in 21/2 seasons under Thibodeau.
"There's a fine line between winning and losing," he said. "Oftentimes, it's the bounce of the ball. It's a loose ball here, a loose ball there. It's one play. We can't get down. When you're facing some adversity, you have to be mentally tough. You have to get through things. I'm confident that we will."