CHICAGO – Derrick Rose is not lazy.
Rose is not a bum, a loafer, a lowlife or a do-nothing. He is not a slug, a softie, a washout or a might-have-been.
But he needs to play.
Nothing changed Monday as the Bulls hosted the Denver Nuggets in game No. 66 of the NBA’s 82-game regular season. Rose took part in another lengthy pregame workout but was not in uniform for the game, and his teammates tried their best without him.
Today, as with yesterday and so many days before that, Bulls fans are left to ask the same question.
When will Rose return?
For those who might be new here, let me reiterate that I am a gigantic fan of Rose as both a person and a player. No athlete in this city – no, not even Patrick Kane – can dazzle a crowd or energize his team quite like the point guard from the city’s South Side.
Maybe you think that NBA superstars are divas (and some of them are), but Rose is a relentless worker. Yes, he was blessed with amazing God-given ability, but he elevated himself to superstar status with countless hours of running, lifting and practicing.
But he needs to play.
The reason for Rose’s absence no longer is physical. It’s mental.
Rose acknowledged as much seven days ago when the Bulls were on a West Coast road trip.
He explained to reporters that he could “do everything” during practice but remained hesitant to test his surgically repaired left knee in a game.
“It’s just me having the confidence to do it,” Rose said. “I’m just trying to feel normal. When I’m out there and not thinking and just reacting, that’s when I know I’ll be ready.”
For Rose to feel normal, he must return to the court. There’s no way around it.
Rose needs to drive to the rim, crash into an opponent, fall to the hardwood and jump to his feet for him to know he can absorb contact. He needs to freeze a defender on a crossover dribble for him to know he can change direction without re-injury. He needs to endure a rusty game, or five, or 10, before he can adjust fully to game speed.
In other words, he needs to play.
The Bulls have been careful not to push Rose too hard during his lengthy recovery process. The team’s leadership trio of John Paxson, Gar Forman and Tom Thibodeau know how hard Rose has been working, and they know how important he is to the team’s future.
Yet it’s clear that Rose remains worried about his past.
Today marks 325 days since Rose tore his ACL in the Bulls’ playoff opener April 28. It marks 311 days – more than 10 months – since he underwent surgery.
Rose has taken part in full-contact practices since late January.
“If I would rush back and something was to happen,” Rose said last week in Los Angeles, “[then] everybody would say, ‘Why did you rush back?’ ”
It’s impossible to eliminate the risk of injury for Rose or anyone else.
One awkward step could cause a knee injury. One ill-timed landing on another player’s foot could equal a badly twisted ankle. One hard fall could mean a sprained wrist or a bruised tailbone or any number of other problems.
Those possibilities should not prevent Rose from trusting his doctors – and his knee.
Rose is paid to play. He is cleared to play. He should play.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.