With the Eastern Conference Semifinals shifting to Chicago for the next two games, the attention has turned toward Derrick Rose once again. Anticipation has been that if Rose were to make a return to the court this season, it would have to be at home for maximum momentum and comfort.
Since Derrick Rose will not slam the door on his return by saying he is coming back one way or the other, everyone will continue to speculate. The rumors seemed to start once the Playoffs began that Rose would target a second round return and finally make his way back after a year sitting out recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in last year's first round.
Everyone has an opinion on Rose and the will-he, won't-he of his stepping onto the court this season for the Bulls. There are plenty who think that Rose should have come back by now and that the doctor's clearance should have been enough to give it a go. At least, there has been plenty of time since then for Rose to gain the confidence to go out and give it a go.
That is one side of the coin.
The other is that it is difficult to tell what effect adding Rose back to the lineup would have to a Chicago team that has played pretty well in his absnece. And it is hard to figure how good Rose would be if he stepped into the fire of Playoff basketball so quickly (especially against the defending champion Heat).
Confidence is key for any professional athlete. So too is the ability to protect themselves and their future career. And all this is playing into Rose's decision to play or to continue sitting out.
Nobody probably knows the challenge that Rose is going through in thinking about when to return then former Magic guard Anfernee Hardaway and Clippers forward Grant Hill. Both went through debilitating ankle injuries in the prime of their careers and were never really the same after coming back.
If anyone knows what Derrick Rose should do, it is these guys.
Hardaway was a two-time All-NBA First Team player when he suffered an ankle injury in 1997, causing him to play in 59 games. Hardaway came back for the Playoffs and poured in back-to-back 40-point games to force a decisive Game Five against the Heat, a feat that only LeBron James in 2009, Allen Iverson in 2001, Reggie Miller in 2000, Kobe Bryant in 2001, Shaquille O'Neal in 2000 and 2001 and Tracy McGrady in 2003 have accomplished since.
Hardaway was among the who's who of NBA elite when he went down. The following season, Hardaway played in only 19 games and was never quite the same ever again. The All-Star appearances dried up and his trademark explosiveness was largely gone. Things got worse when he played in only four games in 2001 for the Suns.
What did Hardaway have to say in the Derrick Rose debate? He told Shannon J. Owens of the Orlando Sentinel:
My thing is, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. It’s just one of those situations because I remember when I was in Phoenix, I played with a torn meniscus. Tim Duncan sat out [with the Spurs with an injury] and didn’t play and he didn’t get criticized for not playing and I didn’t get praise for playing. So it’s just one of those situations. And now he’s still playing and I’m out because of my knee injury. You have to be smart about it. If [Derrick Rose] is not physically ready…even if he’s not mentally ready, he shouldn’t go out there. They’re not going to go out there and beat the Heat. If I was Chicago, I would come out and say we don’t want him to come back, we want him to be OK. And let the fans be mad at them and not him.
Rose certainly knows he is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Hardaway might have been able to have a longer career and recover more quickly if he had not played at that point. It really is that difficult of a decision. Rose is not, at this point it seems, willing to take the risk that Hardaway took back then. And Hardaway was much further into his career.
Rose is more like Duncan in this situation, just starting off his career and unwilling to risk further injury to try and get out of the first round. There are bigger fish to fry, it would seem. Rose is only coming back when he feels comfortable and confident enough to return at 100 percent.
Grant Hill probably has the most famous Playoff injury ending up catastrophic. Hill played on a broken ankle for much of the 2000 Playoff series against the Heat. Hill was set to become a free agent that summer and would sign with the Magic (while on crutches), but still felt the obligation to go out and play for his team in the postseason.
Like Hardaway, Hill was a four-time All-NBA Second Team selection and a one time First Team selection. He was a constant presence for the NBA's All-Star starting lineup and the heir apparent to his "Airness."
Hill pushed himself to return from the ankle injury only to injure it again and again and again, succumbing to the pressure of his $93 million contract.
Hill told Jonathan Mahler of Bloomberg Sports that he does wonder what would have happened in his career if he sat out an entire season without pushing himself to play and whether that would have extended his career any. What Hill did say was that the Bulls should come out and say whether Rose is truly done for the season one way or the other.
Rose has created this storm by leaving everyone in limbo — including himself. He may have done so with the best of intentions. Now we are all left guessing.
At least until tip off in tonight's Game Three in Chicago.