At 8-9, the Chicago Bulls aren't out of the Eastern Conference playoff race, even with star point guard Derrick Rose sidelined again by injury. If the postseason started next week, the Bulls would enter as the seventh seed in what is clearly a down year for the conference. That down year, however, might be all the Bulls need to sneak into the NBA tournament. And if they do manage to qualify, Rose’s return could come sooner than expected.
"If I'm healthy and the situation is right, I'm going to be back playing," Rose told reporters recently at a news conference following surgery for his torn meniscus. "If I'm healthy and my meniscus is fully healed, of course I'll be out there playing. But if it's something totally different and the outcome is not how I would want it to be, there's no need."
Chicago still has a formidable lineup sans Rose, but would a rushed return be wise considering the recent injury history of the 25-year-old? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: With or without Rose, Chicago isn't trumping Miami or Indiana in the East. Both teams are too deep and too defensive-minded to let a one-star team defeat them in a seven-game series. Both Indiana and Miami have rosters that have been playing together as cohesive units for the last two seasons and deep playoff runs have only bettered the chemistry amongst the teams. Expecting Rose to come back after basically two seasons away from his teammates and jelling in time to knock off the East's two top powerhouses is a pipe dream.
Green: Not too many teams play defense like Chicago so you know automatically that they're going to be in any series. A solid contribution from Rose could push any playoff run behind coach's Tom Thibodeau's suffocating defensive schemes. And don't forget that Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler are talented enough to start for most teams in the league. If Rose is healthy, then the chance has to be taken. With Deng's impending free agent status coming up next summer, this might be this group’s last chance as a unit to make a run. Rose's injuries have pretty much derailed Chicago for the last two playoffs. If he's available then he owes it to his teammates to be out there.
Riley: At only 25, if Rose owes anybody anything then it's the city of Chicago after two stalled seasons. He's still young enough to come back healthy before his prime starts in a few more seasons. Coming back early and risking another setback could affect his availability for 2014 and that absolutely cannot happen. At some point Chicago has to be realistic and expecting a player who's only played 49 games since the start of the 2011 season to come back in full stride for the playoffs and lead them to the NBA Finals isn't realistic. However, should Indiana or Miami suffer a catastrophic injury of their own then it's an even playing field and Rose could reevaluate the situation. Which is similar to his statement: "If I'm healthy and the situation is right."
Green: The controversy that followed him through last season's playoff run for Chicago when doctors cleared him but he was still sitting on the bench in dress clothes was a bad scene. Should another situation like that arise where doctors medically clear him but he decides to sit out may cause fans to turn and then we may even be talking about should the Bulls trade Rose. Regardless of what happens with Miami or Indiana, Rose is going to need a doctor's note saying he needs to sit out or otherwise anarchy could start in the city of Chicago. If he's deemed healthy to return then that's the only situation that "will be right" for him to come back.