MINNEAPOLIS -- With just 14 games left in the regular season, it's looking less likely that Derrick Rose will return this season.
The Chicago Bulls superstar did what he has done for the past two months Sunday night, going through a pregame workout which includes jump shots and cardio work, but he did not play in the game. On the other side of the floor, Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio, a man who also tore his ACL last season, was busy playing in his 43rd game of the year.
As has been the case since Rose went down, many fans looked to Rubio for guidance in how a point guard handles rehab and when a return to the court should be reasonably expected. Once Rubio came back on Dec. 15, roughly 10 months after surgery, many fans expected Rose to follow the same path. Obviously, the players are different, but Rose's continued absence since he was medically cleared to play again weeks ago has left some fans in Chicago questioning his mental toughness for the first time in his career.
His “will he or won't he?” has dominated every aspect of the organization. But the biggest question at this point in the season has become: Is it worth it to bring back Rose to a team that wasn't built to contend this year anyway?
If Rubio's path back to success is any guide, the Bulls may be wise to pull the plug on Rose's return now. While the Spanish point guard has finally rounded back into his promising form, averaging close to 10 points, seven assists and four rebounds a game, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman admitted that Rubio experienced plenty of challenges when he first came back.
"I think when you go through something like that you just wonder (if you can trust the knee), and you have problems in other areas,” Adelman said. “He had a back problem where he missed some games and those things happen, but he's been able to play through it. He had to be patient; knowing he was going to have some up and down games. But I think right now he's playing much better and more confident in what he can do. But I think that's always got to be there when you first come back and start."
Rose's surgeon and Bulls team physician, Dr. Brian Cole, has already been on record as saying the final part of the rehab process is playing in games, but at this point in the year, would the Bulls be willing to risk Rose re-injuring himself? Adelman didn’t give an opinion as to whether or not he was surprised that Rose hasn't played this season, but his answer made it clear he thinks that the player should be comfortable -- something Rose has admitted he still isn't, at least mentally, at the moment.
"Every individual is different," Adelman said. "With a player of his caliber they've got to be cautious, and he has to be, and I can't comment on what he's doing or anything else. (The Bulls staff) knows better than anyone else. It was no different than us with Ricky. You take it and you look at it every day and I'm sure that's what they're doing."
That's the approach Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau holds onto as well. He would like to see the former MVP return this season, but he knows Rose's situation and Rubio's are two totally different things.
"They're all different," Thibodeau said. "I'm happy for (Rubio); I don't know him but I enjoy watching him play. He has a great spirit about him. You don't like to see anyone get hurt and he's bounced back so it's good for their team."
Adelman can tell that Rubio is much better now than he was back in December when he first came back.
"He's much stronger now," Adelman said of Rubio. "He has more confidence in what he's doing. His conditioning is a lot better than what it was earlier. It's just a process. He plays very hard and that affected him when he first started coming back but I think his conditioning is a lot better now."
As for the Bulls, Adelman doesn't have sympathy for Thibodeau because as he knows full well having dealt with Kevin Love's hand issues, all teams go through injuries over the course of a season. He does appreciate how the Bulls have continued to play despite Rose's absence.
"They've done a very nice job all year without Rose," Adelman said. "Now they have a couple other key guys out, they just got a couple key guys back, so they've been going in and out. But they've been able to hold it together, about .500, and hopefully they can get Rose back. It's still a very good team.”