Former Chicago Bulls coach Doug Collins not only was fully behind Derrick Rose's decision to sit out last season, but he also suggested Wednesday that an early return could have led to more physical issues.
Speaking during the "Lunch With a Legend" special on ESPN 1000's Carmen & Jurko Show, Collins said it pained him to hear all the criticism Rose received for not returning late in the 2012-13 season despite the fact that he was nearly one year removed from surgery to repair a torn left ACL.
"I hate what Derrick went through," Collins said. "[Wednesday] will be his first game back at the United Center, which will be a very emotional night. The last time I saw him, he came out on crutches to throw out the game ball against us in Game 2 [of the 2011-12 playoffs]. It's going to be a very special game for him. Anybody who has played, if you ever question whether they can be playing, it's the worst thing you can ever say to an athlete because most everybody wants to be out there playing."
Collins was more than just an outside observer in the Rose saga last season, even as he was finishing up his third season as 76ers coach. As a friend of Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, Collins said Rose's decision to not play was met with approval from the highest seat in the organization.
"I knew what Jerry Reinsdorf was saying all along because I talk to Jerry," Collins said. "He said, 'Doug, we're not taking any chances on Derrick Rose. This guy is 25 years old. This is our franchise. If we have any hopes of winning a championship, we have to get him back healthy and hope he's going to be able to play six, seven, eight more years.'"
Rose's decision to put the future ahead of the present rubbed many fans and media members the wrong way. Collins was disappointed by that type of criticism. As a coach of the Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards and 76ers, Collins suggested that it is dangerous to ignore long-term plans.
"You think about Derrick Rose, what he's meant for this franchise," Collins said. "This is a kid that grew up in Chicago, who watched the Bulls throughout the years, who loves the Bulls and wants to play. But let's face it, the economic times have changed.
"You're talking about a $100 million investment you have in Derrick Rose. Unfortunately, what happens today is that there is so much media and you have to sort through truth or fiction. What are we hearing here? And I felt really bad about what he went through last year, questioning if he could have played, should he have come back."
Collins' policy has always been to trust what somebody is saying, and that belief hit home.
"One of the lowest points I had in Philadelphia was after my father passed away. I had just been to his funeral. I came back, and I started having problems with my feet about 10 days later," he said. "They started questioning my threshold of pain. They couldn't find anything wrong with me. Finally, they sent me up for special X-rays and they found out I had stress fractures in both of my feet. The one thing I always have said, you never question it. If a player says he's hurt, he's hurt. If a player says he can't play, he can't play."
Making things hard on Rose was the fact that Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson returned quickly from ACL surgery in 2012 to post one of the best seasons in NFL history.
"Adrian Peterson changed the whole bar. The guy came back eight months after an ACL and gained 2,000 yards," Collins said. "Everybody heals differently. And more importantly, forget about how you feel physically. Mentally you have to be ready to play because if you go out there and overcompensate, you're going to blow out the other leg. You're going to protect yourself; you're landing differently.
"How often do you see it where a guy has an injury on one leg and he ends up hurting the other leg because he's playing off that other leg, or he hurts his back because you're not in sync?"
Rose, who missed Saturday's game in Brazil against the Wizards because of a sore knee, is expected to play Wednesday night at the United Center. It will be his first home game in 18 months.
"These fans, I know, tonight are going to embrace him," Collins said. "He's an incredibly well-respected player in the NBA. Just think, he's coming back. This guy was a former MVP, and he's going to give the Bulls a chance to win a championship this year. I hope they give him a lot of love tonight, and I have the ultimate respect for him because I think he loves to play basketball."