MIAMI -- This is the day that every Chicago Bulls fan has been waiting for since Derrick Rose tore his ACL on April 28, 2012. This is the moment that Rose has been training for over the last year and a half.
When the Bulls face the Miami Heat on Tuesday night it will mark the culmination of an arduous journey for all involved: Rose, his teammates, the Bulls organization, and the fans that support the team.
After all the sadness, hype, criticism, and excitement that has hovered around Rose and the Bulls for the past 18 months, Rose finally gets to play in a game that counts.
"It's a real game," Rose said before Tuesday's shootaround. "For us we're playing in our first game here. It's unreal, and I hope everybody enjoys it."
Amidst all the questions surrounding his return, Rose has always remained the calmest guy in the room. He made his decision last season not play and stuck to it -- no matter how many times people questioned him. Don't think he didn't hear all the criticism he received last season, though. It's what fueled him throughout the summer to train harder than ever and improve his game. There's little doubt among his teammates and coaches that he is a better player than ever before.
"I think you've seen that each year he's been in the league," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "It's the way he approaches things. He puts a lot into each and every day. He studies. I think his experience has taught him a lot. Even though he couldn't play last year he studied. So he is a better player, and I think you'll see him continue to improve each and every year because of the way he approaches things."
Given how well Rose has shot from long range this preseason, there's no reason to think he won't be able to shoot better this season. He is more comfortable from the outside than he's ever been. He wants to prove a point -- that he is still one of the best players in the NBA. His drive to win back some of the goodwill he lost last season and to win a championship begins Tuesday night.
What's next: The Bulls open up the regular season against the Miami Heat at 7 p.m. CT Tuesday.
They said it: Carlos Boozer on the difference between last year's team and this year's team: "We're healthy."