CHICAGO -- Derrick Rose's comments to Bulls TV shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has followed his rehab from ACL surgery and ongoing saga to return to the floor.
Rose, at various points throughout last season, essentially said the same thing -- that he wasn't going to return to the floor unless he felt he was completely ready to do so. The difference this time is that Rose was a little more forthright about his mindset than usual.
"I'm not a selfish guy at all," Rose said. "But having this injury and going through what I had to go through and being smart, it's something that I had to be selfish with. I couldn't worry about anyone else but myself and my health."
Rose is 24 years old, a fact that was not lost on him or his inner circle throughout this entire process. He always knew there was more at stake than just this season. He knew how much money was invested in his future and he knew that he wanted to return to the floor only if he could play at an MVP level, not a diluted version who would have to go through the final hurdle at the end of the season, even if that's what many in the organization would have preferred.
Rose's game is built on speed and his ability to elevate to the rim, and it was clear the more he spoke last season he wasn't going to return until he was all the way back to feeling like himself. It was also clear that the criticism didn't affect his decision-making process. Rose told USA Today that he was "far away" from returning in February and followed that up a few days later by saying in Boston: "I'm feeling good. But like I said, if it's where it's taking me a long time and I'm still not feeling right, I don't mind missing this year."
I always felt as if Rose knew at that point that he wasn't going to return last season. He repeatedly stated that the Bulls had not put any pressure on him to return, but the people behind him knew it was better to be safe than sorry. His inner circle knew that this Bulls team wasn't built to win a title last season and they knew that once Rose returned he would have all the pressure on his shoulders to be the difference-maker that he had been before. Fairly or unfairly, they knew that if Rose came back and wasn't the Rose of old, he would be questioned by some fans and critics. It was a point driven home to Rose and one he took to heart.
"Just take my time," Rose said in March regarding the advice he had received from his agent and mentor B.J. Armstrong. "If I rush back and something was to happen everybody would say, 'Why did you rush back?' Just taking my time and being prepared and knowing when I come back I want to be 100 percent. That's fine."
For a person like Rose who enjoyed trying to please fans, media, teammates and coaches throughout the early stages of his career, this episode shows a progression in his maturation process. At some point during his rehab, he stopped caring what everybody thought and focused on himself. He also focused on his son, P.J., who was born shortly after his injury. While Rose may have done his best to block out what was being said by the outside world, he has a good idea about what people have said. He knows a faction of the fan base has turned on him and he knows that there will be a lot of pressure on him to return to form quickly during the upcoming season.
That's why he took the right approach when asked if he had a message for his fans at the end of his session with Bulls TV.
"Me saying it is something totally different," Rose said. "I think me going on the court and showing them and letting them know it was the right decision."
As long as Rose comes back and starts dropping 20 points a game again, his decision not to play last season will be forgiven quickly, and he knows it.