Ball is in Derrick Rose's court

CHICAGO -- Like a lot of famous athletes, Derrick Rose is half-man, half-commodity.

A public figure in a rapidly expanding circle since he was tearing up the middle school leagues of Chicago's South Side, Rose is something to everyone.

Where would he go to high school? Where would he go to college? Who would be his agent, his shoe company? Who is pulling the strings? Who is filling his pockets?

What did he say? What did he do today? Check out that smile!

No. 1 pick from high school to the pros, All-Star, MVP, the Derrick Rose Rule.

With all that success at such a young age, it's easy to speculate if he's the CEO of Pooh, Inc., or the chief export.

To paraphrase Jay-Z: he's not a businessman, he's a business, man.

Rose is a young man growing up fast. But he's not a kid. Just because you don't hear him speak often doesn't mean he's a silent partner in his own life.

People advise him, and he's paying for that advice. Some want him to be cautious; everyone close to him wants to see him play when he's ready.

But make no mistake, whether or not he plays -- once he's medically cleared -- is Rose's decision. His recent interview with USA Today was set up by his people, but the words are his own.

Rose finally broke his official silence to Chicago beat writers after the Bulls' loss to Boston on Wednesday, talking for a few minutes about his status going into the All-Star break.

When it comes to The Decision on the Return, Rose said he'll collaborate with his mentor/agent B.J. Armstrong, team executives John Paxson and Gar Forman, and his trainers who work with him every day. But he reiterated it's his call. Forget the conspiracy theories.

"But it's really on me to make the decision to play again," Rose told reporters. "That's cool that they left it up to me."

Cool, indeed.

Sure, the money guys like Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, Rose's agent Arn Tellem, Armstrong and the adidas people will have their voices heard regarding the when and where of Rose's return from knee surgery. One thing everyone can agree on: No one wants to jeopardize his career.

At 24, Rose has a maximum NBA contract worth nearly $100 million, a shoe and clothing deal with adidas worth an estimated $260 million and a cadre of family and friends who rely on his massive earning potential -- including a newborn son.

Rose lives by the motto "Everybody Eats" -- a testament to how far he has come from Englewood, and how he has uplifted those around him.

Despite the financial pressures, despite the fame, Rose has, by all accounts, stayed a good person, especially by famous athlete standards. I don't know Rose as well as I'd like to, but from what I do know he is basically as he appears: friendly and good-natured, confident and guarded.

There has always been a little mystery about him, from the NCAA investigation into his test scores to his season-long media boycott, which lingered until this recent feature story in USA Today that was, according to the Bulls, set up his agents and his management company.

Of course, it caused a stir in Chicago because Rose has basically been off-limits to local reporters all season as he rehabbed from his knee surgery, and the city waited on and debated every minute detail regarding his rehab. Rose is, without a doubt, the top celebrity in Chicago, and for local media, his words, his interviews, carry tremendous weight.

It wasn't long ago that Rose would call reporters from the road for a quick interview. But those days are gone.

But when it comes to the important stuff, like playing basketball in a Bulls uniform, Paxson said in an ESPN 1000 interview Wednesday, the ball is in Rose's court.

"There's a reason we didn't put a date on it or even attempt to from the beginning, because you never know with an injury and how a guy is going to come back," Paxson said on "The Carmen, Jurko and Harry Show." "And really, the timetable is Derrick's. When he feels he's physically at the point he can play, and maybe even more importantly where he's mentally at the place he can play, then he'll play. We have to trust that."

Rose said Wednesday he still can't dunk in stride and his surgically repaired knee still doesn't feel right. Mentally, he's OK, though, which is a good sign.

Will he play this season?

"I really don't know," Rose said. "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."

Does he want to play this season?

"I would love to, I would love to," he said. "That's why I approach my rehab and workouts so hard. I'm trying to get back on court quickly as possible, but if I have anything lingering on, there's no point."

This backs up what he said to USA Today. In that story, the main takeaway was that Rose's imminent return -- long predicted to be sometime after the All-Star break -- wasn't so close, as Rose said he was "far away" from being "110 percent," his fictional target goal.

This relative outburst caused a panic and more muddled conversation in Chicago. But read the actual quote:

"It can be within a couple of weeks. It could be next year. It could be any day. It could be any time. It's just that I'm not coming back until I'm ready."

I'm not sure where the controversy lies in Rose's words.

Someone close to the situation expanded on this topic to ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers, reminding people to take caution with this comeback.

"You're not jeopardizing winning a championship, but you're jeopardizing Derrick's career if he plays and gets hurt again," the source said. "A lot of people are seeing him doing one-on-one or 2-on-2, but he's not ready. He's not 100 percent yet.

"Derrick has to feel comfortable. That's the key. He has to feel comfortable. There's no way in hell he's going to feel pressure. There's too much at stake. He has signed all these deals."

My belief is that if Rose can physically handle playing, he should do it. I think it can only help, as long as Tom Thibodeau sticks to a firm minutes limit.

But despite our best attempts to get one, there has never been a date for his return. The Bulls have said they can't even set a date until he starts practicing 5-on-5. Because of the demands of the Bulls' schedule -- they just returned from a long road trip -- that hasn't been possible. But Paxson said Rose will go full-court after the All-Star break.

"One of the issues we've faced with the way the season is, you don't always have 5-on-5 practices, where you get up and down the floor, and that's basketball, and you have to be able to play that way," Paxson said on the show. "Coming out of this break, we're going to have some of those."

But the question that has arisen from Rose's interview is: Will Rose's advisors or family push him to sit out the season to be fully healthy, even with the Bulls in a solid playoff situation? Rose said it's his call and I believe him.

But Rose's family and advisors should look out for his best interests. I'd be worried if someone was pushing him to make a bad decision. Not that I think he would be swayed. I'm sure Rose has watched as his adidas buddy Dwight Howard has struggled after coming back too quickly from a back injury.

His shoe company, adidas, would love him to make his home debut on national TV whenever he's ready. It marketed his rehab as #TheReturn. Trust me, adidas would love to cash in from the real thing.

Adidas executives did help Rose find a rehab spot in Los Angeles this summer, and they keep in close contact with Rose's team on his recovery.

"We are constantly in touch with team Rose because of our close and intimate partnership," an adidas spokesperson said in an email to ESPNChicago. "Since Derrick's injury, our main focus has been his healthy recovery and we continue to support Derrick as he works towards his return to the court. Derrick's work ethic and drive are tremendous and we know he'll be back better and stronger than ever."

Rose's return has been commodified and marketed, hyped and hoped for. The life of a sports hero.

But while Rose is Chicago's son, he's his own man.

"I know it's all on me," Rose said in Boston. "I just have to make the decision when I'm ready."

This is Rose's career. We're just along for the ride.