It's official: 'Return' was a hoax

CHICAGO -- Al Capone's vault is no longer the biggest hoax in Chicago history.

Welcome to the top spot, Derrick Rose's "Return."

After the inspiring adidas "Return" documentary advertorial that started the season of our discontent, and all the time wasted, I mean spent, monitoring and predicting and debating the date of Rose's return and then ruminating on the murky reasons why it didn't happen, it's mercifully over.

The Miami Heat finished off a 4-1 series victory in the Eastern Conference semifinals Wednesday, so it's officially official that Rose will not return this season. I don't need a source to verify it.

Rose is now free to shoot around in private, rather than before games, and stash the playoff suits until his next GQ cover shoot. He can continue his training at the Berto Center and in Los Angeles, and prepare for a long-awaited return to action next fall.

He will be ready. We will be ready. Let the healing begin!

In the past three months, the Derrick Rose Watch went from hopeful to insufferable to laughable, as people still thought he would return for Game 3 of a series against the NBA champions despite having missed the entire season.

I'm afraid to admit, I'm part of the problem. I'm Geraldo.

I'm tired of writing about Rose. I spent countless hours musing about Rose's comeback, setting imaginary dates, watching him warm up before games, even observing a post-practice rehab drill at the Berto Center.

Despite everyone's best efforts, there was never any concrete date for him to return. It was all, to borrow a cliché, up in the air. The early media secrecy was a major public relations blunder. When Rose's agent set up an interview with USA Today Sports that ran in early February, it sparked the startling (to some) realization that Rose might not return this season.

"I'm not coming back until I'm 110 percent," he told the newspaper. "Who knows when that can be? 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."

Rose would reiterate this point to local media, and as the season rolled along, it became clear to the closest observers he wasn't coming back this season.

Others held out hope.

And as the debate about his injury became a town hall on his character, Rose's once-sterling image took a precipitous dip in some circles. Fans and reporters passionately argued whether he was sitting out while healthy, the cardinal sin for any athlete.

Nevermind Rose's previous four years of service in a Bulls uniform, which resulted in two All-Star nods, an MVP trophy and three seasons in which he missed just a handful of games. Never mind the serious injury he suffered, which directly impacts his unique abilities.

Rose was now richer than ever, thanks to his max deal and shoe money windfall, and was cast in a different light. The speculation and the anger could be expected. People change, situations change. We're all impatient.

In that regard, Rose's patience should be lauded. Last year, he came back too soon from his various injuries.

Rose's medically cleared knee should be fine, but his image could use a buff and a shine. The Bulls and his advisors failed at presenting his story in a uniform light, which only served to highlight the divide between the two camps and stir up more resentment for Rose and his family.

Once regarded as the "right kind of athlete," humble, pleasant and tough, Rose is now doubted. But guess how long it will take him to win back any fans on the fence?

One dribble.

Then he will win back recalcitrant critics with his first dribble drive to the rack.

Until then it would be in his best interest to do a long interview in which he explains exactly why he didn't return this season, to try to erase the stigma that his agent or his brother leads his every move and illustrate how he is his own man. But it is his play that will do the talking, which is how it should be.

Playing actual games is a step in the rehab process, as documented by his surgeon, the Bulls' team doctor, Brian Cole, last summer. That's why I thought he should return this season, if healthy enough to do so. Many in the organization agree.

While he has been practicing since February, the Bulls, like all NBA teams, rarely have competitive practices and sometimes didn't have enough healthy bodies to scrimmage. While there were reports that he was "dominating" scrimmages, I don't blame Rose for being cautious about returning to real action. It's his career, and it's a finite one. While he's young, we've seen early injuries limit potential in this league. Rose's importance to the future of the Bulls can't be overstated.

"We didn't know [how it would go]," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Wednesday. "He didn't know. So he heeded Jerry's [Reinsdorf] advice from the beginning to not rush it and to make sure you're completely comfortable before you get out there. So it's too important of a decision for him to rush. Until he's completely comfortable we don't want him out there. We knew this was a possibility, and that's fine. You deal with it as best you can; we just want him to continue working like he has been working and we want him completely healthy."

The Bulls certainly knew that this wasn't going to be a "championship or bust" season.

After Rose went down, the Bulls sent most of their acclaimed bench packing for cheaper players on one-year deals. Talented center Omer Asik left thanks to a frustrating new rule in the collective bargaining agreement.

The front office deserves credit for assembling this playoff roster. Even saddled with a host of injuries, the Bulls won 45 games. But the seams showed this season, as the Bulls lost to a variety of lousy teams and failed to win four games in a row.

The highlight was the playoff series victory over an underachieving, coach-sacrificing Nets team, and only because of Joakim Noah's guts and Nate Robinson's big shots, and again, because Chicago was just so beat up physically. Despite that one glorious playoff win, the Bulls weren't beating Miami in May with this team, even with Rose. We all knew he wouldn't be himself until next season.

That's why I didn't have a deep-seated problem of him sitting out the season. But I don't discredit people for believing the opposite.

Because there is a part of me that desperately wanted to see him play, however he could play, and that's why I understand the public frustration and the rising flagellation of his character.

Still, I don't buy the psychoanalysis from the amateur shrinks, the Lucy van Pelts of the world. Rose has proven to be a strong-willed competitor in the past, and I assume that will be the case in the future. If he weren't confident enough to play his game -- a physical, fast style of play -- this season, I say better safe than sorry.

Now, Rose should use any doubts to fuel his summer workouts and return to the Bulls a driven man.

The next year, going into the summer of 2014, could define the next five years of his career. Will he reclaim his spot as Chicago's most loved athlete? Will he resent the scrutiny?

Rose will need to re-evaluate his diffidence toward recruiting players, because the Bulls will have space to add a big salary after next season, and he needs to talk a role in making sure his team doesn't waste this window.

He needs to say the right things, but mostly he needs to show up every night and play the right way, without fear and with a first step and a jumper.