DEERFIELD, Ill. -- The photographers were going for powerful, like the outstretched-wings-of-an-eagle look. What they got from Derrick Rose on Friday was more like, "Come give me a hug, Bulls fans."
All this talk about negative PR, lost support and the bloom off D-Rose? He said he understands your anger if just try to understand him.
"You've got to look at both sides," Rose said at Bulls media day, all suited up in an official capacity for the first time in almost a year and a half following an ACL tear and subsequent knee surgery in May 2012.
"As a fan, of course I would want my favorite player to be out there. At the same time, the way I look at it, I had to be selfish. ... The thought of me going out and injuring myself again ... I did not want to put myself in that position, and I just tried to stay far away from that and just think everything through and try to stay positive."
But if Rose wouldn't bite on using the unfamiliar condemnation as motivation this year, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau didn't mind lashing out at what he called "unfair criticism."
"You talk about a guy who is as loyal as they come to his family, to his teammates, to our organization, to the city," Thibodeau said. "He's already done a lot and he'll continue to do a lot. That's who he is. So when I look back, and I've been thinking about it, he followed Jerry [Reinsdorf's] orders exactly. Jerry made it very clear from the beginning how he wanted him to approach it, to be cautious, to make sure you're completely healthy. He told him he didn't want him to come back until he was 100 percent and that's what he did. And then he got criticized for it.
"That's what bothered me about that. People who have been around Derrick, I think our real fans have an appreciation for him. I think the people who criticized him, they don't know what the hell they're talking about."
Pretty strong stuff to say about a large segment of loyal Bulls fans who wondered aloud logically and not necessarily carrying pitchforks.
Both Thibodeau and general manager Gar Forman took pains to say more than once that Rose was acting on Reinsdorf's express orders. It was a little too much protesting that wasn't really necessary at this point as it potentially provoked more questions about why Rose did not return when his doctor flatly told us that part of his rehab would include playing in games.
But the subject seemed to be appropriately pushed aside, moot at least for now. For one, it's exhausted already and it really doesn't seem to serve a purpose. Jimmy Butler worked his way into the starting lineup; the rest of the Bulls built upon their playoff timbre, and unless someone wants to produce a time machine and then come back and tell us what would have happened if Rose had returned in time for the playoffs, that's as far as it should go.
Overall, though, the mood was upbeat Friday, optimistic, rightfully hopeful for a team that valiantly overcame the odds last season and scratched its way to the second round of the playoffs before falling in five games to the eventual champion Miami Heat.
And as expected, Rose was hardly cautious when it came to discussing expectations. With the team drawing predictions to challenge for the NBA title, he was relaxed, candid and avoided clichés. He said he never felt he could take on a double-team under the pressure of playoff basketball.
But he did not sound like someone who desires to quietly work his way back into a groove, saying his shooting range has improved and even his balance.
He admitted to watching the video of his injury 20 to 30 times. "At the time, I didn't train my body the way I do now," he said. "I should be more balanced than I was in the past."
Other than that, he said, there is only one other surprising change in his game.
"I think the only thing that changed in my game was my confidence level," he said. "I think I'm way more confident in my craft, in my game. I worked out a whole year training my body, a whole year going out there and really showing people that I'm the same player, but a more efficient player. That's what I'm trying to prove."
Not surprisingly, Thibodeau could not commit to how many minutes Rose would be ready to play on opening night, though the coach did say that the point guard will play six-to-eight-minute segments at the beginning.
Rose said he missed being truly a part of the game, not just on the court but in the huddles and locker room.
"I was there but I wasn't able to be in conversations they were having at halftime or at the end of the game," he said. "You miss that when you're not out there battling with your teammates. ... For me loving the game the way I do, it hurt."
He has no regrets. What drives him more than anything, he said, is the same thing that has always served as motivation.
"Just winning the championship," he said. "I think that's the only thing from my résumé I'm missing, and this is a great time to do it when everybody is watching. This is the biggest stage you could possibly play on. My teammates are preparing themselves for a big year and I am too. It should be a crazy magical year with a lot of people watching."
As he has every year, and as you would expect, Rose stood before the throng at media day appearing more mature, the father now of a toddler who, he joked, "runs everything." But somewhat surprisingly, he spoke of his own absentee father and the desire to be so much better than that.
"It's a blessing having a kid," Rose said. "My father wasn't there for me in my life. If I do everything the opposite way he did, I should put myself in a good position to be a good father." It was suddenly no longer difficult to imagine how easy it will be for him to move on, how easy it should be for the rest of us to do the same.
"Just the opportunity to be walking, running and doing the same things I did previous to the injury is great," he said. "Being back in Chicago and actually feel like a basketball player, this excites me."