WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As Taj Gibson hobbled back towards the Chicago Bulls locker room midway through the second quarter Tuesday night, there's a very good chance he bumped into a man who was reminded yet again how dangerous the rehab from a knee injury can be.
Derrick Rose's decision not to return yet from May 12 ACL surgery has been well documented. Some fans are growing increasingly frustrated that after nearly 11 months of rehab Rose still hasn't returned to the floor. Especially since he has been medically cleared to do so and his team doctor, Brian Cole, said after the surgery that the final stage in the recovery process is playing in games.
Rose has admitted that he is struggling with the mental aspect of the process and still isn't comfortable with different parts of his game. Seeing Gibson, his good friend, hobble around on the same knee he's already injured once this year isn't going to help that process. But it's what Gibson said afterward that could give Rose pause.
"That's what happens when you rush back and try to help your team win," Gibson said after the Bulls' loss to the Wizards.
Ever since Rose said in February that he 'wouldn't mind' sitting out the whole season if his leg were still hurting, I got the sense that he wouldn't return this season. Seeing Gibson go down the way he did Tuesday night and hearing what he said after the game only reinforced that feeling for me.
Rose told ESPN's Chris Broussard recently that he would be open to returning to action during the playoffs, a feeling shared by Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. While the idea is nice and people within the organization continue to hold out hope that Rose wakes up one day and says he is ready to play -- the reality is that Gibson's injury should only accelerate the process of shutting down Rose for the season.
What are the Bulls waiting for?
Obviously, Gibson's injury isn't the same as Rose's, but there are parallels. Can you imagine the wrath the organization would feel if they allowed Rose to come back with just nine regular-season games left and he were to re-injure himself? Gibson's injury should serve a reality check for the Bulls' front office. No matter how much they may like to see Rose back on the floor, and no matter how many times they say it would be good for him to get some game action under his belt, why are they even keeping open the possibility at this point?
If Rose doesn't feel like he's mentally or physically ready to play, then that should be the end of it. The constant distraction regarding Rose's status is just unnecessary at this point. The idea of Rose coming back and playing during a lost season in which the Bulls have already suffered a slew of different injuries to key players doesn't make much sense for all involved.
The argument that Rose should be treated the same way as any other player is laughable. Of course Rose is going to be treated differently. He is the future of the franchise. He's a commodity that companies such as the Bulls and adidas have hundreds of millions of dollars tied up in. Is the risk of having him play this season really worth allowing him to go back on the floor when there's pretty much no chance he will be able to get into any kind of rhythm with his teammates?
One of the other popular arguments is -- Why should Rose come back next year given that the Bulls roster figures to look very much the same and they still likely won't be able to beat the Heat? The difference there is that Rose will have six more months of rehab to get his body and his mind back on the same page. All of his teammates will be on the same page in training camp, and there's a much better chance that all of them will be healthy. Will they be able to beat the Heat in a seven game series? It's still not likely -- but the odds are much higher given that the team would have a full compliment of healthy players and a reinvigorated Rose running the ship.
The answer there is simple as well. If Noah, Deng and Gibson don't feel like they are healthy enough to play -- they shouldn't play. This is actually a point that Thibodeau fundamentally agrees with. He talked about this during a pregame conversation with the media regarding his stance on resting guys in advance of the playoffs
"Respecting the game is very, very important," he said. "But I also think you have the obligation if a guy is hurt or hurting and it's best to give him the rest, then you do that. In my eyes you do what's right. You do what's right for the game."
Rose, Noah, Deng and Gibson are the future of the organization. The last thing the Bulls need is to rush one of them back when they don't feel as if they're ready in a season that in which the writing has been on the wall since last summer that this team wasn't built to win a title this season.
The Bulls learned a lesson with Gibson's injury Tuesday night -- they don't need to make the same mistake twice with Rose. If he says he's not ready to play then end the drama and speculation right now and say that he's out for the season. The risk of putting him back out on the floor when he doesn't feel like himself isn't worth any potential reward this team could garner over the next month or two with an already depleted roster.