CHICAGO -- Derrick Rose talked to reporters Wednesday night, and you know what that means: six more weeks of comeback speculation.
Rose walked the red carpet during the Chicago Bulls' annual charity gala at the United Center and spoke to the media for just the second time since tearing his medial meniscus on Nov. 22 in Portland.
He refused to declare himself out for the season. But since his coach and Bulls executives have done that a number of times already this season, there's really not much of a question.
Derrick Rose Watch 2014 has never started and few believe it will begin. The Bulls learned from their PR disaster last season and made it clear this time Rose was out as soon as they scheduled his surgery.
Fans aren't deluding themselves with false hope, and the media is more concerned with the budding Carlos Boozer-Taj Gibson starting debate and the status of Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau's relationship with his front office.
But by not making a strong declaration that he's out, Rose left the door open, if only slightly, when he talked Dec. 5. On Tuesday, his teammate Joakim Noah kinda-sorta made it sound like there was a possible chance Rose will return late in the season.
So, when Rose was asked if in his mind he's done for the year, this is what he said:
"I haven't even had a chance to think about it, to tell you the truth. I'm just worrying about my next stage in this process, and that's running right now. I'm on the AlterG [anti-gravity treadmill] right now, running on that, and hopefully I'll be running without it pretty soon."
In a follow-up question, Rose was asked why he's keeping his "return" open when the team has ruled it out.
"I'm not keeping it open. I just said right now I haven't thought about it," he said. "I can't think about it right now when I'm not running yet. When I get out of the AlterG, that's when I'll consider coming back or not."
Ah, there it is!
Even when Rose tries not to sound indecisive, he slips up.
Oh, well, it's all in good fun, right Bulls fans? OK, maybe not.
Rose's unrealized "Return" last year made up 47 percent of Chicago-based tweets last season, and the angst of the past few months caused 32 percent of local divorces.
Now, I made both of those numbers up, but it was pretty heart-wrenching or at least annoying.
The "No Return" was a tortuous process, and not just for fans. Every morning, I opened my phone wondering if Rose would tweet the 2013 equivalent of Michael Jordan's fax. I spent way too much time watching him shoot around before games.
Think about the sportswriters, Derrick!
This season has been relatively painless -- for me, at least. I'm under the assumption Rose isn't returning, and I'm enjoying the Bulls' second consecutive "triumph of spirit" regular seasons.
While Rose is shooting around, not only is he not cleared for full-bore running yet, a friend of his told me he's not even cleared for yoga yet. Rose had talked about doing yoga to improve his flexibility, and Noah has encouraged him to start it.
When he's cleared for downward dog, I'll get excited.
But I'm actually optimistic about the future prospects for Rose's now star-crossed career. Judging by the 10 games he played this season, his speed was still there after the ACL surgery in his left knee. For Rose, speed and power are the keys to his game.
The meniscus injury to his right knee is a far less severe injury, and he went for the surgical route that requires more rest in exchange for better health down the road. The great unknown is his health, not how he'll play when healthy. I still bristle when I hear know-nothings analyze the drive and determination of the youngest MVP in league history. Doubt his health, but not his heart.
As for his team, so long as it stays intact -- and provided the front office doesn't ditch Mike Dunleavy and Kirk Hinrich for draft picks and flotsam at next week's trade deadline -- the Bulls will be a No. 4 or 5 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They'll win a round for the second straight season. Noah's popularity in the city will continue to rival Rose's, while Taj Gibson is another month of double-doubles away from being adopted by Thibodeau.
Will the Bulls be able to bring over Spanish league hero Nikola Mirotic? Would Carmelo Anthony have any interest in the Bulls? What about budding star Lance Stephenson? And will the Bulls keep their core together now that Luol Deng has been traded?
I asked Rose if he's thought about the makeup for next year's team. You can probably guess how he answered, if you're still paying attention.
"Basketball, that's the last thing [on my mind]," he said. "I work out six days a week, so I don't got time to think about basketball like that."
We didn't have time to ask him who likes in the men's slopestyle skiing in Sochi.
After three minutes, Rose was whisked away to entertain the local bigwigs.
He will be back in a uniform again one day. But for now he lives in limbo, a basketball junkie in rehab, taking it one day at a time.