Season feels as if it's over for Bulls

CHICAGO -- Late Monday night, after an unimpressive Bulls win over the Milwaukee Bucks, I found myself in the hallway outside of the United Center media room talking to one of Derrick Rose's close friends, Andre Hamlin, one of his former coaches at Simeon Career Academy.

We talk often at games, and this time we were chatting about Rose's off night -- he had missed 12 of 13 shots but still had eight assists. Hamlin didn't know what was up, exactly, with Rose's game, but he carried with him the optimism that Rose would be ready for the playoffs.

After all, aside from the MVP season, that was the story of Rose's career. He could coast at times, but he always came up big when it mattered.

"All he cares about is winning," Hamlin said. Fast-forward to late Tuesday night. I thought back to that conversation when I sat down, jarred by the news and empathetic to the person, to write about Rose's medial meniscus tear in his right knee, his second in 15 months.

So much changed in just a night.

As of this writing, we don't know the severity of the injury, only that it requires surgery. There are different degrees of tears and multiple ways to address them. I suppose there's a chance he could return this season in some fashion. But I doubt it.

For the Bulls to make another deep playoff run, they needed Rose to be there to help carry the load. It's not yet March, but yes, it feels as if the Bulls' season is effectively over. Again.

A Derrick Rose knee injury dredges up unfortunately familiar feelings, and like the previous two times Rose got knocked out by his unforgiving knees, it doesn't feel real. It feels like a bad dream.

Another knee injury? I thought the news release was a forgery. I thought the tweets were old. Glitches in the system.

Unlike his previous two injuries, we didn't see it happen. There was no sense he was hurt Monday night. He sat out Tuesday's practice with "lower body soreness." This was the new normal.

Then -- pop -- a tweet. An email. A chorus of wailing.

I'll admit it: I was naive. I thought we were over this. The way he has played this season made sense as he worked his way back into the grueling routine of being a championship-caliber athlete. It's not easy, and it's not immediate. It's work.

Some nights he looked great, some nights he looked bad. A lot of in-between.

That's why I never bailed on him or ragged him too hard for pulling up for a few too many 3-pointers.

Who could tell him or, as we writers and radio hosts do, pretend to tell him how to play when he has spent the past two years rehabbing? He was out there, doing work, trying to navigate his way back.

"I just want to be healthy," Rose said at media day in September. "I think that's the only thing I'm worrying about right now. I could care less about the awards. I could care less about any accolades or whatever. I don't care about it. I just want to go out there and win games. If winning games gets me to get to any of them awards, that's cool, but my biggest goal is just winning a championship."

At the most basic level, I was just glad he was out there, driving and missing, turning over the ball, whatever bad came with the good.

I didn't see why you would be too critical of mistakes, but I felt the same pangs when he put up a subpar game. In retrospect, it was a good thing to be able to hold Rose to a higher standard. That meant he was playing. It meant he was normal.

It's very simple. When Rose is good, he makes people happy. And when he tears up a knee and we get a news release about it, he makes us grieve, not only for his getting robbed of a chance to make meaning of his life but also for us not getting to see it happen.

That MVP season was a long time ago. It feels like yesterday, but it's long gone.

Off the court, Rose has had a tough go in the public eye the past few years, some of it self-inflicted with sloppy words and poor phrasing that clouded harmless intentions, some of it just the price you pay for making a large sum of money to play a sport.

Criticism comes with the territory. This kind of luck should not.

No matter what you hear or what you read, know Rose is not a bad guy. He's not perfect, but he means well. He loves his family, his friends and basketball. And yes, he does love his craft. It's obvious to those of us who have covered him for years. He will fight for his return.

Rose has options to deal with this surgery. He can go with another repair of the meniscus, as he did last fall, which means he'll be out several months and probably lost for the season. Or he can get his meniscus sliced off and be back sooner, with the downside that he'll have future knee problems and, probably, a diminished career.

That's Rose's choice to make, of course. But I can't imagine he'd go for the latter option. Even now, at a very old 26.

In October, not long before the season began, I talked to Rose after one of his charity events. It was just the two of us for about 10 minutes. I started by promising him I wouldn't ask about his knees all season. He laughed and told me it was OK. He was fine with the questions.

Then I asked him what he was thinking about on the bench the past two seasons, when the camera zoomed in on him a dozen times a game.

"I'm always daydreaming," he said. "My mind is always racing. Some nights I can't sleep because my mind is racing too much. That's just who I am. I can't stop doing that. I've always been a daydreamer."

I asked him if he dreamed -- at night, not on the bench -- about playing when he was hurt.

"I don't have them anymore, but I did have dreams about being back out there during my first injury," he said. "The second injury, I didn't have that many, but the first injury, I had a lot of dreams."

And what happened when you woke up? I asked.

"I had a brace on my knee," he said with a laugh.

That brace will return. So will Rose.

Adidas once called it The Return. We didn't know how prescient those words would be.