Derrick Rose likes Durant for MVP

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Chicago Bulls guard and reigning MVP Derrick Rose said Friday he believes Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant is the front-runner for this season's award.

"KD is playing great," Rose said. "I'm hearing about what he's doing, hearing about how he's playing. The numbers speak for itself, how he's working out this summer, and he's playing great basketball.

"(Minnesota's Kevin Love) K-Love been putting in work, too, but I think KD."

Durant is averaging 27.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks for the Western Conference-leading Thunder. It figures to be a two-man race between Durant and the Miami Heat's LeBron James, who's averaging 26.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists and is shooting a career-best 53 percent.

Rose, who was the youngest MVP in history at age 22, is unlikely to win the award again because of missed time this season. He has sat out 17 games because of a variety of injuries. He will miss his 10th straight on Friday against the Detroit Pistons with a sore groin.

Rose began running on a treadmill on Sunday and still has not taken contact during practice this week. The Bulls have done well without their leader, going 12-5.

"I'm getting better," Rose said. "There ain't too much to say. I'm trying to get better every day, just trying to get healthy. It's coming along, so hopefully I'll be out there soon.

"It's killing me, man. Just being out, missing the action, playing in some good games. (I'm just) really taking my injury into concern where I'm not trying to rush back. Where if I do rush back too early, I could re-injure it, so just taking my time."

Rose hopes to be back for Sunday's matchup against Durant, good friend Russell Westbrook and the Thunder in what could be an NBA Finals preview.

"Our families are close," said Rose of Westbrook, whom he trains with during the offseason. "We're definitely close. It'll hurt me not to play that game.

"For me to play would be great. But if not, I know if we make it far and they make it far, we'll have a chance to play them."

The Bulls sit atop the Eastern Conference with a 41-11 record. Oklahoma City leads the West with a 39-12 mark.

Rose's endorsements didn't stop with Durant on Friday. Asked whether Simeon Career Academy's Robert Smith, his former high school coach in Chicago, should be considered for an assistant job under new Illinois coach John Groce, Rose voiced his support.

"I think he would be great as an assistant," said Rose, who won two state championships at Simeon under Smith. "I think on the high school level, he did everything possible -- win championships, state championships. It would be great for him to go onto the college level and see what he can do then."

Smith, who has won five state titles in eight years at Simeon, has said he would listen if Groce, who was hired on Thursday, contacted him about a position. As of Friday, Smith had not heard from Illinois.