Bulls: Players anticipating return of Derrick Rose
BY MARK POTASH Sun-Times Media February 4, 2013 12:14AM
Updated: February 4, 2013 12:32AM
The Bulls are trying hard not to anticipate — or even address — the impending return of Derrick Rose. But Rose’s return is close enough — and the Bulls are playing well enough — that Carlos Boozer can’t contain himself.
“When he’s ready, he’ll be out there with us, and ... it’s going to be fun, man,” Boozer said. “Stay tuned.”
Rose’s return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee will come with some trepidation: Will he have the same explosion, vertical leap and relentless aggressiveness that made him the NBA’s most valuable player at 22? But judging from his mood and body language in the Bulls’ locker room and on the court in pregame warmups, he seems to know he’ll be the same player he was when he suffered the devastating injury.
The Bulls seem to know it, too. And despite the troublesome spate of injuries that have sidelined Joakim Noah (foot), Boozer (hamstring) and Kirk Hinrich (elbow), the enthusiasm among the players is palpable.
For good reason. Rose’s return will come with a bonus: The Bulls (29-18) have become better in his absence than even some of the players had expected.
That’s a credit to coach Tom Thibodeau and his determination to instill mental toughness in a team that showed little of it last May, when the Bulls crumbled once they realized Rose was gone for good. This season, they’re playing as though they’re not waiting for Rose to bail them out after the All-Star break. They’re playing as though he’s not returning at all — and getting better every week.
Now they have a chance to be even better than many thought once Rose returns.
“Oh, yeah,” Boozer said. “Because the thing with Thibs is, now he’s seen everybody else and he’s seen how good Jimmy (Butler) can be. He can trust Jimmy now, and Jimmy has that experience now.
“The same thing for D-Rose. He can trust some of the young guys that he hasn’t played with yet, like Jimmy (and) Marco (Belinelli). It makes us better. I’m going to tell you, when he comes back — watch out.”
Early in the season, it looked like it would take the work of Houdini for Thibodeau to mold the Bulls’ newfangled bench into anything resembling the Bench Mob. But Thibodeau is already halfway out of the straitjacket while dangling upside down, with square pegs Nate Robinson and Belinelli starting to fit into the round holes of his hard-driving, defensive-minded template. Other NBA coaches would have needed a lathe to pull that off. For Thibodeau, it’s just what he does.
Asked what the Bulls’ most significant Rose-less development has been this season, Boozer didn’t hesitate.
“How fast we came together,” he said.
It seems Bulls fans weren’t the only ones wondering how Thibodeau was going to make this work.
“We were, too,” Boozer said. “We were all kind of concerned how fast we would get our chemistry right. But it’s just (early) February, and our chemistry is pretty awesome right now. I don’t think anybody knew it would be this fast.”
If Thibodeau can manage the nagging-injury situation — and he has had enough practice in the last three seasons to have it figured out — reintroducing Rose will be the easy part.
“There will be some ups and downs,” Boozer said. “But because he’s such a good player and he’s playing with a bunch of really good players and with a good coach, I think it’ll be a seamless transition.”