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Updated: November 20, 2013 12:56PM
Tom Thibodeau doesn’t go out on limbs. There’s little gray or ‘‘what if.’’ So when discussing Derrick Rose on Tuesday, the Bulls coach was very matter-of-fact.
‘‘Derrick will be Derrick very shortly,’’ he said.
But what if he’s not? What if, after surgery and a long rehabilitation for his torn anterior cruciate ligament, this is the new Rose — a 34-percent-shooting, 15-points-a-game guard? What if he’s just another NBA player in a sea of upper-echelon talent who doesn’t quite make the cut into elite?
What if Rose being an MVP, as he was in 2011, is a case of days gone by?
It’s not a scenario that Thibodeau deems realistic.
‘‘You’ve got to remember, the guy has been out 18 months,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘He’s real close. We’ve got to be patient. He’s not making shots he normally makes right now, but we know he’s a great finisher. He has some shots going in and out right now, so we know he’s going to be fine.’’
That’s how it looked after the Bulls’ win over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday, when Rose tied a career high with six three-pointers and shot a season-best 7-for-16 (44 percent). But on Monday against the Charlotte Bobcats, that guy showed up again, shooting 4-for-13 and looking very average — enough for Bulls fans to suddenly be feeling nervous.
‘‘Whether it’s praise or criticism, [outside concern] really doesn’t matter to me — it’s what we think,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘We knew this was going to be a process that he had to go through. The encouraging thing is, physically, he feels great. People tend to forget how competitive and how great a league this is. When you miss 18 months, that’s a lot of time. It takes a little time to get back and get yourself reacclimated to the intensity, the speed of a game.
‘‘He’s still running the team, making a lot of great decisions, great reads. Each day I see it getting better and better.’’
Rose’s mentality is still the same. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by growing concerns or criticisms, and being the spectacular star he was before the knee injury is an afterthought compared to winning games.
What if he doesn’t end up as the Bulls’ leading scorer?
‘‘I could care less,’’ Rose said. ‘‘As long as we win games, winning takes care of everything. My job is to win games. If we were to win a championship and I didn’t score anything, it would still count as a championship, so my goal is to go out there and play as hard as I can, try and will my team and put my guys into position to do positive things on the court.’’
That’s well and fine, but unless Rose can return to elite status, the Bulls won’t see a championship. Good all-around team play wins games in the regular season. Superstars hold up the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
‘‘I can’t get frustrated,’’ Rose said. ‘‘I’m doing everything I can to work on my game, get my game to be efficient, but it’s not clicking the way I want it to yet.
‘‘But it’s going to come.’’