Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose made his return Saturday night in a preseason win over the Pacers. He finished with 13 points, three assists, two steals and four rebounds in 20 minutes. He sat out most of the second half.
Just being back on the court was a big deal for Rose and Chicago, after it had been 526 days since Rose suffered an ACL tear vs. the Sixers in the 2012 playoffs. He missed all of last season, though he was cleared by team doctors in February.
CBSSports.com's Ken Berger was in Indianapolis to see Rose in person and provided perspective on what this meant for Rose and the Bulls. (Read Berger on the recurrent surge of ACL injuries in the NBA, and what Rose faces going forward from earlier last week.)
Now Rose steps back into the narrative and changes everything -- as long as he's patient.
"There's going to be some rust, and you expect that," fellow ACL survivor David West said. "He can't hit a home run with this."
It's true; there will be plenty more milestones. His teammates have been without him for so long, and he without them, that it's going to take time to get reacquainted. But in May and June, no one will remember when Rose fumbled the ball out of bounds or fired an errant pass into the row of photographers along the baseline in his first game back after 526 days of inertia. They will remember what we really learned on this night, the essence of the frightening clarion call that went out across the sport.
Derrick Rose is back, and he changes everything about the power struggle in the East -- from Indiana to New York and all the way to Miami. He steps right into the void that he left behind.
Rose's rust looked like normal preseason rust to me. It wasn't a matter of not knowing how to move, and more importantly, didn't appear hesitant to drive into contact. That's a huge element in evaluating where him.
Yahoo Sports' take was more off-the-court, that Rose's biggest impact could be to hold together a fractured front office.
Rose changes everything in the Eastern Conference, but most of all he needs his transcendent talent to impact the fabric of this franchise. As the Chicago Bulls threaten to come undone at the organizations highest levels, Rose remains the reminder for everyone to find a way to make this franchise functional and free of discord. Gulfs are deep, but so is the talent of Rose. Derrick Rose is back, and make no mistake: His burden has never been bigger.
This is eerily reminiscent of the same power struggle that the Bulls suffered through between then-GM Jerry Krause and the championship triumvirate of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Phil Jackson. As outlined in Michael Halberstam's "Playing For Keeps," the Bulls slow-rolled even the Greatest of All Time Jordan, and the championship-caliber Jackson before outright squeezing blood from stone on Pippen before the 1997-1998, prompting Pippen to sit out part of the year. The organization always has had trouble opening its pocketbook. Now with the discord after letting assistant coach Ron Adams go over objections from Tom Thibodeau and Rose, and with Luol Deng's extension still hanging out there, the situation seems unstable, even as Rose brings a level of comfort.
Bulls blog Pippen Ain't Easy points out where specifically Rose's rust was.
Athletically, Rose looks just like he did before his injury. His speed continues to be unparalleled and as mentioned above, he beat everyone on both teams down the floor for layups twice in less than a minute of game time in the second quarter. He isn't favoring his reconstructed left knee in the slightest.
The only issues in his performance seem to be rust-based. He committed four turnovers, but two of them were simply him trying to do things he'd done before his injury but not quite able to execute them just yet and a third was a miscommunication with Luol Deng. He was only 5/12 from the floor, but he was 5/6 at the rim. He seems to be rusty when it comes to his trademark floater in particular, and his only jumpers were both heavily contested. He also seemed out of sync with his teammates on a couple of occasions, but that's what happens when you've got less than a week's worth of practices under your belt.
In short, there's virtually no reason not to be optimistic about Rose's prospects after last night, as long as you remember the implied caveat listed above.
That floater is something you kind of have to re-learn based on footwork and timing. So that may take a bit. The next step for Rose needs to be to show off his allegedly improved jumper. He needs to get into his rhythm. Part of that will come after getting over the jitters of the first game. Rose played mostly off the ball for the first handful of possessions, and it was a smart approach. He was able to work his way into the game and take advantage of some breakaways to get his legs under him. Now he needs to expand on it going forward.
Bulls blog Blog a Bull agreed with me on what was probably the most revealing highlight of Rose's night.
Drawing conclusions from preseason action is usually a dangerous game, but it was comforting to see Rose look fully back, at least physically. He moved well and showed off a few patented speed bursts in getting to the hoop. His first bucket came when he rebounded his own miss and finished over three Pacers defenders. His best play of the night came in the second quarter when he took the ball into the teeth of the Indiana defense in transition and finished with contract to draw the and-one:
And Thibodeau was pretty glowing about getting his point guard back. And this is a guy who typically "glows" like a brick. Covered in soot. Under a coat. In a well.
"You see how he makes the game easier for everybody and the speed at which he plays," Thibodeau said. "Overall, I thought he played very, very well — the speed, the quickness, the power. That's what makes him so special and unique. There's no one like him."
Rose played 7:02 in the first quarter, 8:31 in the second and 4:53 in the third before lounging on the baseline with ice bags on both knees. He also could be seen stretching while sitting out in the first half, a nod to his new commitment to that discipline.
"I had no doubt; he worked really hard," Luol Deng said. "I'm happy for him to get his confidence built up. He went through a lot."
Later, Rose joked about Thibodeau robbing him of three minutes of playing time in the third quarter.
"That's when I knew we were good," Thibodeau said with a smirk. "Things are back to normal."
They were also normal when Rose took a hard foul from Roy Hibbert and bounced right back up.
"That's the way I've been playing in practice, just attacking," Rose said. "I'm not slowing down. I don't care who is in the hole. If they're going to foul me hard, I'm just going to get up and keep going hard at them."
That's all he can do. It's early. There's a long season to come. But one thing is undeniable. Even if he's not 100 percent, Derrick Rose is back.