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Was it fair to expect Derrick Rose to return this season?

Nobody believed it; I know I didn't. Derrick Rose would miss the entire 2012-13 season in the aftermath of ACL surgery? Not possible. Rose, one of the toughest, most competitive hombres in the NBA, would be back by the All-Star break. Certainly in time for the playoffs.

And if you listen to the gobbledygook that passes for medical timetables and diagnoses in the NBA, it's still possible that Rose could come back before the season's over. He'll be back "when he's ready," the Bulls say. He could be back today or tomorrow. Technically, he's been back since mid-February, when he was cleared for full-contact scrimmaging. He's just not ready to bring that scrimmaging onto the floor for games that count.

At a certain point, it's time to close the door on Rose returning this season. That time is now. The Bulls have four games left. The level of competition at this point in the season -- with contenders resting up for the playoffs and the lottery-bound going through the motions -- makes it hard to imagine such an environment being an effective proving ground for Rose's knee, not to mention his psyche.

The intensity of the playoffs dwarfs that of the regular season, and this is true in the NBA more than in any other pro sport. Given how cautious Rose and the Bulls have been with his rehab, it's impossible to imagine him testing the waters in the crucible of intensity that is the postseason without so much as a regular-season walkthrough.

It's a shame, because with a healthy Rose, the Bulls would've been a formidable challenge to the Heat in the East. Even without him -- and others -- the Bulls have dominated the Heat, Knicks and Nets, three of the key candidates to reach the conference finals. They ended the Heat's 27-game winning streak and snapped the Knicks' 13-game winning streak. Tom Thibodeau's defense is stifling, physical and connected -- all the traits you need to prevail in the playoffs.

But when it comes to the human body, we don't get the instant gratification that we expect from all other aspects of modern life. Basketball, it turns out, is not a video game. Derrick Rose is not a droid. He's human, and his body and mind are at the mercy of the healing process. No one is in a position to question his readiness to risk livelihood and limb to engage in sport.

In effect, he'll be back when he's ready and that's that.

Should the Bulls simply have declared him out for the season before the season began? That would've eliminated all the anticipation, the constant questions and the emptiness that comes with realizing that he's not coming back until training camp. The Bulls' actions last summer spoke louder than any words. If they thought they had a chance to compete for a championship this season, would they have let three important rotation players go just to save a few dollars of luxury tax?

Anyway, sports sometimes isn't all neat and sensible. Sometimes, we don't get to say with certainty how the body and mind will respond to catastrophic injury. All we can do is wait a little longer to enjoy what Derrick Rose gives us when he competes on a basketball court, which is everything he has. He'll give that to us again when he's ready.

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