CHICAGO – For Derrick Rose, it is a new beginning, and it starts on his home court.
The Chicago Bulls’ superstar will suit up for the first time at the United Center since his latest season-ending knee injury when the United States’ national team will meet Brazil in a tuneup Saturday for the World Cup of Basketball.
It’s a journey in which the former MVP point guard hopes he shows he still is a franchise player, one capable of leading a championship contender.
The Bulls are aiming high after a 48-win season in which Rose’s long-awaited comeback got cut short. He drew high praise practicing with Team USA in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. But until he plays in a game, questions will linger.
This gives him an opportunity to knock off some of the rust that’s built up after being sidelined most of the last two seasons. That’s why the Bulls were so gung-ho about him playing with Team USA this offseason, and for Rose, the benefits are easy to see.
“You’re actually out there competing,” he said. “There are so many elements of a basketball game and competing that it makes me feel like I’m a hooper again, and I’m just happy that I get this opportunity to be here with these great players, great young players, too, and really showcase my talent.”
Even with a long list of All-Stars withdrawing, including MVP Kevin Durant and the injured Paul George, the U.S. still has a deep team with Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson, among others. But on Saturday, all eyes will be on Rose.
After all, he’s been limited to just 49 regular-season games plus one playoff appearance the last three years.
He sat out the 2012-13 season recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, and just as he was working his way back last year, he wound up back on the shelf last November. A torn meniscus in his right knee cut off his long-awaited comeback at 10 games.
U.S. head coach Mike Krzyzewski had no doubt Rose would be able to play because Bulls’ head coach Tom Thibodeau said he would be. Krzyzewski didn’t realize Rose would be playing as well as he has.
“I think he’s outstanding,” Krzyzewski said. “Look, he’s one of the best guys in the whole world. He’s so easy to coach and wants to please. It’s very neat to see how excited he is about being here. And his first game back to play in the United Center, as a Chicagoan, I’m ecstatic about what him and Tom has done for the Bulls.”
Thibodeau, an assistant for the U.S., said this is the perfect environment for his star to work his way back.
“I like the idea of him coming back in this setting,” Thibodeau said. “The quality of depth is so strong; we’re asking all these guys to sacrifice playing time and sacrifice some shots for the sake of the team, so he doesn’t have the burden of having to score 25 points and play a lot of minutes – just go out there and do your job.”
Rose said his confidence “is high right now.” He’s in good shape, and he believes he still is an elite player.
The Bulls are counting on him to do just that, particularly after they struck out trying to reel in Carmelo Anthony. They made a hard push, only to see him re-sign with the New York Knicks.
There also were talks with Minnesota about a Kevin Love trade, but he is headed to join Irving and LeBron James in Cleveland. The Bulls went the depth route, the most notable addition being Pau Gasol.
With a new big man, Doug McDermott in the draft and the arrival of Nikola Mirotic from Europe, Chicago believes it has the weapons to contend for the Eastern Conference championship. That still hinges largely on Rose.
“Physically, he looks like the Derrick Rose we’re used to seeing before he got hurt,” Curry said. “Now, I’m sure for him, it’s just about getting game reps and getting your rhythm back. You can go through drills and get your body right, but there’s nothing like playing. I know he’s excited about that opportunity starting (Saturday).”