Good. Great. Yes! Completely and absurdly wrong? Of course. LeBron James is the best basketball player on earth, by a long stretch, but that isn’t the point. The point is that for more than a year during which he’s been sidelined by an ACL tear in his knee, Rose had been a faded, broken version of himself. This week, at long last, the 2011 NBA Most Valuable Player finally sounds like the guy who captivated the game two years ago.
He missed his team’s end of the 2012 playoffs, hobbled with that injury. He missed the 2012-13 regular season, recovering. More worrisome, he missed these past playoffs despite being medically cleared to play. It wasn’t just his physical greatness that had been injured; his confidence and competitive spirit had seemed to go down with that left knee.
What great player sits out a postseason when cleared? What competitor doesn’t burn to be great and to be back as soon as possible? Who was this Derrick Rose sitting in street clothes when he could be playing as his Bulls faltered, and what had happened to the fearless young player who had gone from promising star to top-five player in the blink of an eye?
He’d vanished. Poof, gone.
Until those words of silly self-confidence broke across the NBA on Thursday.
This brash burst of overconfidence is great news for Bulls fans. Last we saw Derrick Rose in a full season, he was the Most Valuable Player, beating out James for the honor. He was a quiet imposer of his will, the youngest player ever to win an MVP. He took a defensive-minded team molded by Tom Thibodeau and elevated it with his offensive acumen, his power and confidence attacking the rim and his at times one-man mastery of big moments.
That’s the Derrick Rose who emerged this week, speaking in third person (lame), calling himself the best player in the NBA (laughably wrong) and doing it all on the heels of holding himself out of a playoffs in which his team needed him (takes some chutzpah).
Taken alone, each of those things is amusing. But in the greater context, seen past the knee-jerk reaction of, "What the hell, Derrick?", this is Rose announcing the old version of himself has returned.
Rose’s 2012-2013 season, playoffs included, is behind him. That’s over. The Heat are champions and hold total dominion over the Eastern Conference, and the Bulls now must look forward. Rose’s words tell me they’ll do that again with a leader who fears no one, who believes in himself and who will burn with the same ambition to win that powers most of the game’s greats.
Rose is not the best player in the NBA, not by a long stretch, but that he believes he is means Chicago has a chance to challenge Miami’s reign. The New York Knicks are a talented bunch with cap problems so deep they will be of little concern to Miami as long as LeBron keeps his talents in South Beach. I do not believe that team as it’s constructed now will ever challenge a LeBron-led Heat team.
That leaves as real challengers the Brooklyn Nets, who are interesting and deep but old in key spots; the Indiana Pacers, who are complete after bringing back David West but still young and in need of another jump to truly threaten Miami; and, now, Chicago.
It takes guts, confidence and some ill will toward LeBron & Co. to have a shot against them. Those are all things those three teams have, especially Chicago now that its leader has gotten his mojo back.
There have been reports that Rose will play starter’s minutes once the preseason rolls around, and obviously it will be then that we can confirm whether he has regained his old form and has returned in a way that elevates the Bulls back to contender status.
But for a player like that to sit out so long, to wait and be silent and to pass up on a postseason, and then to announce suddenly he is the best in the game — that’s a sign. That’s a return.
That shows Derrick Rose, for the first time in too long, believes he’s ready to take on the Miami Heat. His comment was made of fighting words. Which means, finally, Derrick Rose is ready to get back out there and battle.