If he’s able, Rose should play ball

Deep down, Chicagoans don’t prefer restaurants with ferns and fancy food as much as joints with sausage and beef, and don’t skimp on the peppers. No lightweight palm trees, they are still fighting 20 degrees and snow in spring. And in sports, they prefer winning but accept losing, as long as the other guy goes home with a bloody nose.

That’s what’s giving Chicago a hard time accepting the case of Derrick Rose.

This was a Chicago kid who came home to be the next Chicago sports icon. He has spoken out against the epidemic gun violence against kids on the streets. Chicagoans feel he is one of them.

Yet, he just will not take the court and play a game for the Chicago Bulls. Rose had surgery nearly 11 months ago for a torn ACL in his knee. It’s a normal time frame for reconstructive surgery, but Adrian Peterson returned from the same surgery faster to play dominant football.

So now Chicago is asking itself: Is Derrick Rose soft?

That’s unfair, of course. No one but Rose knows what his knee feels like. But everyone goes to work sick, and Chicagoans shovel out their cars before leaving. And Rose has been cleared to play, as his bosses are quick to let us know. He’s there on the news all the time, practicing with the team and smiling. He traveled to Minnesota on Sunday to work out with the team before the game.

Why isn’t he playing the games?

The Bulls aren’t going to win a championship with or without him. But here’s the truth: He needs to return Wednesday. Needs to. The Miami Heat are in town, and the Bulls want them to be their rival. Years ago, Michael Jordan’s Bulls had to overcome the Detroit Pistons.

For the Bulls, the Heat are this era’s Pistons.

It feels wrong to doubt someone about an injury. But even the Bulls’ team management has all-but called him names and tried to humiliate him publicly into coming back. Rose seems scared, says that only God knows when he’ll be ready.

Although the players support him publicly, they’ve got to be wondering why they’re left to fight without their leader while the team falls apart.

Rose says he doesn’t want to come back until he’s 100 percent. But at this time of year, who’s 100 percent? Everyone is hurting, tired, sore.

Rose keeps practicing. The team keeps losing.

Big-game players are there for the big game, and while this isn’t nearly as big as Jay Cutler benching himself during the NFC Championship Game against the Packers, it is a big moment for the Bulls.

Logic keeps saying that Rose should just let the knee heal fully and put off his return to the Bulls until next year. But the battle is being fought now. And Rose’s teammates are losing it.

Three weeks ago, ESPNChicago.com broke the story that team officials were ready for Rose to come back. The story said that a source said the team had been assured by Rose’s doctor that Rose wasn’t any more likely to hurt his knee now than anyone else. He was cleared. The last hurdle, the story said?

Rose’s “psychological side.’’

Translation: The team was calling Rose soft, hoping that would shame him into playing. This is how guys in suits do it. If you’re a kid, you just call him a chicken and dare him.

I don’t have proof of this, but it seems that the Bulls planted that story. It’s also a classic Bulls management ploy. What “source’’ knows what team officials think and have been told?

They wanted Rose back in a week. Three weeks have passed.

A few years ago, Luol Deng called his leg injury a stress fracture. The Bulls were calling it an owie. They issued a press release at the time calling Deng’s injury “mild inflammation’’ and encouraging him to “challenge himself physically.’’ They said they hoped he would return soon if his “symptoms remain minimal.’’

Minimal, mild. Translation: Deng is soft.

I remember asking Deng how he felt about that, and he got upset after having me read him the press release. And while it simply irritated Deng to have his own bosses call him out publicly, it did create an image problem for him. It reinforced what Chicago was already wondering about him.

Bulls management is being more careful this time with Rose, not issuing a press release but providing a media “source.’’ You can’t fully pin it on them this way.

Well, it’s not working on getting Rose to play, but it is working on getting the town to wonder about him.

Meanwhile, his relationship with team bosses was already in a bad spot after his brother, Reggie Rose, reportedly said that what the Bulls did at the trade deadline would be a big factor in whether Derrick would come back this year. Reggie complained that the Bulls hadn’t surrounded Derrick with good enough players.

He was right, by the way. But the quality of teammates shouldn’t be a factor in whether Rose comes back this year or waits until next.

Eventually, Rose said his brother doesn’t speak for him.

Through it all, I was taking Rose’s side. Management was failing around him and was all-but publicly calling him a wimp. It was great that Rose was sticking it to them by refusing to play. I’d like to say “Good for him’’ in not letting anyone pressure him to come back before he’s ready.

But it’s not about office politics, or even this year’s championship.

It’s just about being there for the fight, being there with his teammates. It’s time now.