Rose’s absence requires answers

No more excuses. The time for Derrick Rose to stand up and come forward is right now.

That became self-evident Saturday night, when a Chicago Bulls team lacking its star player and worn weary by a season without him was utterly overwhelmed by the Brooklyn Nets, 106-89, in the opener of their seven-game series.

So much wrong with this Bulls team was on display. Head coach Tom Thibodeau’s tendency to load his players with too minutes. The fact that 32-year-old Kirk Hinrich, who’s filling in for Rose, is not nearly the answer. The injuries that have hampered their season, this time in the form of Joakim Noah playing only 13 minutes despite there being no other option for guarding Brook Lopez.

None of this is good. But all of that pales compared with the widening void Rose’s absence – and the nature of it – has produced.

This is not to say Rose should or should not play. A torn ACL, the injury he sustained in the first game of the playoffs last season, is no small thing, even if it has been almost a year since the injury. It is to say that Rose, who was officially cleared March 9 but has remained sidelined because of some nebulously self-defined waiting game only he seems to understand, owes his team, his fans and his game something.

It is the playoffs, Derrick Rose. Give us minutes or give us answers.

There are several lines that must be walked here, and certainly a critical one is Rose’s health. In any endeavor with huge stakes, enormous pressure, personal health and the chance for a legacy of either greatness or disappointment, a person should ultimately rely on his own counsel. So Rose’s decision-making regarding his career and readiness are his and his alone.

But there are other factors at play. This is sports and this is the playoffs and this is Chicago, where the tough are celebrated and the weak (or those perceived as weak) are ridiculed. Winning and effort and the idea that players best honor themselves and their teammates and their game through their own dedication cannot be ignored – particularly in Chicago.

Two years ago, with a Super Bowl berth on the line, Jay Cutler opted to sit out much of the NFC Championship Game. Against the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears’ most hated rival. Which meant Green Bay not only won that game, but also eventually the whole damn thing.

Cutler was absolutely killed – by fans, by the press, by most anyone who paid attention.

And Rose? Rose has gotten a six-week pass, and his silence has in large part been treated as part of the recovery process. It is not.

Whatever his teammates actually know or do not know, it cannot help that their star unfurls uncertain answers about God and time and needing to be 110 percent when anyone asks the obvious “When, Derrick, when?” question. Not to get picky here, but 110 percent isn’t actually possible. So that would be a really, really long wait. Which I wouldn’t even bother saying if we weren’t still waiting …

Imagine if it were LeBron James from two years ago, or Carmelo Anthony during Linsanity, or Dwight Howard this season, sitting out while cleared to play. While Kobe Bryant waxes eloquent about his own brutal, season-ending injury – and clearly yearns to return – Rose’s passive uncertainty has tainted a once-tough team with a similar kind of uncertainty and a perception, at least, of weakness.

Strength isn’t just physical. Sometimes in team sports it’s as much about chemistry, clarity and perception as it is on-court heroics. Just ask the Heat from two years ago, or Melo during Linsanity, or Kobe this past season.

Rose was once in the same class as those guys. He was the youngest MVP in league history two years ago and – unlike those others – an immensely likeable guy from Day One. That likeability has surely played a part in how easily he has been allowed to silently sit out as a team built around him with championship contention expectations has floundered.

I’m also a huge Rose fan. Love his game. Love what a great guy he seems to be. Love what he means to Chicago. Love how he played before he went down a year ago. So much so that I, too, urged patience when Rose opted to sit, urged understanding, urged everyone – mostly myself – to give him time.

Well, time’s up. Time should be up. Rose’s team just got mauled by a Nets team that two years ago wouldn’t have been in their class. Luol Deng, who led the league in minutes played per game this season (and last season) scored only six points on 3-of-11 shooting Saturday night. Noah, who also played a ton of minutes per game in the regular season, was so beat up he tried to play but was obviously unable. A Bulls team that competed with typical Thibodeau defense in the regular season gave up 106 points.

They are exhausted. Weary. Overwhelmed.

They need their leader. In one form or another.

Please, Derrick Rose. Come onto that floor in Game 2 and show us what you’ve got. Or come to that microphone and tell us, with clarity and honesty, when you’ll have what you once did and why there is a six-week gulf between what your doctors believe and what you believe.

Give us minutes or give us answers.

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