Whether he was shooting a video game commercial with Kobe Bryant or coaching teens in China with Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose had no trouble finding things to do during the offseason.
He wound up with some unwelcome downtime the past few weeks. The reigning Rookie of the Year for the Chicago Bulls was sidelined most of the preseason by an inflamed tendon behind his right ankle.
So as the curtain rises on the second act of a promising NBA career, Rose is just a little restless.
“It’s hard knowing that I want to play against some of the good players that are out there, be with my team,” Rose said. “We’ve got so many new players on the team. They’re young. They’re still trying to learn. We just need to hurry up and jell quick because we can make it far in the season.”
How far hinges largely on Rose.
The hometown star led the Bulls back to the playoffs before they bowed to Boston in an epic seven-game series. They pushed the defending champions to a league-record four overtime games, winning one in triple OT and another in double OT, but for all those thrills, it should be noted that the Celtics were missing the injured Kevin Garnett.
Even so, the Bulls insist the experience was an invaluable one.
A year earlier, they saw a three-year playoff run come to an end in a dysfunctional season that cost coach Scott Skiles and then Jim Boylan their jobs. They lucked out when they won the lottery despite long odds and wound up with a franchise centerpiece in Rose, who glided through his first season by leading all rookies with 6.3 assists per game and finishing second in scoring average at 16.8.
It wasn’t until the offseason that he hit a few bumps.
The commercial shoot was fun. So was the trip to China.
Seeing a photo of him flashing gang signs make its way around the Internet was not fun. Nor was having his name linked to the academic scandal at Memphis, although Rose insisted he did nothing wrong.
The real pain, though, was the ankle injury that threw his status for the opener into question. And the Bulls would miss Rose, even if they have another proven point guard in Kirk Hinrich.
What the team could also use is a return to form by Luol Deng, who looked like a budding star a few years ago, and more progress from Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah after they came on strong toward the end of last season.
If there’s a Bulls player with something to prove, it’s Deng.
He averaged career-highs in points (18.8) and rebounds (7.1) three years ago while leading Chicago to 49 wins but has been limited by injuries since. Last season was particularly rough.
He missed the final 22 games of the regular season plus the playoffs with a stress fracture in his right tibia and finished with his lowest scoring average (14.1) since he was a rookie in 2004-05.
“I want to win,” Deng said. “I want to be out there. I want to compete. Whatever comes individually, I think that will take care of itself, but I think the main thing and the main mindset is just competing and playing like we did in the playoffs. I think the team that we have, the chemistry is going to be great.”
With leading scorer Ben Gordon now in Detroit, Deng would be a good candidate to pick up some of the slack even though he’s not a similar 3-point threat. Having John Salmons and Brad Miller as the season begins after they provided a big spark following a midseason trade from Sacramento helps. If Thomas and Noah pick up where they left off that would be even better.
A year ago, Noah was out of shape after spraining his ankle in the summer and then suffering an eye injury, and he struggled to grasp his role even though it hasn’t changed since he was drafted in 2007.
“I think it’s just a question of playing more minutes, being more familiar, more comfortable with the system,” he said. “I feel healthy and I feel pretty good. I understand that a lot is demanded and I’m excited.”