Counting the minutes to Derrick Rose's return

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Updates on Derrick Rose's rehab progress have been few and far between, but his return could come soon.

It has been nine months and nine days since Derrick Rose's injury. Nine months and nine days since that dark afternoon in April, when a collective gasp from Bulls fans swept through Chicago like the gusts of wind that turn corners around the city's tall buildings. The day the hometown boy, Derrick Rose, who seemed destined to return the team to glory, crumbled to the United Center floor, clutching his left knee.

For the second straight season, the Bulls had finished with the best record in the league. They were en route to an easy victory in Game 1 of their opening round series with the Philadelphia 76ers and Rose was just one assist and one rebound short of a triple-double.

You know how it ends. The Bulls won the game but lost the series. And, even worse, they lost their young superstar to a torn ACL.

It has been more than 40 weeks since Rose's injury. The team has, for the most part, prevented him from making any comments about the rehab process. The only real peek fans have gotten into the former MVP's recovery has been through a series of YouTube videos released by his biggest sponsor, adidas. The last in the series, "The Return of D Rose -- Episode 6: All In," was posted two months ago. Since then, fans have had to rely solely on the minimal reports coming out of Bulls practice.

"Derrick has been cutting and shooting for a while" was the word from Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau on Dec. 21. In early January, "Derrick is taking predictable contact," and "Derrick is back to dunking." Just last week: "Derrick is taking full contact."

Next week's All-Star Game marks the midway point of the 2012-13 season and has long been circled on the calendars of Chicagoans. While none of the Bulls higher-ups are willing to guess the date Rose might return, they have acknowledged a hope he'll be back shortly after the All-Star break.

The promise he's close is enough to get Chicago buzzing with anticipation. Beginning with the Bulls' Feb. 19 game against the Hornets and continuing each game after, fans will be itching to hear those two simple words that brought them so much joy years ago: "I'm back."

AP Photo/Alan Mothner

Michael Jordan once carried the city of Chicago's hoops hopes on his back, too.

It's been 284 days since Derrick Rose's injury. Michael Jordan was gone from the game of basketball for quite a bit longer (529 days, to be exact), but somehow the wait for this "I'm back" announcement feels as long. (Perhaps because this time it's all but assured, and not just wished-for.) Rose may not be the second coming of Jordan, but he's the closest thing to a hero Bulls fans have had since His Airness drained his final shot in a Bulls uniform.

Ever since that final J, Chicagoans have been suffering from a serious Jordan hangover. The party was epic, but the headache hasn't left since we all came down to earth. Even now, 14 full seasons A.J. (After Jordan) the same six championship banners hang from the rafters of the United Center and the same six trophies sparkle behind the glass at the Berto Center.

In 2008, Rose came along like a Bloody Mary and a cheeseburger for a city of hung-over fans. The Bulls only had a 1.7 percent chance of winning the draft lottery that year and yet, with a stroke of luck the likes of which we only see in Hollywood pictures, the local kid got selected by his hometown team with the No. 1 pick. The hardware hasn't returned to Chicago yet, but hope has.

Once again, Bulls fans have a guy who leaves them speechless, jaws dropped in wonder. After four seasons of Rose, the loop button on our collective remote has started to stick from overuse. "Go back!" "Play that again!" "That. Was. Filthy." That guy, the one who's destined to make the Bulls a dynasty once again, well, he's almost back.

It's been more than 6,800 hours since Derrick Rose's injury. In his absence, the Bulls have managed a 29-19 record and the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference standings, just a half-game back of the Pacers. It was supposed to be a lost season, but I guess Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and the rest of the squad didn't get the memo.

Noah and Deng were both named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team and Boozer is tied for fifth in the league with 24 double-doubles. Taj Gibson is excelling while playing Deng-like minutes in place of injured teammates, and Jimmy Butler is maturing at warp speed. Heck, hot-and-cold backup Nate Robinson even earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors this week.

No matter the opponent, no matter the injuries, Thibodeau's teams are always prepared, his defenses always suffocating. Just a few nights ago the Bulls beat a very capable Hawks team despite playing the second game of a back-to-back with only eight guys -- just two of them regular starters.

The Bulls have always made hay in the regular season, so their success without Rose isn't necessarily an accurate predictor of their chances if they make the postseason. Last year when Rose was in and out of the lineup with injuries they played well, but when he went down in the playoffs, they fell apart.

So while they may not be a championship-caliber team, they're far better off than most expected.

When Rose returns it will be to a team that is remarkably adaptable; a team that knows its identity. He may not be 100 percent -- or even 75 -- when he comes back, but he won't have to be. With the Bulls playing as well as they have, there won't be any pressure for Rose to play 40 minutes a game or score 30-plus every night. He can step in and contribute while getting his legs and his confidence back.

It's been more than 408,960 minutes since Derrick Rose's injury. But then, who's counting?

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