CHICAGO -- There are times when Taj Gibson has to catch himself. Like many people throughout the Chicago Bulls' organization, the forward looks over toward the bench and wonders what might have been -- what could still be.
Gibson sees Derrick Rose sitting there and thinks about the future. He dreams about the day when Rose will be back on the floor with him. He and his teammates remain hopeful that Rose will return at some point in the future and be the same player he was before his first knee injury, in April 2012. It's something they can't help but think about as the Bulls continue to rack up victories without their leader.
"Me and Joakim talk about it all the time," Gibson said. "[Noah] says, 'He's working hard, man.' He's like, 'That kid's over there working hard, man. He's trying to get back as soon as possible. Just keep playing, man.' One day when we get him back, it's going to be wonderful. We've just got to keep building, keep your eyes on the prize and just keep getting better each and every day. Because he's getting better, and when he comes back we can just keep rolling and just keep building."
Unlike last season, Rose's potential return isn't hovering over the Bulls' collective head. While Rose still can't bring himself to say he's done for the year, coach Tom Thibodeau has been pretty clear that Rose won't play this season and still isn't close to practicing. The Bulls know that this is the team with which they'll move forward. They know that Rose has once again been relegated to the role of cheerleader. But just having the former MVP around is motivating the rest of the group.
"Of course," Noah said ahead of Sunday's visit from the New York Knicks. "I think Derrick's a worker. He works hard every day. When you see your top player giving everything he has every day, it makes you want to do the same."
The Bulls are a hard-working group to begin with -- Thibodeau makes sure of that on a day-to-day basis -- but Rose's involvement this time around has been helpful to young players and older players alike. In another small change from last season, Rose has made it a point to be with his teammates during games more, sitting on the bench and being a sounding board. Gibson admitted that he took a few pointers from Rose during Friday's victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
"Derrick, he's like a coach," Gibson said, echoing a point Thibodeau has also made this year. "He's at the end of the bench, he just keeps telling you to shoot no matter what. You could probably miss 100 times, he's going to tell you, 'Shoot the ball!' So that's what I did."
Now, as before, Gibson holds on to the hope that Rose will come back the same way. In the meantime, the Bulls remain anchored by the fact that the 25-year-old is doing everything he can to be the same player. There's little doubt, having seen him interact with his teammates over the past couple of months, that he's the same leader.
"It's great," Noah said of having Rose around. "I think it's great. I think it's great for us, it gives us confidence. It's great for him because I know it's good for him to be around this kind of environment, just his teammates. The thing with Derrick is voice means a lot to this team, so when he's talking to you during the game it gives you that much more confidence."