Tom Thibodeau spoke with a sense of relief during Team USA's training camp in Las Vegas two weeks ago. The Chicago Bulls head coach and Team USA assistant was ecstatic that Derrick Rose was back on the floor and performing at a high level, playing with the same speed and explosiveness that he had shown before his first knee injury in April 2012.
But most importantly, Thibodeau was relieved because he knew Rose wasn't going to have to be "the man" on a talented USA team as he takes the next step in his comeback from a torn meniscus suffered in November 2013. He wasn't going to have to be relied upon to carry the scoring load each game like he usually does with the Bulls.
"I think this is why [this camp] is so good for him," Thibodeau said on July 29, the second day of Team USA's camp. "Because of the talent level that's here. It's a chance for him to measure himself to see where he is. He doesn't have the burden to carry the load for a team."
Things have changed since then for Team USA -- and for Rose, who came to Chicago for practices Thursday and Friday before playing in an exhibition game against Brazil on Saturday at the United Center.
Paul George suffered a gruesome broken leg in Team USA's scrimmage a few days later. Then Kevin Durant left the team Thursday because of "physical and mental fatigue." In the span of just a few days, the dynamic of the next month changed for Rose. He has gone from a dynamic facilitator to a player whom Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski probably is going to have to lean on more offensively when the World Cup of Basketball starts Aug. 30 in Spain.
It's a challenge that Rose will assuredly embrace, but it's fair to say he wasn't expecting it just a couple weeks ago.
While there are plenty of scorers left on Team USA, including James Harden and Stephen Curry, both of whom have international experience, Rose will now be counted on more offensively. Although Thibodeau remains eternally confident in his star, it's a role that has to leave him a little uneasy given the circumstances.
Rose has only played in 49 games in the past three years because of all the injuries and just 10 in the past two because of two serious knee injuries. Thibodeau wanted to ease him back, but that doesn't appear to be as likely now -- and that's probably a good thing for the Bulls.
In the immediate aftermath of George's injury, some fans and undoubtedly some in the Bulls' organization had to wonder whether Rose should continue to play for Team USA this summer. What if he suffered another injury? George's misfortune was another reminder that injuries can occur anywhere.
Rose hasn't played much in three years, and Team USA has given him a platform to show what he can do on the world stage. It will be a great litmus test for him to see where he is mentally and physically heading into the Bulls' season with high expectations.
It will also give Rose a chance to prove to himself and to the rest of basketball that he can still be the go-to guy on a team when needed. Thibodeau and the rest of the coaching staff will continue to watch Rose closely, and they know that there will still be rust for the former MVP to shake off, but now he will have to shed it even quicker than expected.
If Rose's week in Vegas was any indication, that shouldn't be much of a problem. Players and coaches raved about how well he was playing, and Rose even acknowledged how much more fun he was having on the floor.
"I usually say whatever the game needs, that's what I'm going to put into the game," Rose said. "And I learned that by actually playing through my mistakes with the first injury. Just seeing that I was forcing everything, it wasn't the way that I was playing. I wasn't enjoying the game like I was before the injury. Now it feels like I appreciate it a little bit more and just enjoy being on the court and playing the game that I love playing."
He'll have even more chances to showcase his skills now that George and Durant are no longer on the roster. In the short term, that fact might make the Bulls and Thibodeau a little nervous, but it should pay off in a major way for the Bulls in the long term if Rose can stay healthy throughout the tournament.