- Melissa Isaacson, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- Driving to the United Center on Tuesday, Stacey King knew exactly what his role would be for Tuesday's Chicago Bulls-New York Knicks game.
"I've gotta be Dr. Phil tonight," joked the former Bull who now works as the team's color commentator. "I've been hearing it all day, 'Tell me it's not true.' I've gotten 100 tweets already. I have to tell everybody to come off the ledge."
He was referring, of course, to Derrick Rose and his latest injury, a sprained ankle sustained during the team's loss in New York on Sunday, the same day the NBA's reigning MVP returned from a groin injury that had kept him sidelined for 12 games. Before that, Rose had missed 10 games with toe and back injuries after missing just one game last season.
But King was staying calm.
"I never panic, because I played and I know how guys are and I know Derrick," he said.
King was not being the resident house organ.
While Bulls fans were taking on message boards and air waves in fear not just of Rose's condition for this postseason but for the remainder of the 23-year-old's career, King was a voice of reason.
"The way I look at it is it's a freak occurrence," he said. "A lot of it is just bad luck."
The analysis is the easy part.
"A lot of it has to do with the short, condensed season," King said of the 66-game, post-lockout schedule. "It's not just a Chicago situation, it's a league-wide situation. I know from a fan's perspective, they're watching games every night so when they don't see a superstar out there, they tend to overreact. They're not used to Derrick missing games so they're hitting the panic button."
But to start questioning Rose's durability, his game or his future is indeed premature and probably unreasonable. One comment, in particular, annoyed King more than most.
"I heard, '[Rose] is going to break down like Allen Iverson, ya, ya, ya,' " he said. "Well, they might have similarities in their game in that Derrick is always attacking, but look at their bodies. Derrick is built like a running back. Allen was more like a quarterback. Allen is 165 pounds soaking wet. Derrick is a solid kid. He plays physical but he's very resilient. He takes a hard hit."
Some would argue that he hasn't taken it very well this season.
"If he's even out there, it tells you he's hurting," King continued. "I watched him warm up weeks before and he couldn't jog a straight line. I'm around him all the time and he wants to be out there but his body won't let him."
Not exactly the reassuring words most Bulls fans would want to hear, but King's point was that Rose is far from fragile. He does play with pain. And if he had more time in between games to recover, we wouldn't be having this discussion.
"I understand what the league was thinking but they didn't think it all the way through," he said. "They took for granted that these guys are superior athletes who recover fast but I don't care how athletic you are, your body still needs time to heal and recover. This is when muscular injuries like the groin and backs and knees come in."
Still, the most cynical among observers (re: Miami Heat fans) would say that Rose's game won't last unless he changes his aggressive approach. But in his four seasons, he has improved his outside shot and become a dangerous 3-point shooter.
"I think his game has definitely evolved," King agreed. "He's making great strides to being an all-around guard and he will only get better. His shooting, the way he sees the floor, his assist totals are up. We forget he's only 23 years old. Kobe was in the league 10 years before he changed his game.
"I would like to see Derrick post-up more because he does have that ability. He used to do it in high school. And I think you're going to see that."
But the biggest mistake would be for Rose to alter what has made him great. Or worse, said King, to become tentative.
"In this game, once you start doubting your ability and the things you do, you lose your edge," he said. "Michael [Jordan] would say the same thing. You can't be afraid to go to the basket, and hard fouls when we played would be Flagrant 3's today."
"I think that's one thing that's going to continue," King said. "You may see Derrick, like they're doing with [Brian] Westbrook in Oklahoma City, shifting him to 2-guard to get him the basketball in different attack areas from the wing or baseline. I can see that evolving."
In the meantime, providing that Rose's ankle sprain is not serious, the Bulls still have an advantage with quality depth from a bench accustomed to heavy minutes and playing in critical situations. While most teams will cut down their rotations to the typical seven to eight players for the playoffs, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is not likely to mess with a good thing, which would mean sticking with eight to 10.
King points to potential advantages such as Miami's superstars playing heavy minutes all season, and that even if the Bulls don't capture the No. 1 seed, their strength on the road this season also bodes well for them in the playoffs.
"This team is resilient," King said. "You have to be to endure as many injuries as they have and not miss a beat. I understand fans will panic a little. All I can do is say, 'Hey listen, it's just a freak thing. The kid will be all right. Just relax.' "