- Melissa Isaacson, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- At a certain point while reporters directed questions at the orthopedic surgeon who performed Derrick Rose's reconstructive knee surgery, the medical jargon started to blur together.
All anyone wanted to know is when. And how. When will Rose be able to return full time to the basketball court and how will he regain the form that has made him one of the best players in the NBA?
The short answer to the timetable question, said Bulls team surgeon Dr. Brian Cole, is eight to 12 months. The long answer was somewhat chilling.
"While he will hopefully be at a very high level in 12 months, it still may take slightly longer to be at his pre-injury level," Cole said. "That's not uncommon in athletes of this caliber."
And in one sentence by the medical professional best-equipped to predict, the reality of the situation set in. The next time we see the Derrick Rose we have grown so accustomed to watching on the basketball court, he will be 25 years old. Still young, likely still supremely gifted, but no longer a kid either.
Get used to it. The Bulls' franchise player should not be expected to carry this franchise until the 2013-14 season at the earliest.
As determined as Rose is, as dedicated as his doctors and therapists are, as anxious as Bulls fans will be, there will be no rushing this process along.
"There is only so much that willfully is under our control," Cole said. "[The rest is] all about physiology and how the body responds ..."
In other words, don't expect miracles, like Rose coming back at full strength by next January and leading the Bulls to the NBA Finals.
This is how it should be, of course. As Bulls general manager Gar Forman put it in discussing the team's plans, it is the long term that's really important. That philosophy should be helpful when critics are demanding results next season and came in especially handy when neatly sidestepping the Luol Deng situation.
We still don't know when or if Deng will undergo surgery to repair torn tendons in his non-shooting wrist. And we still don't know where Bulls management stands on this, or on Deng's decision to play for Great Britain in the Olympics this summer in London.
"With [Rose's surgery] going on this weekend, we haven't had the chance to sit down with our medical staff and Luol," Forman said. "Our biggest concern with Luol is his health, and I know that's our fans' biggest concern and his biggest concern, so that's the next step, to get with Luol and see where he's at and then come up with a plan going forward."
As for what the Bulls will do without Rose, it sounds like next season could be ugly. In their defense, it's not as if they can go out and find another Rose, but it would be a shame if the unpredictability of his rehab becomes a convenient excuse for the entire franchise to backslide.
"We're hopeful that at some point [Rose] will be back," Forman said. "I'm not sure we'll make plans as if he will be, but we're optimistic he will be at some point. The biggest thing in our minds with an injury like this, we've obviously spent a lot of time putting this team together and everything was looking at the big picture long term.
"I think it's our job to stay focused on that and to continue to look at what we feel is a long window of opportunity to have success, and that's how we'll approach it. Have we taken a hit in the short term? Without question. But will we make decisions based on the short term? We won't."
There was some encouraging news, like when Cole said that because of the strength Rose will develop in his surgically repaired knee, he is less likely to injure it again.
As for his explosive speed and spectacular driving ability, "It's impossible to predict tomorrow," the doctor said. "Statistically, he could be that player and then some."
Do miracles happen?
"People do get back in six months after ACL surgery, but it's not common in professional sports with athletes of this caliber," Cole said.
In the real world, Rose will get back to "running a straight line" and spot shooting in three months and to "basketball-specific activity" -- and that means no cutting -- no sooner than four months.
"And then from there, as the body tolerates it, he'll progress to cutting activities," said Bulls trainer Fred Tedeschi. "Some of the things you've seen Derrick do over and over again, he'll have to re-learn, and that's all in that span of four to six months. And as he can tolerate it, we'll keep advancing, we'll keep adding more to it until the point where you start looking at what I refer to as predictable contact, where you know where it's coming from, you know how and then you start working through it.
"Then you take the final step, which is to practice and you see how that's tolerated and then progressing to game activities."
Rose will have to regain his confidence and, more importantly, learn to trust his body again, which is no small feat.
"No question it's the reason some people don't get back to pre-injury level and why we emphasize it so much during rehab," Cole said.
Cole would not go so far as to say that Rose should entirely skip next season. In fact, he said Rose should play but in short increments, which should be interesting.
"There's actually a lot of therapeutic benefit to minutes when he's ready," the doctor said. "There's a lot of benefit to play when it's safe. Whether he has to go 40 minutes, that's a whole different story. But just getting out there and playing when he's able, that's when his exponential growth is going to come.
"Lots of athletes come back and play at a very high level but not necessarily initially at a level they were pre-injury. Some people get it back in six [months], some people get it in eight. It's been reported that it can take three years. It depends upon the muscle physiology, confidence issues, all those things playing in. There's a lot of variability ... Every athlete has a different story and every injury is different."
And this story is sure to have many chapters before it is completed.