- Melissa Isaacson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Derrick Rose's doctor has cleared the Chicago Bulls' star to play, a team source said, but his long-awaited return to the lineup won't occur until he can confidently dunk off his left foot, Rose has told the team.
Rose, who had surgery to repair a tear to the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on May 12, has been videotaped dunking off each foot, but more casually than he would during a game. A source said that although he has been practicing and scrimmaging hard, he told the Bulls that until he feels "in his mind" he can confidently dunk off his left foot in a game situation, he is not 100 percent mentally ready to return to competition.
The team is not pressuring Rose, the source said, but the Bulls are confident he will return this season and are still hoping for a mid-March return, which would mark 10 months after his surgery. The Bulls play at Golden State on March 15.
"He's been cleared to do everything that there is, but before he makes the final step, everyone has to get together and sign off and that hasn't happened yet," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said before the game. "As I said, the most important part of this is that we have to trust Derrick and I trust him."
The source said the team has been assured by Rose's doctor that there is no more chance of the former MVP getting injured upon his return than anyone else and that the doctor told the Bulls that physically "he can play now." Rose is now dealing with the psychological side of trusting his body.
Rose, 24, raised the possibility that he wouldn't return at all this season during an interview on Feb. 13 after the Bulls lost to the Celtics in Boston, which was the last time Rose spoke publicly.
"I'm feeling good, but like I said, if it's where it's taking me a long time and I'm still not feeling right, I don't mind missing this year," he said. "I would love to [return]. I would love to. That's why I approached my rehab and my workout so hard. I'm trying to get back on the court as quickly as possible, but if I have anything lingering on, it's no point."
Since that interview, Rose has taken part in 5-on-5 scrimmages, beginning on Feb. 18.
He began sitting on the bench with the team on March 3.
Thibodeau said after practice Friday that there are no new developments with Rose, and that the clearance for Rose to play in a game "hasn't been finalized yet."
"He's doing everything there is to do in practice, so he's been cleared from that standpoint," Thibodeau said.
When asked whether Rose would be able to play in a game if he says he is able to, Thibodeau said: "We'll cross that bridge when we get there. We're just going day by day. Just keep improving."
"Definitely getting stronger and stronger every day," guard Nate Robinson said. "Hopefully, he's right on time and right on schedule. He'll be back when he's ready."
Thibodeau said the decision for Rose to play will be made by several people.
"There's a lot of people that got to sign [off]," Thibodeau said. "Obviously, he's the most important piece. But from Jerry [Reinsdorf, Bulls owner] on down, everyone has to sign off on it."
As far as what Rose is doing in practice, Thibodeau said: "He's doing everything. He's participating in every part of practice."
Thibodeau also said the Bulls are prepared to move on with or without Rose. "We'll see what happens," he said.
The perception that Rose wouldn't return this season was enhanced on Feb. 22, when his brother Reggie Rose told ESPNChicago.com that the Bulls' lack of activity before the trade deadline would be a "big factor" in whether his brother would return.
"It's frustrating to see my brother play his heart and soul out for the team and them not put anything around him," Reggie Rose said at the time.
Derrick Rose assured the Bulls, the source said, that he did not share his brother's sentiment and issued the following statement: "I have always felt that the Bulls organization's goals have been the same as mine and that is to bring another championship to this city."
Bulls officials from Thibodeau to general manager Gar Forman, vice president John Paxson and all the way up to Reinsdorf have said they won't rush Rose back. Reinsdorf told ESPN Chicago in August 2012 that he didn't want to make the same mistake he made with Michael Jordan after Jordan broke a bone in his foot during his second season in 1985. Jordan returned and didn't suffer another injury, but Reinsdorf has said that it was a risk he didn't want to take with Rose.
The Bulls have told Rose that while they will support whatever decision he makes, they would prefer he return this season, the source said, "and get it under his belt, rather than wonder all summer if he could."
Rose is considered the franchise cornerstone and signed a five-year contract extension worth more than $94 million in December 2011.
"There are a lot of kids out there that would love to see Derrick Rose come back and play," Robinson said. "He's a role model. Everybody looks up to him, including my kids. My son asks every day, 'Dad, when's Derrick coming back?' I'm like, 'I don't know.' It's funny. Derrick's sitting right next to me on the flight, so when I Skype my son, I take a little peek. He's like, 'There he is, let me talk to him.' I'm like, 'You can't talk to him, just let him be.' But (Rose) is working extremely hard, and that's one thing I definitely respect about him. He's very humble and he works extremely hard in the game that he loves."
The Bulls enter action Friday in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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