Keith Strudler: Another Setback For Rose
So long for now, Derrick Rose. We'll see you in four to six weeks, according to doctors reports. That's all it will take for the former MVP to return to the Chicago Bulls from a surgical repair of his medial meniscus, which is beyond my medical understanding but apparently isn't the worst meniscus tear you could have. And it's certainly not as bad as either of the other two knee injuries Rose has suffered over the past several years, both of which have sidelined him for far greater periods of time and ended respective seasons. At least according to the Chicago administrative staff, this will be nothing more than a routine checkup, not a complete rebuilt as was first feared.
On a positive note, Rose is really good at rehab, in so much as practice makes perfect. One could argue that's his natural playing position, in a training room instead of running point. He wears a suit more than a singlet, and his presence is now discussed in the hypothetical. Like "what if Derrick Rose were playing?" That's fine if you're playing fantasy sports, but not for those endured by real people and actually baskets. It's one thing when Mike can't make t-ball because he's got a violin recital. It's entirely another when people are paying $200 a head to watch you sit.
What makes life worse for Chicagoans, besides this God awful winter, is that sixth man Taj Gibson has a sprained ankle and all-star guard Jimmy Butler is out six weeks with a bad elbow. So basically, you'll see more Bulls talent in street clothes than gym clothes. That's a really tough blow for a team poised to break through a weak Eastern Conference, where an inconsistent Cleveland squad and a starless Atlanta team stand as the biggest road blocks to a matchup with Golden State or San Antonio or whomever else survives the Western Conference slugfest. As is, the Bulls can simply hope not to lose too much ground while counting on the good work of the medical community. If all goes according to optimistic medical science, Chicago will enter the playoffs complete and rested, a rarity in the physical landscape of the hardwood.
Of course, for Derrick Rose, the questions are potentially more dire and long term than what happens to the Chicago Bulls in June and July. For someone with far more surgical scars than championship rings, and it's not even close, this latest setback can't be seen as a singular event, even if the team would wish it so and ever articulate as much. Derrick Rose is a max salary guy -- in layman's terms, one of the handful of stars among stars that earns as much as the NBA will allow. Teams, and the league itself, can only sustain a handful of these properties, not because they won't spend the money, but because the salary cap prohibits it. This is the cost of competitive balance and cost certainty.
In another year, the Bulls will decide if they want to renew Rose's deal, which when he won the MVP award in 2011 seemed pretty airtight. Now, not so much. Which will likely leave Derrick Rose deciding where, and even if he wants to continue doing the only thing that could ever command this magnitude of attention and certainly salary. In doing so, both NBA executives and Rose himself will have to do something that's uncomfortable. They'll have to decide what Derrick Rose himself is worth.
For the Bulls and their counterparts, it's not that bad. They're used to quantifying the cost of human bodies. So, for the most part, teams will calculate the life left in Rose's knees vs. the dollars left in the bank. It's simple risk reward, human style.
For Rose, the calculus is not so simple. At some point, he'll have to decide how much the next surgery is worth. How much the remaining cartilage in his knees should cost. The dollar value of traveling the country to sit on a bench. At some point, Derrick Rose will have to decide what he is if he's not a basketball player, which for the past few years, he'd barely been. Because even if his doctors say 4-6 weeks, that's really just a downpayment on a much longer term.
Like everyone, I hope Derrick Rose comes back. But I'm not holding my breath. And I hope that when Rose sits down -- bad knees and all -- to put a value on his remaining health, he'll realize his future is worth a whole lot more than six weeks from now.
Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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