HOUSTON — During a question-and-answer session with reporters ahead of Sunday's NBA All-Star Game, Miami Heat star LeBron James offered public support for the notion that injured Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose shouldn't return to the court until he feels fully prepared to play.
In an interview published earlier this week, Rose — who has been sidelined since April after suffering a torn left ACL during the first game of the Bulls' 2012 Eastern Conference playoffs series against the Philadelphia 76ers — told USA TODAY's Jeff Zilgitt that he doesn't have a set date for his return:
"I'm not coming back until I'm 110%. Who knows when that can be? It can be within a couple of weeks. It could be next year. It could be any day. It could be any time. It's just that I'm not coming back until I'm ready."
The comments struck some — especially Chicago fans eager to see the 2011 NBA Most Valuable Player, who recently resumed taking contact in practice, give the Bulls a jolt that could lift them back to the top of the Central Division standings — as surprising, unwelcome and problematic. (Especially that "It could be next year" part.) The 2012 MVP, however, wasn't so troubled.
"I agree [with his comments]," James said during the Friday afternoon media session. "Derrick Rose basically said, 'If I'm not ready, if I don't feel like I'm ready to play, I don't mind sitting out the whole season.' He shouldn't be rushed back by nobody. Derrick Rose is his own man — this is Derrick Rose's career we're talking about. Nobody else's. Because if Derrick Rose comes back and gets injured again, Derrick Rose is the only people that's got to deal with that. He's an unbelievable talent. He's one of the best players that we've seen in this game and mentally when he's ready, physically he feels like he's ready, then he [should] make a comeback. Until then, he shouldn't rush it."
As ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell notes, several other prominent superstars — including fellow All-Star starters Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and James' Miami Heat teammate, Dwyane Wade — also emphasized the importance of Rose sitting out until he feels comfortable returning to the floor.
A cynic might suggest that such stars (especially those who play in South Beach) are merely pretty stoked at the idea of not having to face a Bulls team with an operational Rose in the second half of the season and in the playoffs. Realistically, though, it's more likely that these All-Stars recognize that Rose's potentially career-threatening injury and subsequent months-long absence is the kind of thing that could conceivably happen to just about any of them. Supporting his decision to stay out until he feels completely prepared to play free, clear and full-speed represents not only a show of solidarity, but also a recognition that there but for the grace of God goes any NBA star who sends himself hurtling at breakneck speeds into oncoming traffic night in and night out.
Asked whether he thought Rose, whenever he returns, will resume the kind of pell-mell play that has made him one of the league's ascendant stars and most exciting players to watch, James simply said, "I hope so."
"No one knows [...] but I think we all wish and hope, and it would be great for the game if he does, because he's one of the best players this game has ever seen," James said.
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