Derrick Rose's health is No. 1 unknown of NBA season

Can D-Rose stay healthy and lead Bulls where they're capable of going? To borrow from coach, we'll see.

When the Bulls begin their season Wednesday night in New York, we'll see Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony on the floor together, albeit under different circumstances than Chicago had hoped last summer.

We'll see if the Bulls resemble a team capable of winning 55 games — a reasonable prediction — and challenging the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals, and we'll see whether the Knicks make President Phil Jackson already long for his Malibu beach house on opening night.

We'll see Rose return, finally, from a serious knee injury for the second straight Bulls opener, the point guard's first appearance in a game that matters in 341 days.

We'll see the Bulls debuts of Spaniard Pau Gasol, who isn't "old and finished," despite Shaquille O'Neal's biased opinion, and former Real Madrid star Nikola Mirotic, who occasionally might have to interpret DNP-CD in four languages as he learns to play NBA defense.

We'll see Joakim Noah gutting it out with a knee brace, Taj Gibson hustling more than a Madison Square Garden vendor, Kirk Hinrich defending every inch and Aaron Brooks shooting every possession. We'll see Doug McDermott and Mike Dunleavy spot up for 3-pointers from SoHo. We'll see Tony Snell in the event Jimmy Butler cannot play because of an injured thumb, but only if coach Tom Thibodeau deems it necessary to unbury Snell from the bench.

We'll see how Thibodeau adheres to minutes limits on Rose and Noah, an issue that will persist, and whether the stubborn coach can stay on the right side of management as he begins his fifth season with the Bulls. We'll see one of the two best coaches in the NBA if he does.

We'll see if the Bulls, who are fully capable, can begin to back up Butler's big talk when the shooting guard asked Tuesday: "If we're healthy, why can't we be the best team in this league?"

We'll see, period — to borrow Thibodeau's new go-to response to seemingly every question. He repeated "We'll see" 11 times in eight minutes Tuesday at the Advocate Center, addressing everything from his rotation to the Bulls' prospects.

"We'll see. It comes down to your talent, your hunger, your drive, your work ethic, your discipline," Thibodeau said. "You can't pick and choose when you're going to work hard. You can't pick and choose only working hard on the days that you feel good. We'll see. We'll see."

Truer words were never spoken in regard to expectations Rose will return to MVP form. We'll see.

The biggest unknown about this season isn't whether the Cavaliers' parade route in June will go past LeBron James' mansion in Akron. The biggest unknown revolves around the health of Rose, Chicago's best-dressed surgical patient the past two winters. Career uncertainty has become as identifiable with Rose as the Adidas logo.

Rose has missed 197 of a possible 246 regular-season games since the start of the 2011-12 season — 80 percent — so history urges caution, no matter how complete his game has looked in spurts this preseason. No matter how fabulous he played, at times, during the FIBA World Cup in Spain. That's more realistic than pessimistic.

Nobody disputes that Rose has displayed more command and explosiveness in returning from his torn meniscus than he did coming back from a torn ACL. But the city's understandable enthusiasm escorting the return of No. 1 to the court must be accompanied with caution.

In October 2013, many Bulls fans felt just as excited about Rose's possibilities as they do now. And even if Rose showed rust in the first 10 games that he carries less of now, it was a relief to see him back on the court to begin the 2013-14 season.

Then came Nov. 22, when Rose limped off the Rose Garden floor in Portland with 3 minutes, 20 seconds left in the third quarter after scoring 20 points. A non-contact injury ended Rose's season and, until time proves otherwise, threatened his legacy.

You want to believe Rose will play more than 65 games, dominate differently because he is a smarter player and challenge Chris Paul as the NBA's best point guard. You want to believe Rose will show the same burst at the All-Star break and prove during the playoffs his body can withstand the rigors of his first 82-game season in years. You want to eliminate Rose's health as the main reason to remain wary about the Bulls' championship hopes.

But you can't.

"I expect him to get back to exactly who he was," Thibodeau said before boarding the team plane. "Just got to remember what he did to play like that. This is the process he has to go through, a lot of rust to shake off when you've missed the amount of time he has. As long as he continues to improve, he'll get there."

We'll see.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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