To play Game 7 or not? Defending Derrick Rose…sort of

(The news for weeks is that Derrick Rose, All-Star and 2011 NBA MVP of the Chicago Bulls, has been playing full throttle after a year-long recovery from a torn ACL. However, his return for the 2012-2013 season has all been squashed; he told Turner Sports this week that his “muscle memory” isn’t getting his body to respond correctly. This all might be a moot point–the Bulls might be competing in their last game of the year tonight, a Game 7 against the Nets in Brooklyn.
To say that Chicago is banged up is an understatement. In addition to Rose, the team won’t have Luol Deng tonight, whose flu infection got him hospitalized not just once, but twice this past week. Rose fill-in PG Kirk Hinrich is questionable with a badly bruised calf, while his fill-in Nate Robinson was reportedly throwing up on the sidelines from illness during Game 6. Center Joakim Noah is suffering from a case of plantar fascitiis that has him playing at around 60-70%. His bench counterpart Taj Gibson is the third Bull to fall to the flu, and barely made the call for Game 6.
With his team almost paralyzed with injury, many have asked that if Derrick Rose is going all-out in practice, shouldn’t he be playing in his team’s most crucial game of the year?
Not having any practical experience in competitive basketball, we went straight to our man El Mariachi, whose teenage years were wrought with knee injuries of every kind. Take it away, bru–should Derrick Rose be playing tonight?)
Every injury a basketball player sustains throughout their career forever affects and changes the way they play the game. Basketball, like most other sports, is about millions of different micro-calculations made by your body every nanosecond. Hand eye coordination, vision, strength, balance, and awareness all while under physical and sometimes psychological distress, take their toll on a player’s body and mind from the jump ball to the final buzzer. Add on top of that an aching heel, weak knee, sore shoulder, or even illness, the body will adapt like the amazing creation it is. And whether it’s subconsciously or deliberate, the body of a player will always over compensate even in the smallest sense of the word.
In my young basketball career I was diagnosed with osteochondritis dissecans, a degenerative bone condition that took me out of the game for two years. Four surgeries, 10 months on crutches and countless hours of physical therapy later, I was back on the court. But it never was the same.

Not only was I physically different from the player I was, I was also mentally different. As a dedicated player you learn how your body responds to certain actions and they are basically programmed into your system. Countless hours of repetition and practice fine tune these motions until they are bodily reflexes. But when an injury takes you out of the game for an extended period of time, your body not only forgets how exactly to do things, but it also overcompensates for that which it lacks.

Derrick Rose is facing this dilemma right now. His body is unaccustomed to the rigorous routine and stress that the game of basketball demands. He has gone on record to say that his muscle memory is not where he wants it to be which couldn’t be a truer statement. But what people don’t understand is that the time off the court not only effects his knee, it also effects his touch with his handle, his stroke in his shot, and his mental confidence that gave him the reckless abandon that he was used to. He doesn’t have the trust in his knee that this type of serious injury will not happen again as an ACL tear is prone to re-injury. The problem is that there is no guarantee that he will ever get that sort of confidence and control back.

Which brings up the counter point to this topic. Many players with such devastating and career-altering injuries have come back without ever regaining their former game. Chauncey Billups came back from a ruptured Achilles tendon and now plays at a different albeit effective pace. Once Yao Ming injured his left foot, he was never the same player and was eventually forced to retire. Andrew Bogut goes into every season expecting to only play a third of the games. And no other player has been affected by injuries more than “the late” Grant Hill.

But old-school basketball player mentality dictates that you play to win no matter what it takes. That is why Jordan played when he had the flu, that is why David Lee played 10 days after a season ending injury, that is why Joakim Noah and really the entire Bulls team played even though they are decimated by injuries and illness…and that is why Derrick Rose should play.

The fact that he is hesitant really brings into question his will to play, and ultimately, his will to win. The Bulls, led by the incredible Tom “Sounds-like-Dick-Vitale-In-Time-Outs” Thibodeau, have done everything they could this year to remain relevant and in title contention without a complete and healthy roster. The final piece that could cement their foot deep in the playoffs would be the return of Derrick Rose. But with Miami playing the way they are this year, is that a wise decision in and of itself?

Which brings up a counter point to the counter point. Derrick Rose and the Bulls may be thinking what we are all saying. Miami is going to win the title and no one in the east will be able to stop them. The worst case for Derrick Rose would be that he comes back to play Miami in the next round for a shot at the title and he reinjures his knee in a sweep. Derrick Rose is an incredible and dynamic player but the Bulls just don’t have the healthy personnel for a legitimate title run even with him back in the lineup. His return would essentially be putting whipped cream on road kill.

It would look better, but it still would stink.

Derrick Rose should remain on the sidelines and wait it out until next season when the Bulls can come back strong as a force in the east. But during this time Derrick Rose needs to step back and evaluate what kind of player he is and who he wants to be, and not only speaking of his role but his mentality. If he is holding off because he’s waiting for to regain his former glory then he is going to wait a long time. He will be back and he will be great, but he will never be the same.

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