Rose's return means Bulls can think title

Anticipation for season the highest it has been since Jordan Era

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Derrick Rose talks about the Bulls' first practice Saturday.

Before media day at the Berto Center, Derrick Rose stood in his familiar No. 1 jersey inside general manager Gar Forman's second-floor office and peered through the picture window at the people on the Bulls' practice court awaiting his arrival.

Friday's scene produced an odd but appropriate image: Rose encased in protective glass for everyone to behold like a display at a basketball museum while modeling work clothes Chicago hasn't seen him wear since April 28, 2012.

Finally, the Rose exhibit is interactive again and the point guard no longer stands on the outside looking in at Bulls teammates. Fittingly, Rose looked natural back where he belongs, establishing an organizational mindset and identifying personal goals that didn't need medical clearance.

It was good to see Rose so comfortable returning to the spotlight, laughing about his young son and vowing to be the father his dad never was. It was better to hear Rose boldly bear his soul about the Bulls after so many months of sitting silently in the shadows of rehabilitation.

"The thing that drives me is winning a championship,'' Rose said. "That's the only thing on my resume that I'm missing. This is a great time to do it, where everybody is watching. It's the biggest stage you could possibly play on.''

The most anticipated Bulls season since the Jordan Era began Saturday with the first practices. If the Bulls are as good as many believe they can be with a healthy Rose and the core that played so valiantly without him, it might not end until mid-June. With the Blackhawks making magazine covers as favorites to repeat as Stanley Cup champs and the Bulls creating NBA title buzz, has the mayor started worrying yet about how to pay for two parades?

Those are the kinds of silly questions Rose makes possible, and what fun folly his return creates. The Heat remain the team to beat in the East, despite an aging Dwyane Wade. The Nets improved and the Pacers put themselves in prime position to contend. But the Bulls represent the most curious and potentially dangerous threat to unseat the Heat because nobody else added a 24-year-old former most valuable player.

Since we last saw Rose — and I don't mean teasing fans with pregame workouts — he has extended his range and smoothed out his stroke by shooting thousands of jumpers. He spent time in Los Angeles, Europe and Asia during a whirlwind summer tour that fortified his brand and his game, and not necessarily in that order.

The confidence oozed out of Rose as he spoke about using the lost season to perfect his craft and become a more efficient player. He still plans on attacking the basket and defying gravity like before his knee failed him, but as coach Tom Thibodeau pointed out, the evolution of Rose's game has included a new element every season. For the most part, Thibodeau expects this one to be no different.

"(His game) may change some just because of the things he's gone through,'' Thibodeau conceded.

Thankfully Friday, nobody dwelled on those things from which we all need to move on. Whether Rose should or shouldn't have played — and both arguments in the national debate were valid — carries no relevance now. Let it go. Thibodeau came the closest to revisiting a past best left unexamined by taking responsibility for Rose not playing.

"As the season was winding down, I wasn't comfortable with where he was, so if we erred we wanted to do it on the side of caution,'' Thibodeau said. "The people that criticized him don't know what the hell they're talking about.''

On that tired topic, the coach really could have used some coaching from his superstar.

"Last year was last year,'' Rose said.

Amen. Last year affects this Bulls team as much as Nate Robinson's shooting percentage for the Nuggets. Shift the focus to a team deep enough that Thibodeau not only can but must rest Rose more than he did before the injury. When Forman announced, "Tom will have the final say on minutes,'' all over town Chicagoans felt sympathy pain in their knees.

"It will be a process,'' Thibodeau said of determining Rose's playing time.

So will developing Jimmy Butler's offensive game. And getting free-agent 3-point ace Mike Dunleavy involved to spread the floor. And finding roles for rookie Tony Snell, who added 18 pounds of muscle, and promising backup Marquis Teague. And keeping Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer healthy and Luol Deng happy after contract negotiations broke off. And watching Rose reclaim his place among the league's top 10 players — which should happen by Christmas.

"It should be a crazy, magical year,'' Rose said.

Crazy defined last year, which is best forgotten. But after seeing Rose back in a Bulls uniform, Chicago can't wait for the magic.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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