Derrick Rose missed the entire 2012-13 NBA season after he tore his ACL in the first round of the playoffs in 2012.
His decision to skip the entire campaign, including the playoffs, was met with some controversy. The Chicago Bulls acknowledged that Rose had been medically cleared to play in early March.
Rose elected not to return. Through it all, Rose, the Bulls brass and his fellow teammates all defended the decision, even in the playoffs when Chicago topped the Brooklyn Nets in seven games. Kirk Hinrich was out, Luol Deng was hurt and Nate Robinson was seen at one point throwing up in a bucket on the bench.
But Rose still sat and cheered. He wasn't ready, either mentally or physically.
He is now.
"Right now, my legs are good," Rose said a week before camp at a charity event he sponsored. "Just trying to stay positive. I think I'm fine."
The Bulls were the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12. Rose was the MVP the season prior and to get a player of his caliber back in the lineup is obviously a huge improvement.
Rose will anchor a Bulls group that has its eyes set on big things this season. The starting unit of Rose, Jimmy Butler, who became a tremendous asset in the playoffs, Joakim Noah, Deng and Carlos Boozer is one of the league's best.
Tom Thibodeau is also one of the NBA's best coaches, with a defense-first mentality.
The bench is thin, but the top three reserves are solid, versatile veterans.
The recipe is solid. The Bulls want to be back among the NBA's elite, but it all starts with Rose, who can't wait for the resumption of his career.
"It's just going to be an emotional day," Rose said. "Just playing again and being around my teammates and being in the atmosphere of an arena, playing in front of people...I haven't had that in a long time."
2012-13 Results: 45-37, 2nd in Central; Lost in East semifinals to Miami.
ADDITIONS: G/F Mike Dunleavy, F Tony Snell, F Erik Murphy
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Derrick Rose SG- Jimmy Butler SF- Luol Deng PF- Carlos Boozer C- Joakim Noah
KEY RESERVES: F Taj Gibson, G/F Mike Dunleavy, G Kirk Hinrich, C Nazr Mohammed
FRONTCOURT: Noah made his first All-Star team last season and was named to the All-Defensive first team. He averaged career-bests of 11.9 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 4.0 apg, 2.1 bpg and 1.2 spg. Noah may not be as big a part of the Bulls' prospective success as Rose, but he's not too far behind.
Deng made his second straight All-Star game last season and, also for the second year in a row, led the NBA in minutes per game. His all-around numbers were great (16.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 3.0 apg) and if Deng isn't the best wing defender in the game, he's in the top three. Deng missed significant time in the postseason after complications arose from a spinal tap and his wrist has bothered him for some time. Deng is a free agent after the season and early reports suggest, against Thibodeau's wishes, the Bulls are prepared to let him walk. That could make him trade bait midseason.
Boozer made $15 million last season to average 16.2 ppg and 9.8 rpg. If you ignore salary (hard to do), those numbers are solid and Boozer played more minutes than the year before. It's trendy to beat up on Boozer and yes, Taj Gibson will see plenty of action, and some times, at the end of close games, but Boozer is a professional power forward.
BACKCOURT: A healthy Rose is one of the best players in the league. His scoring numbers dipped in 2011-12, but, hey, the guy was the MVP the season before so that was bound to happen. Rose might be as important to his team as any player in the league, so the only question is, what Rose will we see?
"The only thing that has changed in my game is the confidence," he said. "My confidence grew as a player...You'll see that when I play."
Butler played 359 minutes in his rookie campaign of 2011-12. That number sky- rocketed to 2,134 and that was for the regular season. In the postseason, with Deng and Hinrich hurt, and Rip Hamilton completely ineffective, Butler averaged 40.8 mpg and scored 13.3 ppg. Butler also had the chore of defending the opposition's best perimeter talent.
BENCH: Mike Dunleavy was brought in to replace Marco Belinelli, who defected to the San Antonio Spurs. The players are similar and Dunleavy should see time at backup shooting guard and small forward.
Hinrich is more suited to a bench role at this point in his career. He can play both guard spots and is still a decent defender.
Gibson is a fantastic NBA reserve and he might actually play more than Boozer if Gibson can stay healthy. A great defender, tough guy and strong rebounder, Gibson is a huge piece and a perfect Thibodeau Bull.
COACHING: Thibodeau did a masterful job getting the undermanned Chicago team into the second round of the playoffs. He is just brilliant, but there are reports of some trouble with general manager Gar Forman and not just about letting Deng walk at the end of the season. Forman canned Ron Adams, Thibodeau's top assistant. It's hard to tell when Thibs is happy anyway, but there could be some lingering issues in play.
OUTLOOK: Can the Bulls return to the pre-ACL Bulls? If Rose is finally ready to go, the answer is an emphatic yes. Chicago has a fantastic eight-man rotation built on defense, rebounding and teamwork.
It all rests on Rose. That happens when you're a top-10 player in the league. He will make everyone on the floor better and that's saying something for a group of injured soldiers who advanced to the second round without him.
There are five clear teams that should reign above the Eastern Conference - the Bulls, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks. Chicago could win the Central Division easily. If Rose returns with an Olympic-sized chip on his shoulder, then the No. 1 overall seed in the East is within reach.
The Bulls are a championship contender, however, it wouldn't be fair to call them a favorite. Chicago will be an elite team, but to expect a trip to the Finals in Rose's first season back is too optimistic.