The Chicago Bulls welcomed point guard Derrick Rose back to contact practices earlier this week, but when he returns to the court full time, his minutes will be limited. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau tempered fans' expectations about what level of play they should expect whenever Rose comes back to the rotation, possibly before the end of the regular season.
"He's not going to be at where he was when he left off and anybody who has missed that amount of time, that's the normal protocol," Thibodeau said to the Chicago Tribune. "We'll see when he's ready to go. Then we'll decide how much [he plays].
"He has to play well when he's out there. You can't leave him out there if he's not playing well."
According to the Tribune, Rose participated in his third contact practice Thursday after undergoing surgery to repair a torn medial meniscus in his right knee on Feb. 27. It’s the third knee operation the 26-year-old former league MVP has undergone in as many years, and the Bulls have exercised caution in his two prior and prolonged injury stints.
However, the injury isn’t nearly as serious as the other two Rose endured between 2012 and 2014, and unlike those years, he was projected to return to the team this season.
Appearing in 46 games this season, the most since his 2010-2011 MVP campaign, Rose has averaged 18.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 5.0 assists over 31 minutes per game. They're modest numbers, but at different points of the season, Rose did show flashes of the dominant player he once was, the type of scorer Chicago will need for a deep run in the postseason as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Thibodeau said reacclimating to the game's speed will likely be the biggest hurdle for Rose, but he didn’t say how many minutes his former All-Star will play when he does come back.
"[Conditioning] is the big thing because it's different. It's body on body. There's the physicality of it," Thibodeau said. "He has to get used to that and getting around screens and things of that nature. The more he does it, the better he'll get.
"Scrimmaging is important. That's about as close as you can get to what's required in the game. But nothing's going to be the same as the game. He just has to continue to do all the things he's doing and get out there."
The Bulls have seven games left to move ahead of the Toronto Raptors, who are the No. 3 seed and with the same record as Chicago (45-30). Chicago, with four victories this season, has swept the Raptors but sits behind them in the standings due to their separate divisions.
Rose has already been ruled out for Friday’s home game against the Detroit Pistons, and the Bulls' backcourt depth took another hit after veteran Kirk Hinrich went down with a hyperextended left knee in the 95-91 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday.
Hinrich, who’s averaging 5.9 points and 2.3 assists and shot 34.5 percent from 3-point range in 25 minutes a game this season, underwent an MRI Thursday and is listed as questionable against Detroit.