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Derrick Rose has no one to blame but the Bulls

Injured Bulls guard Derrick Rose works out before Chicago Bulls-Miami Hegame Thursday February 21 2013 United Center . | Tom

Injured Bulls guard Derrick Rose works out before the Chicago Bulls-Miami Heat game Thursday February 21, 2013 at the United Center . | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 6, 2013 10:59AM

A lionhearted effort in a Game 7 playoff victory by a sick, injured, depleted Bulls team — gee, I can’t imagine what might be coming next.

Wait. Yes, I can: a mudslide of scorn headed Derrick Rose’s way.

The public pressure on him to play against the Heat in a second-round series will be extreme, but not as extreme as the abuse he’ll absorb if he doesn’t. The unfounded criticism that he is soft and selfish is about to reach poisonous levels.

Blame the Bulls.

Let’s go back to early March. Let’s go back to a slightly less cynical time, when Rose was still a beloved figure in this town, when he was still the epitome of toughness, when he was still a shining example of what can come out of the mean streets of Chicago through talent and hard work.

On March 8,, citing a source, reported that “Rose’s doctor’’ had cleared him to play. The website actually was referring to Brian Cole, the team’s physician.

The Bulls did not dispute the report. Rose had been taking part in full-contact practices for weeks at that point.

“He’s been cleared to do everything that there is, but before he makes the final step, everyone has to get together and sign off, and that hasn’t happened yet,” coach Tom Thibodeau said at the time.

Those simple words — that Rose had been cleared to play — have fueled this entire controversy to the detriment of everyone involved, but none more so than Rose. The words have cut his reputation to ribbons. Everyone and his brother have used them as the backbone of their argument that Rose is gutless. It never should have gotten to that point.

Being cleared to play by the Bulls should come with a big, fat asterisk. With all due respect to Cole, the team — not the player — pays the doctor. It has always been so in sports, and it has always been an inherent conflict. Teams want players to play as soon as possible.

There is no indication that Cole wanted the information about Rose’s clearance made public. The Bulls shouldn’t have allowed it to get out, but once it did, they should have gone to great lengths to minimize it. They did not. What followed was a steady drip, drip, drip of updates from Thibodeau, who always kept the door ajar for the slim possibility that Rose might return.

What was the point of that? To what end? To whose benefit? To put pressure on Rose? All I know is that it raised expectations and contributed to the ugly, toxic attitude toward him.

From the start, the Bulls should have said he was going to miss the entire season because of his surgically repaired knee. Had they, there wouldn’t be the misguided resentment toward a former NBA most valuable player.

It didn’t help that, as far back as December, media and fans were predicting that Rose would be back by mid-February. Those predictions were based on absolutely nothing. When February rolled around, Rose said he was “far away’’ from being ready to play. The medical-clearance story eventually buried his words.

The Bulls created this firestorm, the way they did with Luol Deng in 2009. Remember? Deng had a stress fracture in his leg. The team sent out a press release that sounded more like a shot at a pampered athlete: “He will undergo ‘active rest,’ meaning that he will be encouraged to challenge himself physically, and if symptoms remain minimal, he will be allowed an expeditious return to play.’’

A week later, the Bulls announced that Deng would be out two weeks and might need surgery. Too late. Fans and media members had taken the words of that press release to heart and had already painted him as hopelessly wimpy. It took season after season of 40 minutes a game for him to shed that reputation.

Have you noticed how Deng has taken pains the last few days to say that a spinal tap was proof a mere flu couldn’t have kept him out of a playoff game? He didn’t want his toughness questioned again.

Rose finds himself in a similar situation as Deng faced in 2009, only about 100 times worse. With every injury to another player during the Nets series, with every heave of a flu-ridden teammate, Rose looked more and more like a malingerer, even though he wasn’t one.

He can blame the Bulls, who cleared him to be criticized.

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