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Bulls should have Derrick Rose’s back, not vice versa

The grueling condensed seashas taken its toll Derrick Rose's back. | AP

The grueling condensed season has taken its toll on Derrick Rose's back. | AP

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Updated: February 13, 2012 6:10PM

Can the Bulls stop letting their players decide how healthy they are?

That might work in a normal NBA regular season. But this is a very abnormal NBA regular season. The Bulls already are paying a heavy price for leaving Richard Hamilton’s status up to Richard Hamilton. Now the stakes are exponentially higher with Derrick Rose day-to-day with a back injury that is not healing as quickly as he thought it would.

‘‘I thought it was something that was easily going to go away,’’ Rose said yesterday when he sat out the Bulls’ 95-91 loss to the Boston Celtics at TD Garden in Boston.

It’s one thing for the Bulls’ to trust Rose with the ball in crunch time. It’s another thing to trust Rose’s intuition when it comes to his health. Rose might know better than anybody how he feels today. But Tom Thibodeau, Gar Forman and Fred Tedeschi have a better idea of how he’ll feel tomorrow. Or they should. If they don’t, they’re not as good at what they do as they think they are.

It’s risky business to let a competitive athlete make that decision. When a manager goes to the mound late in a baseball game and asks his starter how he feels, how often does the pitcher say, ‘I’m done, skip. Better get me outta here.’? If it’s one in a thousand, I can assure you there is a one-in-a-million chance that Rose would be that one.

Rose said he doesn’t know how he hurt his back. But you don’t need a medical degree or physical therapy certificate to figure it out: After not playing for eight days with a sprained toe, Rose played five NBA road games in eight days when the back became bad enough that he needed in-game treatment against the Washington Wizards on Jan. 30. Then, after a day’s rest, he played five more games — all on the road — in eight days before the back forced him to sit out the Bulls’ victory in Charlotte on Friday night.

So at the point the back became an issue, Rose played seven road games in 11 days. Even after missing five games with the sprained toe, Rose played 23 regular-season games in 61 days since training camp opened. He had played 14 in the same span last season. It’s called wear-and-tear. And it has to be managed — by the Bulls, not by Derrick Rose.

Why? Because Rose is still managing his back injury like he did when he was 18 and playing high school basketball. As a senior at Simeon, his back apparently flared up after a supersectional victory over St. Joseph. But he had nearly three days before his next game — the last quarterfinal game of the night in Peoria. And he was fine.

But playing three games in 24 hours appeared to take its toll. After scoring 22 points in each of his first two games and shooting 14-of-23 from the field (6-of-9 on three-pointers), Rose was 0-for-7 in the championship game (0-for-4 on three-pointers) in a blowout of O’Fallon. Hmmmm…

The lesson for dealing with a bad back from that episode was pretty simple: Rest is good. Too many games in a short period of time is bad. Simeon got away with it. The Bulls — even though there seem to be an awful lot of O’Fallons in the NBA this season — will not.

The mistake is to let the players make the call on injuries that have long-term repercussions. Hamilton convinced himself and the team he was ready to play against the Pistons on Jan. 4 and missed the next eight games. He returned for five more but has missed 10 of the next 11.

But he felt great when he was out there.

‘‘Once the game started, you play off adrenaline,’’ he said after playing 21 minutes against the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 17 — his first game in two weeks.

Therein lies the problem. Adrenaline becomes a masking agent. Once it wears off, you’re still injured. When White Sox starter Jake Peavy dominated in relief of John Danks against the Washington Nationals in July, he had no concerns about the effect of throwing 155 pitches in a four-day span on his recently rehabilitated groin.

‘‘Absolutely not,’’ he said. ‘‘My arm feels as good as it has since I’ve been in a Chicago uniform. Body, health-wise … the groin is a non-issue. I don’t think there’s going to be a problem.’’

Three weeks later, after Peavy was 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA in three starts, he acknowledged the adrenaline rush fooled him.

‘‘I may have been riding a little high after the relief effort,’’ he said. ‘‘I thought my body and arm would respond better than it did.’’

The point is, it shouldn’t have been his call. The Sox allowed Peavy to dictate his schedule — pitching him on four days rest so he could get an extra start before the All-Star break. And Peavy never recovered. He was 3-6 with a 5.28 ERA after that stellar relief effort and was shut down after a Sept. 6 start against the Twins.

And likewise, the Bulls shouldn’t allow Rose — or any player — to call the shots in a season where almost everybody is in uncharted territory. The sniffles are one thing. The lower back is another.

Derrick Rose got this far in large part because he was managed smartly growing up on the South Side — he was told where he could go and where he couldn’t; when he could talk and when he couldn’t; who he could hang with and who he couldn’t. Not too many players of his caliber respond to guidance like he does. He’ll be a free bird before long. But for now — certainly in this instance — the Bulls would be wise to let him know just how well he’s feeling.

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