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Derrick Rose return is biggest since Michael Jordan


Bo Jackson
In his first full baseball season after a catastrophic hip injury, Jackson homered on Opening Day. His three-run shot was the decisive blow in the White Sox’ AL West-clinching victory.
Michael Jordan
After batting .202 for the minor-league Birmingham Barons in 1994, Jordan returned wearing No. 45 and scored 19 points in his first game back against the Pacers.
Ryne Sandberg
The Cubs icon retired abruptly in June 1994 but returned in 1996 to play two more seasons. When Sandberg retired again, his 277 homers were the most by a second baseman.

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Updated: December 28, 2013 2:31AM

I’m trying to picture Derrick Rose faxing a press release that announces his comeback, but it’s impossible. He seems too self-effacing, and he probably thinks the fax machine and the Pony Express are from the same era, which, by the way, they are.

Since the NBA schedule came out in early August, we’ve known that Rose would make his looooonnnnnggggg-awaited return to real action on Tuesday night, in the Bulls’ season opener against the Heat in Miami. No surprise. It’s akin to the news that Christmas will fall on Dec. 25 this year.

So let’s not confuse Rose’s reappearance with the second coming of Michael Jordan, which shouldn’t be confused with the third coming of MJ, that sad stopover in Washington we’d all rather forget.

We had little inkling that March 18, 1995, would be different from any other day until Jordan’s agent faxed one of the most famous statements in Chicago sports history: “I’m back.’’ Jordan was done with baseball and suddenly, stunningly ready to rejoin the Bulls. The darkness lifted. Three more NBA championships would follow.

But I think we all can agree that Rose’s return is the biggest comeback in Chicago since Jordan tacitly admitted he couldn’t hit a curveball. And surely we can agree this moment is very, very cool. There might even be some thawing among the people who turned on Rose last season when he refused to play on his surgically repaired left knee.

I’ll admit to something now that doesn’t normally happen: I’ve changed my mind. Or, to be more precise, Rose has changed my mind about the Bulls this season. The about-face is based on . . . I’m having trouble spitting out the words . . . seven preseason games. Crazy, I know. Preseason games have the weight and meaning of navel lint. But what I’ve seen from Rose in the preseason — he missed the game in Brazil — makes me believe the Bulls are better than the Pacers and have enough talent to give the two-time defending champion Heat reason to worry.

Seven preseason games? Perhaps I’ve lost my mind. But it looks as if Rose’s knees can carry an entire team.

How he played in the preseason games has ratcheted up the anticipation for the regular-season opener. If you saw the explosiveness his legs produced this month, you know the preseason games weren’t meaningless. They went beyond offering peace of mind. They let you know he was the best player on the floor in each of those games, the way he used to be.

He’s going to get better the more he plays with his teammates.

I didn’t expect this when camp opened. I expected lots of rust. I expected kinks in need of being worked out. Turns out my expectations were dumb and dumber.

Have you seen Rose rocket to the rim lately?

It’s why the excitement for the opener is off-the-charts ridiculous. He has the chance to be as good as he was in his MVP season of 2010-11. Just to be clear: a chance.

Here are three caveats for the Bulls, none having to do with Rose’s leg falling off:

Joakim Noah has to stay healthy. It sounds simple, yet it has been anything but. He has had only one injury-free season in the last four — the 2011-12 lockout-shortened edition. When Rose and Noah are on the court together, the Bulls usually win. Noah will play against the Heat if his groin injury cooperates.

Somebody has to score besides Rose, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng. Same as it ever was. Let’s say Rose matches his MVP season by averaging 25 points, and Boozer and Deng each averages 16 points. Where are the Bulls? Stuck in 2010-11, unless other players step up offensively. I’m talking to you, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Noah.

Coach Tom Thibodeau has to ease up on his troops. Loading players with heavy minutes in the regular season is counterproductive. This isn’t the ranting of a columnist. It’s a self-evident truth. The Bulls have been worn down every postseason under Thibodeau.

But enough of that for now. Fresh slate, and all that. Butler has gotten better every season, and there’s no reason to think that’s going to stop in his third year in the league. Mike Dunleavy Jr. is going to be Kyle Korver but perhaps without Korver’s ability to run around screens as quickly.

The point guard figures to be pretty good.

The team had Rose’s back last season. Now it’s his turn to give back.

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