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Bulls' Derrick Rose: 'Goal is nothing else but a championship’

Bulls guard Derrick Rose  talks with reporters team's  training facility Thursday Deerfield. Dec. 1 was first day players

Bulls guard Derrick Rose talks with reporters at the team's training facility Thursday in Deerfield. Dec. 1 was the first day players could return to team facilities since the NBA lockout began July 1. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

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Updated: January 3, 2012 10:39AM

Derrick Rose is back!

What more do you need for holiday cheer?

The five-month NBA lockout has ended — though the labor contract details need to be ironed out and the final papers signed — but seeing D-Rose walk into the Berto Center on Thursday was like seeing Santa Claus walk into the elf room after a tanning vacation and holler, ‘‘Start the hammerin’!’’

Even better was the fact that Rose seemed more dedicated, more focused, more harder on himself than ever.

‘‘This year our goal is nothing else but a championship,’’ Rose said.

Not the quarterfinals, semi-finals or NBA Finals. The Larry O’Brien Trophy or bust.

And of the team’s failure to get past the Heat in last season’s Eastern Conference finals, Rose said, ‘‘It wasn’t my teammates’ fault we lost last year; it was me.’’

It was the 2010-11 MVP’s fault, people. You love that?

Coming from another player, such self-deprecation would be as phony as Regis Philbin’s hair.

But Rose is young enough, talented enough and surprising enough to mean it.

Why, when the soon-to-be-agreed-upon work agreement was pounded out, it included a thing now known as the ‘‘Derrick Rose Rule,’’ a huge money bump for wildly talented and overachieving young players, of which the 23-year-old Rose is currently the only one eligible.

‘‘That’s free money,’’ Rose said with a grin.

But it’s also free pressure, and Rose gets that.

From his attitude and quiet confidence, it seems Rose wants it.

The Adidas ads, the world trips, the charity talks and the MVP award — over LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, don’t forget — have matured him into a man ready to embrace his prime years with joy and responsibility.

He is the age Michael Jordan was when he led the league in scoring with his highest average — 37.1 points per game — and he is so fresh that he hasn’t a clue about aging, serious injury or the bad luck that can strike anyone.

The NBA season will start Christmas Day with five games, and the Bulls playing the Lakers in Los Angeles — before or after the Bears-Packers game, not during it, we have been assured. The 66 regular-season games will be packed in like crayons.

The schedule will be out next week, and there are said to be back-to-back-to-back games for everybody. The second round of the playoffs will be speeded up. If you’re not in shape, you might want to just barf now because the road to the championship will be a treadmill set on 10.

‘‘In 1998-99, a lot of guys came in out of shape, and there were a lot of injuries,’’ Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of the last work stoppage and what turned out to be a 50-game regular season.

Thibs can’t talk to his players yet, and Thursday was simply a day for guys to wander in randomly and check out the facility where they used to be so comfortable. To do anything, they had to sign an insurance waiver form with the trainer.

Ronnie Brewer came in, as did Joakim Noah. Some people thought they saw Luol Deng.

When asked about the early quality of games, guard C.J. Watson, replete with his gnarly ‘‘lockout beard,’’ said, ‘‘I think it’ll be pretty funny to see it at first, actually.’’

He didn’t mean ha-ha funny but unusual funny. Watson was glad there were going to be only two exhibition games.

‘‘The less the better — the quicker we get started,’’ he said.

Watson, like the other players who came in, was only in the gym a short time.

‘‘It was good to get in there and lift some weights, shoot some free throws by myself,’’ he said. ‘‘Though there was no one to rebound for me.’’

That won’t last long. Everywhere, it’s ‘‘organized chaos,’’ Bulls PR chief Tim Hallam said as teams throughout the league crank up their engines, which were shut down and starting to rust.

By next week, the Bulls should be practicing hard, with a coach. Everybody is here already, except Carlos Boozer, who has been working out in Miami.

Watson feels so good, he might keep his lockout beard for a while.

‘‘I started it in September,’’ he said. ‘‘I got a lot of good reviews, so I might not shave it.’’

Above all, Rose is ready to roll, and Naismith’s pro game is back.

It was good, trust me, just to hear the random bounce of a basketball hitting the hardwood floor.

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