I love Derrick Rose the basketball player. That needs to be said at the outset of this.

These days, talking about Derrick Rose in any sort of negative sense is a guaranteed argument. Anyone not firmly entrenched in a love affair with Chicago’s Own Point Guard is either labeled a “hater” or something similar that implies they want Derrick to fail.

That’s just not true.

I want Derrick Rose to win 15 more MVP awards and have people in Chicago saying “Michael Who?”. But taking an objective look at Derrick Rose shouldn’t be shouted down as “hating” and rational people shouldn’t be told to “chill the fuck out” about it. It’s time to be realistic about Number One.

It isn’t fair to call Derrick Rose soft. We have no idea what he’s gone through and is still going through. Questioning someone’s intestinal fortitude is a slippery slope, even if there is mounting evidence to suggest that it might be true. However, it’s become clear that Derrick Rose is, at the very least, extremely injury prone. 

That can’t be disputed.

Chicago’s collective heart broke when he landed awkwardly against Philadelphia, forever changing the trajectory of his own career and the Chicago Bulls franchise. But it’s also worth mentioning that Rose only played in 39 games prior to his ACL injury, a fact that gets lost in the shuffle when Rose’s spotty injury record is solely chalked up to his knees.

He had ankle, back and toe problems that dogged him long before the catastrophic injury. Derrick only missed six games in the prior three seasons while playing 37 minutes per game, but that Derrick Rose is long gone. 

The initial ACL injury was calamitous for everyone involved, and then came the year off where the narrative began to shift. After 525 days, Rose finally returned to the basketball court — only to have his season derailed again by injury just days later. This time it was Rose’s right meniscus that betrayed him, seemingly having very little to do with his newly repaired left ACL.

But that’s all history. Derrick Rose is back now. The Bulls look like the toast of the Eastern Conference. Pau Gasol is looking like the pickup of the offseason, Jimmy Butler is blossoming into a legitimate star and Rose, when healthy, has been electric.

The problem arises with that caveat of “when healthy,” because for Derrick Rose it’s a daily question.

After sitting out in Sacramento last night Rose has played in five of twelve games this season, finished three of them, and bowed out of undoubtedly the season’s two biggest games so far (Cleveland and Toronto) with injury. Sure, calling any NBA game in November “big” is iffy; but if you’re going to stake a claim to full health and the Eastern Conference, those are the games to make a statement regarding each.

“These games don’t matter, as long as Rose is healthy for the playoffs, he can sit all he wants” has become a common defense of Rose early on this year. Here’s the problem with that line of thinking: every one of these games matter. The wide open Eastern Conference has been decided by four games or fewer in six of the last ten years, meaning that losses to bottom feeders like Boston and Indiana at home will certainly come back to bite the Bulls when it’s time to decide important things.

The strategy of keeping Rose fresh is fine. A Monday night game against the Clippers after a cross country flight? Sit him. But you can’t give away games against conference rivals at home. Not to mention that someone else is taking those minutes when Rose is absent. I’m sure Jimmy Butler would love a night off, Kirk Hinrich isn’t a spring chicken and Aaron Brooks has had injury issues of his own.

All of this may not matter. You have to understand that there is nothing I would like to do more than eat this column in May. You’re welcome to harass me on Twitter and tell me to shut my stupid face if Derrick Rose is playing and playing well in the playoffs. I’d be happy to take that because once it is all said and done of course I’m still rooting for Derrick Rose.

I have his jersey hanging in my closet. He made the NBA fun again.

But the fact is that the Bulls’ best player — and truly only sensible reason to expect they can top Lebron and the Cavs — has finished three games this year. He has left two important conference games with different injuries and has shown no reason to believe he will gut out an injury if the situation calls for it. That would be a legitimate concern even if he wasn’t the same guy who’s played just 54 games total the last four years.

The sky isn’t falling and from all reports Derrick seems to be in good spirits with every limb firmly attached. But as fans we’re really supposed to “believe” in Derrick Rose right now? We’re really supposed to just “chill the fuck out” as Joakim Noah put it? 

He can’t string together eight consecutive quarters of injury free basketball, so why should the story be anything else?

As it sits, there is zero evidence he can stay on the court with any consistency regardless of how healthy he claims to be. It isn’t time to panic, but it is time to entertain the possibility that the Bulls’ best chance of returning to the NBA Finals since 1998 is a good-hearted, competitive, talented-as-hell player with a body that simply can’t stay intact for any significant period of time.

That isn’t “hating” or cynicism.

That’s just reality.

(Featured Photo courtesy of FreshlyRyan2)