There's no question that the city of Chicago was waiting, impatiently at times, to get Derrick Rose back. And the same could likely be said about the Bulls franchise.
They weren't alone. The NBA was waiting as well.
When Rose's comeback commences for real on opening night in Miami Tuesday against the two-time defending champion Heat, there's no question the league will be savoring the return of one of its biggest sources of star power. Rose sells tons of jerseys, sells tons of tickets, gets more people watching on television and almost certainly will raise the quality of play in the Eastern Conference.
Sure, it's better for opponents when he spends an entire season in suits.
For the game, it's better when he's back on the floor.
"Obviously, he's one of our better players in the league," said Heat All-Star guard Dwyane Wade, a native of Chicago. "You miss a guy as dynamic as that. The league as a whole missed him.. So I'm sure for the city of Chicago, as he's a guy who really believes in and loves the city, I'm sure they're ecstatic. Having him back will bring a different kind of energy."
Rose was the NBA's MVP in 2011, and has played in just 40 of the Bulls' 166 games since because of a number of injuries — the most serious of them being a torn-up left knee suffered in Chicago's first playoff game in 2012. Some suggested that because of his athleticism and commitment to rehabilitation, he would only miss a few months.
By the time he returned to the court earlier in this preseason, more than 17 months had passed without Rose in uniform. By the time Rose plays in a game for real, it will be 18 months and 1 day since his knee gave way and rendered him to endless questions about why he could be practicing but not playing.
Some of his NBA colleagues understood that logic.
"I thought it was very smart of him not to rush back," Cleveland guard Jarrett Jack said. "Everybody kept thinking that just because it was an injury that happened last year that he should come back in the regular season. They didn't take into consideration that it happened so late in April and he would be walking a slippery slope to force himself back and then to try and be himself.
"That's the thing that people forget," Jack continued. "You don't want to come back and just be half of yourself. You want to come back and be at full strength."
So Rose waited. The Bulls did better than many people expected without him, winning 45 regular-season games a year ago, ousting Brooklyn in the first round and taking Game 1 of a second-round series against Miami before falling in five games. And the off-the-court side of Rose seemed to flourish.
He had the top-selling NBA jersey in China, Latin America and Europe last season. His jersey remains one of the most prominent — and popular — at the NBA Store in New York. All that came with the majority of Rose's public displays of basketball being shooting and dribbling work on the floor before games, often working himself into a full sweat while his teammates were in the locker room making final preparations before starting warmups.
"I think he's coming back stronger than ever," Atlanta forward Al Horford said. "Just from what I've been hearing, he's anxious. He hasn't played in a year so he's going to be going after people."
That's been evident in this preseason.
If someone with an MVP award on his resume needed a breakout preseason game, Rose got it last week against Indiana. He was vintage against one of Chicago's top rivals, with 32 points in just 31 minutes. He was aggressive, getting to the foul line. He created contact, just like he used to. He was strong defending on the ball. His jump shot looked better than ever.
"It's definitely going to mean a lot to have him back," Minnesota forward Kevin Love said. "We obviously hope that when he plays the Timberwolves that he has an off game. He looks a lot stronger, he looks very confident and I think he's going to have a great year. He just looks really focused."
By the end of the year, Indiana coach Frank Vogel will probably have seen enough of Rose, given that the Bulls and Pacers will probably be the top contenders in the Central Division. And if their four regular-season meetings weren't enough, Chicago and Indiana squared off twice in this preseason as well.
So Vogel's already had a courtside seat from which to assess Rose's return.
"Same old Derrick Rose," Vogel said.
Yep, he's back.
AP Basketball Writer Jon Krawczynski and AP Sports Writers Tom Withers and Charles Odum contributed.