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Article updated: 1/1/2013 8:27 PM

Small step for Bulls' Rose, but it's a step

By Mike McGraw

This could have been a smooth public-relations maneuver, in theory.

A day after the Bulls sent their booing fans streaming for the exits in a loss to lowly Charlotte, they changed the subject with some positive news about Derrick Rose.

The only problems in that scenario, though, are that the news isn't very significant and the timing does not appear intentional.

Here's the news: Rose traveled with the team Tuesday for a two-game road trip to Orlando and Miami. It's the first time he has followed the Bulls on the road this season, but he won't be playing, so this isn't an earthshaking development.

"He's doing more of practice, but he still can't take full contact," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "There's several steps he has to go through. This is all part of the plan of bringing him back. But everyone has to be patient."

On Tuesday at the Berto Center, Rose shot around with his teammates after practice, then ran some sprints on the track that circles the court at the Berto Center.

A few weeks ago Rose started in the weight room and finished his run a few steps into the gym. This time he started in the weight room and continued around two sides of the basketball court.

After one sprint, teammate Kirk Hinrich drew a smile from Rose by yelling, "Left turn." All in the name of progress.

Imagine the furor when Rose sits on the bench during a game. Thibodeau doesn't expect that to happen in Florida.

"We'll see. Still, prior to the games, I want him to do his rehab stuff," Thibodeau said. "He's still focused in on that. As he gets closer, then he'll eventually be on the bench, but he's still a little bit away from that."

The rest of the interview was basically questions trying to pinpoint the date of Rose's return, with vague responses from Thibodeau.

The coach tried to change the subject a couple of days ago by saying Rose is a "long way" from playing. Of course, that could mean one month, three months or five years for all we know.

"It's when he's ready, so we don't want to put a date on it," Thibodeau said Tuesday. "I think it's just going step by step. When he makes it through some practices for an extended amount of time and there's not any soreness the next day, we'll make a decision then.

"He's got a long way to go. You never know. You don't want to rule out anything."

At the start of the season, the all-star break in mid-February seemed to be a reasonable estimate for Rose's return. Now that he seems to be doing well, while Ricky Rubio and Adrian Peterson set the precedent for nine-month returns, maybe there's a chance Rose will be back sooner.

The best-case scenario still figures to be late January. If Rose starts full practice in two weeks, could he be back for the Charlotte rematch Jan. 28, the nine-month anniversary of his ACL tear? Sure, but it also could happen closer to the all-star break.

It's too soon to say, but there's no doubt that on Jan. 1 we were one day closer to Rose's return than on Dec. 31. That qualifies as cause for celebration after the Bobcats debacle.

"This is what we planned all along," Thibodeau said. "There's really no change. He's doing more basketball stuff now and less of the weight training and the rehab stuff.

"He's still doing that, but he's added now the basketball component, so he's doing both."

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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