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Bulls' Rose has become a brittle league all-star

You can only be distracted by Elfrid Payton’s hairdo for so long.

Then you must say the obvious: Where in the hell is Derrick Rose?

As the Bulls played the weak Orlando Magic on Tuesday night at the United Center, eventually winning 98-90, the most noticeable thing — after you grew accustomed to the stuffed animal/mushroom cloud atop rookie Magic guard Payton’s noggin ­—was Rose’s absence.

How delicate is this guy?

This was game four of the 2014-15 season for the Bulls, and Rose, the one-time MVP of the league, was benched with not one, but two sprained ankles. Or one sprained and one sort of sprained. Or God knows what. Because we here in Chicago really don’t know how many things Rose can hurt, because the thigh bone’s connected to the shin bone, which is connected to the ankle bone, etc.

We have barely seen Rose play in 21/2 years. A tissue is more dependable than Rose.

He came down awkwardly in the second game against the Cavaliers, hobbled into the locker room for X-rays, and has not been seen since.

Correct that. Rose has been around, even warming up for this game (after missing all the game against the Timberwolves), but then he was ruled out by Bulls doctors or trainers. Or he ruled himself out. Or the gods of basketball decreed it.

There is a theme here, and it’s not a happy one. It is this: Derrick Rose plays too hard for his body, or is too fragile for hoops, and we can never count on him to lead the Bulls for an extended period again. Fate has decided to tease us, tease him, tease all.

Maybe this is nothing, much ado about what’s called a ‘‘basketball injury.’’ Or two.

“I’m feeling good,” Rose said at the shootaround. But then he added, rather ominously, ‘‘If I’m not… 100 percent or if I can’t play the way that I normally play, there’s no point in me being out there right now.”


Is that the second part to this equation? Is there anyone in the league who’s feeling 100 percent after the first practice of the season? Nobody expects a fellow to play with a torn ACL (which Rose has had) or a torn meniscus (which Rose has had). But can you gut out a few minutes with two sore ankles against a weak team with a 20-year old point guard wearing a Davy Crockett cap on his head, from Louisiana-Lafayette?

Many players would.

But there is some kind of disconnect here with the Bulls and Rose. Coach Tom Thibodeau has been criticized to the point of redundancy for playing his starters too much. That’s why Rose keeps hurting himself, they say.

So Rose played all of 21 minutes in the season opener against the Knicks. He played 25 minutes against the Cavs in the next game, and — boom — he got hurt.

Lord, this man has now played 46 minutes of basketball, out of 192 total. That’s less than a quarter of the total.

Thibodeau has a ‘‘next man up,’’ philosophy, which serves him well when starters — like Joakim Noah, out with the flu — drop around him. But if the Bulls can’t count on its number-one star —Rose — how can they ever build a contender?

Before the regular season, Thibs said he didn’t know why everyone was so concerned about Rose’s recovery from his two knee injuries. After all, Rose had played in every one of Team USA’s world-championship games last summer.

The problem with that? It wasn’t the Bulls. It wasn’t for this franchise which has paid Rose a fortune, which has mortgaged its future on him, even if Thibs was the assistant coach on that gold-medal team.

The concern is Rose will always be an injury waiting to happen. His game is more like that of an NFL tailback than a point guard. He cuts, he slashes, he plows into traffic, he leaps over piles. And he gets hurt. And he says he won’t change.

Michael Jordan came back to the NBA in 1994 after his minor-league baseball adventure, and he played in every game for the Bulls for the next four years, winning three NBA titles.

Maybe Jordan is a freak. Of course, he is.

But he played though pain.

How can we believe in Rose until he plays in game after game again?

Maybe we can’t.