Bulls guard Derrick Rose is averaging 18.4 points and 5.0 assists, but shooting 40.7 percent from the field — 28.7 percent on three-pointers — this season. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

Derrick Rose closing in on return, but which Rose will Bulls, Thibodeau get?

SHARE Derrick Rose closing in on return, but which Rose will Bulls, Thibodeau get?
SHARE Derrick Rose closing in on return, but which Rose will Bulls, Thibodeau get?

It looks like Derrick Rose will make it back this season after all — if not by the end of the regular season, then likely the playoffs.

Then what?

As much as the Bulls would like to think they’ll be able to put it all together when they get back to full strength, the return of Rose comes with its own challenge.

“Just him being on the floor helps our team,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Monday after the team practiced at the Advocate Center.

Over the long haul, that’s true. But on certain nights, not exactly. In fact, far from it. As was clearly evident during his most recent return, Rose’s road back to All-Star status was laced with potholes — 2-for-15 shooting against the Nets; 6-for-20 shooting against the Mavericks; 7-for-26 against the Lakers; 3-for-15 against the Jazz; 11 turnovers (with only one assist) against the Warriors. Furthermore, Rose’s 28.7 percent three-point shooting (72-of-251) is the sixth-lowest for a player with 250-or-more attempts in the last 10 seasons.

So when Bulls general manager Gar Forman said on Feb. 27 — the day of Rose’s surgery — that Rose “should be back to where he was” following a short rehabilitation, the unasked follow-up was “Where he was when?” If it’s where he was when he suffered the second meniscus tear this season, the Bulls ascendancy to postseason contender upon Rose’s return might be problematic.

Because, based on Rose’s first 46 games this season, there are some nights when the Bulls are better without Rose than they are with him. The Bulls are 5-7 this season when Rose shoots 30 percent or worse. They are 26-9 when he shoots better than 30 percent from the field. Those clunkers are likely to be more damaging in the playoffs.

The sooner Rose returns, the better. Even if Rose returned Saturday against the the 76ers at the United Center, he would have three regular-season games to get re-acclimated to game-speed, competition and his teammates. It’s better than nothing.

“We’re a different team with him back. The threat he gives us from his position is unique,” said guard Kirk Hinrich, who himself is progressing from a hyperextended knee and could return this week. “There’s always a little bit of transition, so it’s nice [that] it’s looking like he’ll be playing a couple games before the playoffs. Just excited to have a guy like that — the possibility of him coming back.”

Thibodeau is not about to rush things.

“Any time we can get him back, we’re pleased to get him back,” Thibodeau said. “We’ll figure it out. We’ve done it enough times where we know he’s going to start off slowly and we’ll go from there. He’ll get better as he goes.”

For now, Thibodeau’s biggest concern is Rose’s conditioning. He looked winded upon the completion of practice Monday — no big surprise there.

“He’s been out a long time,” Thibodeau said. “The scrimmage part is body-on-body. That conditioning is entirely different. So we’re not expecting him to play 35 minutes — jut go out there and we’ll establish a baseline, run the team.”

Rose told ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters he said Sunday he would return “likely sometime this week.” The Bulls play at Orlando on Wednesday and at Miami on Thursday before playing the 76ers at home on Saturday.

But Thibodeau offered no specifics Monday, saying that Rose “did everything” in practice and continues to make steady progress.

“I think he’s getting closer,” Thibodeau said. “He hasn’t had any setbacks, those are all positive signs. [He’s] doing everything in practice. His conditioning is still a work-in-progress, but it’s improving.

“He’s progressed well. The next step is to play in the games. As soon as he’s comfortable to do that, we’ll get started with that.”

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