Derrick Rose back to his old self in Las Vegas

Remember when Derrick Rose denied he was aware of criticism over his decision not to play near the end of the 2012-13 NBA regular-season?

Recall how oblivious Rose sounded during those playoffs, suggesting he might return during the Heat series?

And who can forget the time in February 2013 when Rose claimed to have no idea what motivated older brother Reggie, his manager, to rip Bulls management over the roster?

The pride of Englewood who practically owned the city after becoming the NBA's youngest MVP in 2011 too often came off as a guy living in his own world, someone failing to recognize the reality everybody saw but him.

Unable to speak with actions because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, Rose's words often confused and confounded us. After Rose had surgery in May 2012, it was as if he went under anesthesia and stayed foggy for the next two years.

Finally, Rose shows signs of regaining his senses on and off the court — the biggest takeaway from a week when he talked and played again like an NBA superstar representing Team USA.

On the court, Rose removed much of the doubt surrounding his 10-month layoff from competition by playing with a freedom missing from his first return — something coach Mike Krzyzewski and others noted. He glided and exploded. He dished, defended and drove.

Off the court, Rose came across as candid and colorful, equally introspective and entertaining. All that looked and sounded familiar. All that was missing was his No. 1 jersey.

There will be those who want Rose to rush home and cover himself in bubble wrap until October to avoid the same catastrophic fate that befell Paul George on Friday night. But a 25-year-old who has played only 49 games the past three seasons needs the reps, physically and psychologically, and can't spend the rest of his career fearing injury whenever a peer goes down — even gruesomely.

For the sake of the Bulls, hope that whatever happened to Rose in Vegas doesn't stay there. Chicago gladly will welcome back the version of D-Rose who's easier to like than mock, the guy whose awareness extends beyond the basketball floor.

A story illustrating such growth in Friday's Sun-Times included comments pertinent to Rose's progress, a valid quote stacked atop mostly rehashed material about agent B.J. Armstrong's past with the Bulls and Rose's recruitment of free agent Carmelo Anthony that relied heavily on anonymous sources. Before the piece veered into well-worn ground, Rose acknowledged an underlying tension between him and the Bulls organization that most people around the team since his first knee injury had sensed.

The Rose we are used to hearing since 2012 might have left the impression he was living in basketball utopia. Not now.

"I know it's been there,'' Rose said of the tension, referencing the past.

It's all but gone now, which explains why Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf took the extraordinary step of refuting what he considered "malicious fiction.'' Anybody wondering if Reinsdorf was feeling healthy again after fainting last week in Cooperstown, N.Y., found out Thursday night when he released a scathing statement that called the paper's account an "irresponsible report.''

Nobody can deny the Bulls have had fits of frustration with Rose in the last two years, the latest when he didn't attend a July 1 dinner with Anthony. But to suggest that brought both sides closer to a breaking point in the relationship manufactures drama and ignores the reality that Rose could have chauffeured Anthony personally up and down Rush Street and he still would have chosen the Knicks.

"I am deeply disappointed that unnamed sources and totally inaccurate statements and assumptions can be used to foment nonexistent friction,'' Reinsdorf said.

When Michael Jordan criticized Bulls management during his career, Chicago mostly shrugged. When Rose confirmed the uneasiness he and the Bulls front office have worked through, Twitter exploded and the three sports-talk radio stations in town said thank you. My, times have changed.

Yet one thing about basketball remains the same; great players and championship-caliber teams ignore the noise — and it's all noise. And if Rose stays healthy, he will resume being a great player and the Bulls a championship-caliber team.

If the summer had not begun with expectations of signing Anthony, the Bulls' offseason would be viewed as a rousing success. They addressed an offensive weakness with the drafting of sharpshooter Doug McDermott and the signing of forwards Pau Gasol, an upgrade over Carlos Boozer, and former first-round pick Nikola Mirotic. They re-signed Kirk Hinrich and added Aaron Brooks, in the role of D.J. Augustin, for depth. They will enter next season as one of the deepest teams in the Eastern Conference, along with the Cavaliers with LeBron James, the Pacers and the Wizards.

As for trading for Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, the Bulls never were close to making a deal for the All-Star no matter how much hype fictional trade reports created. Under the category of due diligence, the Bulls called about Love, a premier offensive talent whose defensive shortcomings might have driven coach Tom Thibodeau crazy within the first month.

The Bulls like their team, as is. And they still love Rose, again as he was.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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