CHICAGO — The "MVP! MVP!" chants rained down on Derrick Rose just as they did before he was injured. Now that he's poised to return, the Chicago Bulls star figures to hear them again on a regular basis.
Rose believes he's ready to dominate again and help his team contend for a championship.
With training camp set to open this week, the former MVP point guard said there are no lingering issues with his surgically repaired left knee.
"Who knows when I'm going to get my rhythm?" he said. "It might take one game. It might take five games, 10 games. Who knows? I think me having that relationship with my teammates and them knowing that and not just depending on me right away, just knowing that I'm just trying to fit in with them, do my job where my job is to come in, run the game and get them open shots and play aggressive. I think the guys on the team know that. And me knowing that, too, I think it's going to be a smooth year, a smooth process."
Asked if he has any doubts he'll regain his MVP form, Rose said, "No."
"I put so much into my craft," he said. "I'm working hard. I think I'm one of the hardest workers in the NBA, if not the hardest worker. I think you should see it in my game when I step on the court."
Rose spoke Sunday before a youth event at the United Center to promote next month's launch of his latest signature adidas basketball shoe and apparel.
He hasn't played since he crumbled to the floor with a torn ACL near the end of Game 1 of the 2012 playoff opener against Philadelphia, an injury that sent the top-seeded Bulls toward a first-round playoff exit and put their championship hopes on hold.
Now Rose believes they're back in the championship picture.
"I think it's close," Rose said. "With the same team, the nucleus, that we have, we made it to the conference finals with a couple plays that could have easily changed the outcome. Every player is getting better individually. I think everybody's healed up. We know how big it is. It's just going to take time for me to adjust back to my teammates because they're used to playing with each other."
Many thought he would come back at some point last season, particularly once he got medical clearance. It didn't happen and fans who watched Rose throwing down dunks before games wondered why. The fact that the Bulls clawed their way to 45 wins and the second round of the playoffs even though a long list of players went down with injuries and illnesses did not help the superstar's image.
The hype surrounding his return was another issue. It started building almost as soon as he went down.
Adidas released videos documenting his progress, but Rose mostly stayed in the background, saying little about his recovery. That changed midway through the season. Then his older brother Reggie ripped the organization in an interview with espnchicago.com, saying the decision to stand pat at the trade deadline would be a "big factor" in whether Derrick returned. That fueled speculation of a rift with the team.
Rose said he was close to returning but "had to really think things through."
"I'm 24," he said. "I have a bright future. Why not just take every day, take strides every day and just see when I'm comfortable enough to come back?"
He also said the organization supported him.
"They were behind me the whole time," Rose said. "There was no rush. They were telling me be patient. I listened to them. There wasn't anyone rushing me but a few media people. Who wouldn't want to rush a young player that plays the game the right way back? I understand that. It's a big year. We're just trying to stay focused."
He's added muscle, which he believes will help his jump shot and cut back on the wear and tear his body absorbs.
With their superstar back, the Bulls are eyeing a deep playoff run. Rose sees no reason why they can't challenge Miami for supremacy in the Eastern Conference, since that's exactly what they were doing before he went down.
The Bulls lost to the Heat in the 2011 conference finals after finishing with a league-leading 62 wins and appeared headed to a rematch with them the following year before Rose tore his ACL.
Even with the expectations lowered last season, the banged-up Bulls managed to get by Brooklyn in the first round of the playoffs before the Heat eliminated them.
"But we can only worry about the Bulls. We have a great team, young guys," Rose said. "Just seeing how the guys individually are getting better, I think it's going to be a good year for the Bulls."