- Associated Press - Monday, October 1, 2012

DEERFIELD, ILL. (AP) - Derrick Rose isn’t sure he’ll be the same player once he returns from his knee surgery.

He thinks he might be better.

The superstar point guard’s recovery remains the biggest issue hanging over the Chicago Bulls, particularly after they announced a four-year contract extension for coach Tom Thibodeau on Monday. Rose is expected to miss a big chunk of the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee late in a playoff-opening win over the Philadelphia 76ers, an injury that sent the top-seeded Bulls staggering toward a first-round exit.

“I’m going to be a better player, but who knows in what area?” Rose said at the team’s media day session. “My legs have never been this strong before. My upper body has never been this strong before. My core has never been this strong before. I’m just going to see how far this takes me.”

The strides he’s made since his surgery are encouraging, but his return date remains up in the air. How soon after that until he’s back to his old MVP form remains to be seen, too.

He and the Bulls aren’t revealing any specific timetables, other than they hope to have him back at some point this season. Rose is curious to see what he can do once that time comes.

“I can’t wait to get back on the court to see what I’m going to do,” he said. “I don’t know how I’m going to play. I don’t know what’s going to be new about my game. I know it’s just going to be exciting for everyone to see.”

General manager Gar Forman said he’s never seen a player approach rehab the way Rose has. Even so, he’s still a long way from returning, and the Bulls are going to take a cautious approach.

“Let’s not forget, he’s got a long way to go,” Forman said. “He remains focused, committed to what he’s doing. There haven’t been any setbacks. That’s why we say he’s on schedule, but as far as the future is concerned, we’re taking this process step by step. Up to this step, he’s right where we want him to be.”

Rose realizes he’ll have to convince the Bulls, doctors and trainers once he feels he’s ready to return. His next big hurdle on the court will come in about two weeks. That’s when he’ll start making abrupt changes in direction.

“Cutting is the hardest thing in the world right now to do,” he said. “I’m scared of it.”

Getting by without Rose will difficult for the Bulls.

They were widely viewed as the biggest threat to Miami in the Eastern Conference after capturing the top seed for the second straight year, but that changed once Rose went down. With Joakim Noah spraining his left ankle later in the 76ers series and Luol Deng playing with a torn ligament in his left wrist, the Bulls bowed out early after losing to the Heat in the conference finals the previous year.

Now, the team has a different look, with its franchise player sidelined and most of the so-called “bench mob” gone. The Bulls brought in veteran Kirk Hinrich for a second stint to run the point with Rose gone and likely move into a backup role once he returns, but for now, outside expectations aren’t particularly high.

“Our goals are going to stay the same, and that’s to win a championship,” Rose said. “You never know how we’re going to play. With basketball, you can have all the greatest players, but you have to play as a team to win. The team that won it last year, Miami, they built that team where they didn’t have all the best players. They had players that knew their role. They play hard, did what they had to do to win, and that’s what we need to do.”

He said getting Thibodeau locked in for the long term helps. The Bulls had already exercised their option for next season, and the extension runs through 2016-17.

The Bulls would not reveal the financial terms. Yahoo Sports, citing unidentified league sources, reported the deal includes $17.5 million in base salary with bonuses, potentially pushing the package to $20 million

“Obviously, I’m glad that we got the contract part done,” said Thibodeau, who is 112-36 in two seasons. “I’m looking forward to the challenge ahead. My expectations are always the same. That’s for our players to put everything they have into each and every game, to strive for improvement and play our best basketball the second half of the season.”

Notes: Deng said his wrist has improved dramatically and there were several reasons why he opted against surgery, which still remains a possibility. “First thing, I wanted to play in the Olympics (for Great Britain),” he said. “I really wanted to do that. It’s something I wanted to experience. I wanted to play with the guys I grew up with, the country that took me in. A lot of things go into it. Before the year was over, my wrist kept getting stronger and better. … I started focusing on my rehab. It started to get better. That also was part of my decision. I didn’t want to get surgery and miss a lot of games. I’m at a time in my career where I want to play every game.” … Forman said he thinks Noah’s ankle is fine. … The Bulls signed free agents Ryan Allen, Vance Cooksey, Andre Emmett, Kyrylo Fesenko and Marko Jaric to round out their training camp roster.