Let's not mince words: If Derrick Rose says his knee isn't ready, it's not ready. He can't play. He can't help. He certainly shouldn't jump into a series against the Heat of equal parts basketball and hardball.

Rose sits on the Chicago bench in one expensive suit jacket after another this series against the Heat, a dark one Wednesday, a blue one Friday. He's always up quick after a time-out. He always has a word for a teammate.

But he's been so close to it all he's again a story for doing nothing at all. You can see why that is. His surgically reconstructed knee was reportedly cleared to play by doctors two months ago.

He practices before games, too, going hard for anyone to see, moving on cuts to the basket, then going through shooting exercises as a ball-boy passes to him. And people see.

On Friday, two middle-aged Bulls fans watched Rose work out an hour before Game 3's tip-off and did what a faction of fans and media does. They assessed his health off that session.

"Looks good to me," one said.

"He could give it a go," another did.

That's how outsiders are conditioned to think in sports. Players need to be tough. The team comes first. TV analyst Jeff Van Gundy told a good story this past week of being a Knicks assistant to Pat Riley when a player was out injured for a while.

"Can you give me one minute?" Riley asked him.

"Yeah," the player said.

"Then why aren't you in uniform?" Riley said.

The player suited up. We eat up those inside stories on the outside. But if Rose returns, his knee isn't healthy like he says and he suffers another injury, you know how these fans and media will react.

"Oh, I was wrong," they'll say.

The stakes are more serious for Rose. It's his career, his good life. And every city has a cautionary story explaining why. In South Florida, the obvious one is former Dolphin O.J. McDuffie, who toughed his way through a toe injury to his teammates' and coaches' respect to the point his career was ruined.

In basketball, Grant Hill returned too early from an ankle injury at Orlando. There's a dividing line in his career right there, from superstar to role player.

Just this year, New Orleans guard Eric Gordon was in the same situation Rose is with people tapping their fingers on the table and impatiently wondering when he'd be back. Gordon pushed it. A knee injury became an ankle injury.