Derrick Rose Matters But a Max Deal Is A Fantasy

Last season, in early February, pre-game, Derrick Rose was dribbling the ball with his left hand and then with his right. When he stopped for a moment, interrupting his ritual, he picked the ball up. He looked over his shoulder for a good minute, staring at something in the distance. There were fans filing in, taking their seats. There were the bright lights of the arena. There were the ushers at the door jambs. But what wasn’t there, at least not visible, was a silhouette of Derrick Rose, the myth. There wasn’t a rough sketch of the Derrick Rose who was league MVP and the best player on the Bulls. If anything, hanging in the distance was a ghost, someone who no longer exists.

Perhaps Derrick Rose was looking at nothing in particular, just a half-filled arena in Atlanta. His life may be filled with too many complications for the kind of introspection necessary to draw a line between what he is chasing and who he used to be.

The past, William Faulkner famously wrote, isn’t dead. It isn’t even past. That, in a nutshell, is the Derrick Rose complication and something the Knicks have to acquaint themselves with in their Derrick Rose discussion.

Derrick Rose has had a lifetime of a career and yet he is only a nine year veteran, a 28 year old. But his body and his mind and his fall from NBA elite makes him seem far older.

Before the 2015-16 season began, there were hints that Derrick Rose, the native son, was a different Derrick Rose. In the assemblage of talent that made up the pool for the Olympic team selection, Derrick Rose’s name was omitted. So many point guards Derrick Rose was better than in 2011 were included, particularly Steph Curry, Mike Conley, Kyrie Irving, John Wall.

5 years later, his peripatetic slide driven by injury,has put him on the sidelines, not good enough to be part of the pool. The USA Basketball committee justified their decision by saying all players had to participate in the mini-camp. Rose didn’t attend. He was adhering to his workout regimen in order to get back 100%. But still, it was ominous. Who was Derrick Rose now?

With the Bulls last season, lingering in the playoff underclass, it was clear that Derrick Rose would never be the Derrick Rose of yesterday. Steph Curry has replaced him in all things. This year with the Knicks the story is unchanged. Parenthetically, Derrick Rose is unable to carry a team anymore although he has had some very good performances this past season that automatically transport you to another time and place. In the game against the Bulls on Thursday night Rose had a hang in the air layup that triggered memories of Rose before Rose. There are two Derrick Rose’s. Then and now. Here and then. Yesterday and today.

The Rose of today has a problem of consistency. First and foremost, Rose has to be trusted to make and take the right shots in moments when they matter. His defense has fallen off, his lateral quickness a casualty of successive knee injuries. And it is still unclear how determined he is to be a basketball player. Bomani Jones of ESPN asked, “when was the last time you saw Derrick Rose play with joy.”

It’s  a question that has you searching.

Did the injuries mess with his psyche. If it did he would only be human. Last year when Kobe Bryant was in town to play the Bulls for the last time, Bryant talked about how injuries mess with your mind, altering reality. Fear is embedded in the consciousness but it’s not intellectualized as fear. The bottom line is the same, it doesn’t matter what you call it. You don’t do what you used to do. The psyche relives the injury again and again and again.

Like Rose, Bryant’s repetitive injuries had sucked the game from him. But in his last season, Kobe was getting to the line 4.2 times per game as a 37 year old while playing three minutes less than Rose.

I can tell you that Derrick Rose is making  24.5% of his three point shots, and 24.4% of his catch and shoot baskets and 39.8% of his pull-up jumpers. I can tell you he drives to the rim 10 times a game and finishes those drives 54% of the time. I can tell you he passes the ball 56 times in a game and those passes end in scores for 11 points.  His assist percentage is 22.8%, a career low, lower than his rookie year of nearly 29%. I can tell you Derrick Rose touches the ball 79 times in a game. He has the ball in his hands for 5 seconds. He takes 3 dribbles. I can tell you Derrick Rose scores half of his points off of drives and the rest off of pull-up jumpers. I can tell you his Personal Efficiency Rating is 22nd best for point guards. Ahead of him at number 21 and 20 are Zach Levine and D’Angelo Russell, players who are still on rookie deals. He ranks 61st out of 85 point guards in the area of on-court impact.

But stats, counting stats, advanced metrics, analytics are all secondary to this basic question: Do you trust Derrick Rose? This Derrick Rose, not the Derrick Rose of your memory.

Can the Knicks trust Derrick Rose enough to give him a huge deal come July 1st. To deliver him everything they have to trust his leadership? Does a leader just walk away even if it is for one day?

Every time Rose has had a good game, 25 points and 4 assists against the 76ers, 26 points and 6 assists and 7 rebounds in Atlanta, 30 points and 4 assists and 7 rebounds against the Thunder, it re-energizes the argument that the old Derrick Rose is still in there, he has not yet died. Do not bury him yet.

Rose is not the same kid who was drafted number one in a lottery upset, the native son who the city embraced even as he kept everyone at a distance. That was alright too. He wanted privacy, he wanted not to be the messiah even as he was drafted into that deified air. Rose today is a lot more wary and more sullen and isn’t shy about talking about money, as he did the day after he said he wanted to quit. He’s grown up; he has. He has not grown up. His body has grown brittle.  A few steps forward, one step back. His health defines him now more than his jumper anoints him. Same story with his mental approach. It hits. It misses.

The Bulls could not depend on Derrick Rose the way they used to in those perfect years before his injuries made him human. The Bulls slide in the playoff race last season mostly because of injuries kept them in the same universe as the Knicks, watching the playoffs on televsion. In 2015-16, Derrick Rose could not live up to his promise. He could not chase his past self.  As a team, in 2015-16 the Bulls were better than they were a decade ago, but Derrick Rose was better five years ago than he is today. He can’t chase his past self. Ditto the same story in New York. Derrick Rose is still chasing.

Live long enough and you’ll know it is all about turning the page and living with what you have. And who you are now. Derrick Rose’s All-Star games may be over. He may never be an Olympian. His max dollars days are in his past. He’s not extraordinary anymore He not that exceptional home grown NBA star anymore. There are faster guards. Better scorers. More trusted finishers.  Must see t.v. Statistics often blur the facts to what’s real. An explosive guard is now a very good guard who can win games and get a team into the playoffs. But he needs help; he is no one’s savior anymore. Sometimes, life is cruel in this way: people have to change against their will, kicking and screaming into their future.


photo via llananba