In the summer of 2016, Derrick Rose left his hometown of Chicago and went to the Knicks in a trade that sent Robin Lopez to the Bulls. It was (on paper) supposed to do two things at the same time. It was supposed to upgrade the Knicks point guard position from aging Jose Calderon and simultaneously give the gifted though often injured Rose an opportunity to redeem his career.
If the Derrick Rose baggage was just about injury, the Knicks could have created a reasonable plan to go forward but Rose was immersed deep in his psyche with injury trauma. It has weighed him down for two years and now with the Cavs, in the midst of another injury matrix though less severe than a knee, Rose is taking time to re-evaluate. It sounds a little bit specious. Rose is just 29 years old. But then when you consider he was a MVP at the age of 22 and everything that followed that pinnacle has been mostly catastrophic or sad, take your pick, the Rose depression makes all the sense in the world.
How long he will take to re-evaluate his career is unknown but it comes down to this: does he still love basketball? Is his heart in it? Does he still love money? He has $80 million tied up in Adidas.
To join Cleveland, Rose in the summer of 2017, after lukewarm interest from other teams, took a $19 million dollar pay cut. At his signing, it felt desperate on both sides. Rose was making $2 million on a one year deal. The Cavs had space but little money. Rose had everything to lose because he was angling for one last contract to see him through his thirties. The year before, Rose had a decent enough season in New York save horrific defense. So, let’s reboot and see what happens.
In Cleveland, Rose was tossed a lifeline gift when Kyrie Irving made his demand to get out of town. Rose looked like a beneficiary while Isaiah Thomas recovered, making Rose both a curious figure and a mystery. Could he actually be a placeholder and perhaps keep Thomas on the bench? Whoever said changing zipcodes brought happiness was lying. In this case, whatever happiness to be had was in LeBron James hands. The crossed fingers hope was a moderately healthy Derrick Rose.
But that was what the Knicks thought too.
Rose has always been a different kind of NBA star. He was quiet, bordering on shy, when he was young. Then he developed into a moody, recalcitrant star, withdrawing in a sullen way with the media. He wasn’t comfortable with the attention his talent and achievement introduced. In his early years, he would talk to the media with his head down and in whispers. The injuries that required months away from team activities pulled him away even further. But as his body let him down, crumbling into catastrophe, it felt as if the basketball gods were mad at him for something. Torn ACL in the 2012 playoffs. Then torn meniscus. Then another torn meniscus. There was the broken bone in the face, various hamstring issues that created this singular window the Cavs tried to slot him into.
The Cavs wanted a quick fix after the Kyrie Irving trade request became the Kyrie Irivng set the NBA on fire. The messaging was a debacle for both sides. Kyrie looked selfish. The Cavs looked broken. They couldn’t even keep their second best player with the lure of another Finals run. Now here comes Rose, the former MVP.
Even if Rose does return, his efficacy revolves around his defense and his inability to drain a three point shot (23%). He will never be that MVP Rose, no more 21 point seasons in his future. Is that weighing him down? He just can’t be his former self, and on top of it, he can’t get through a full season.
One year ago, Rose contemplated quitting. If ordinary people have bad days at work and want to walk away, Rose is entitled too. And the question has to be asked: when is enough going to be enough? When will Rose tire of the injury, surgery, rehab wheel turning round and round? It’s enough to make a weary person want to throw in the towel.
The human side of Rose means it is hard to get the mental picture of who he used to be out of his head and ours
Rose is ranked the third worst point guard in the NBA (Real Plus-Minus). Only Tyler Ulis (Phoenix), Kay Felder (Chicago) and rookie De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento) are worse. That cannot be ignored. He is a role player now after being a star.
But here’s the thing. Derrick Rose was never going to save the Cavs and the Cavs were never going to save Rose. The ankle injury pulled the curtain back from the illusion. The body of Rose is his enemy more than any one player or team. He was a MVP. But since then it’s been one thing after another with his body being the epicenter of his troubles. Reflexively, you want to say life isn’t fair. But this is not life.
This is basketball. Everything is on the table, even quitting. Everything is fair.
photo via llananba