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Injury-riddled MVP Rose looking towards future

Chicago native preparing for free agency -- in 2017

POSTED: Sep 29, 2015 11:45 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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Derrick Rose Interview

Derrick Rose talks with Steve Aschburner during Bulls media day.

— The opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference, Nobel prize winner Elie Wiesel said. And right now, the sports fans of Chicago are embroiled in a torrid indifference affair with Bulls star Derrick Rose.

It didn't used to be that way. Rose, as a local kid who grew up on the South Side nine miles from United Center, delighted people throughout greater Chicagoland and Bulls fans across the nation as the youngest MVP in NBA history. Even two years ago, as they waited patiently across 17 months for Rose to make the first of his comebacks from multiple surgeries, folks still were poised to metaphorically chisel his features onto any "Mt. Rushmore of Chicago sports," elevating him after four seasons to the ranks of Michael Jordan, Walter Payton, Ernie Banks, Mike Ditka and a few select others.

But repeated knee injuries and extended layoffs have dimmed Rose's star. And his overall centered-ness in life -- self-preservation skills learned by or presumably preached to Rose to help him cope with the frustration of his absences and lonely rehabs -- has distanced him further from a fan base yearning for a post-Jordan era of Bulls success.

It was disappointing when Rose pushed his recovery from his left ACL blowout (still the most severe of his injuries) through what the organization, his coaches and his teammates felt would be an All-Star break or March return to wipe out all of 2012-13. It got worse when Rose invoked a Higher Order when throwing the marker way out there for his expected return dates, and later seemed to prioritize having healthy legs in a pain-free middle age over any urgency to get back on the court for the Bulls sooner rather than later.

And then Rose went tone-deaf again on Monday.

Unprompted, the point guard sounded like an alderman more interested in feathering his nest than attacking someone else's basket when he introduced the topic of free agency, which for him will come in the summer of 2017.

By which time Rose will have been paid another $41 million for the two seasons remaining on his contract. On top of the $75.4 million he has collected from the Bulls since arriving as the No. 1 pick in 2008. Not to mention -- OK, we're actually mentioning it -- his 13-year, $185 million endorsement contract to hawk sneakers for Adidas that still has about a decade to run.

Rose is known for saying the wrong things at the wrong time -- steering conversations unexpectedly down strange, bumpy lanes more than yanking them in intentional, ego-driven directions. He was at it again during the team's media-day session at the Advocate Center practice facility.

Rose's does-he-really-want-to-go-there moment was triggered, awkwardly enough, by a question about the civil lawsuit slapped on him this summer by a former girlfriend claiming she had been sexually assaulted two years ago by Rose and two friends. There was no criminal complaint at the time. Rose has denied the incident, the Bulls have expressed their general support of their employee and Rose's defenders have portrayed the litigation -- including some sordid lifestyle details alleged within -- as a money grab.

And yet, improbably, Rose -- while declaring the story to be false and professing his innocence -- managed to shift the narrative to what sounded like a tawdry money grab of a different sort.

Asked if the allegation weighs on him daily, Rose said: "This whole summer I had tunnel vision. My whole mindset was making sure I was working out every day and spending as much time as possible with my son. And focusing on them two things. Make sure my family is financially stable -- as far as, you see all the money that they're passing out in this league -- and just telling the truth. And knowing that my day will be coming up soon. And if not for me, for [son] P.J. and his future. That's what I'm thinking about right now."

Say what? Free agency? Another payday? Not the opportunity to begin an NBA season fresh, after a summer unencumbered by the rehab of specific body parts, and make good on all the hopes and dreams that have been shelved for the past three seasons and postseasons?

This is, remember, a player who has participated in 61 regular-season games and another 12 in last year's playoffs since he signed his five-year, $94.3 million extension after winning his MVP.

Rose has been paid nearly $53 million by the Bulls since then, an average of $726,000 per appearance. Pro-rated over an 82-game season, that's the equivalent of a $59.5 million annual salary. Divvied up by Chicago's 44-29 record in the games Rose has played in that time, it comes to about $1.2 million per victory.

The Bulls might be within their rights to request a rebate, though again, this wasn't about fun-with-numbers. It was about a glimpse into Rose's oddly buffered, rarely-let-them-see-you-yearn persona. It might be tearing him up inside that so much of his basketball prime has been spent on crutches and in training rooms, but you'd seldom know it. He has so blocked the mishaps and lost opportunities from his mind, it seems, that he's surprised when the populace at large doesn't share a collective amnesia.

So Rose, who turns 27 Sunday, was asked more directly about that way-off free agency -- so irrelevant to what he and the Bulls are supposed to be chasing in 2015-16 -- and whether that meant Chicago or somewhere else.

"Here. It's here," Rose said. "But when you talk about that much money, the only thing you can do is prepare for it. Trying to prepare not only myself but my family, and doing all this just for my son. Like I said I'm thinking about his future. ... We're all right, we're comfortable. But when you talk about that X amount of dollars, it raise everyone's eyebrows. There's nothing wrong with being overprepared."

There might be something wrong with being overly centered. And maybe a little too business-like.

Right now, Chicago needs Rose to burn. Burn with a zeal to win games for the Bulls, to repay teammates for the slack they picked up in his absences and the franchise for its patience. Burn to have his best and healthiest season in five years, building under new coach Fred Hoiberg's staff and system on the 20.3 points and 6.5 assists he averaged in two playoff series last spring. Burn with a chip on his shoulder to re-assert himself as an All-Star, if not an MVP candidate, and barge back into discussions about the NBA's top point guards, finding space again among guys such as Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Russell Westbrook and a couple others.

Instead, he comes out on Day 1 having to tackle questions about his social life and, in what almost seemed a competitive nudge vs. newly paid teammate Jimmy Butler, talking about money.

The stuff that makes for real, bone-deep relationships -- passion, love, emotions -- was left to Bulls center Joakim Noah, Rose's unofficial "older brother" and staunchest defender and friend in the locker room.

"I'm proud of him. I'm proud of him," Noah told NBA.com. "I know he's dealt with a lot the last few years. The injuries are really tough. The expectations in this city are really tough. To see him healthy and excited for an upcoming season, to me, I'm proud of that. Nobody talks about that. But to deal with the injuries he's dealt with and to come in right is special. So I'm happy for him."

People in and around Chicago want to be happy for Rose, too, but until he demonstrates both what he's capable of and how much it means to him in the here and now, that's a relationship that will only go as far as the least committed person.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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