INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – When LeBron James left the interview platform, he took two-thirds of the inquiring minds with him. He went one way, they went the other to write stories, file photos, transmit video and engage in all the usual harried activity befitting serious quotage from the Cleveland Cavaliers’ star on the first full day of a new NBA season. LeBron was the story, as always, and the story could not wait.
Several minutes later, Derrick Rose was on that platform. The chairs before him remained more empty than full.
Time passes. Stars dim. Injuries happen. Plans change.
Two years ago, Rose was the one causing a clamor on Media Day. He was several years removed from that 2010-11 season in which he flashed like a meteor across the NBA sky, becoming the youngest Most Valuable Player in league history. Yet he still was the essence of what the Chicago Bulls were hoping and trying to do.
Rose had been gone physically from much of it, limited by repeated knee surgeries and other injuries to only 61 appearances out of a possible 246 over three previous seasons. But he hadn’t left-left; his protracted comeback still was that team’s dominant storyline.
Rose still commanded an audience. He still was the hometown hero introduced last when the Michael Jordan music boomed. So, when Rose, in the most tone-deaf way, began talking in September 2015 about cashing in as a free agent in 2017, he sent the reporters scurrying exactly as LeBron did Monday.
Now, though, Rose is an afterthought. He is by all reports and appearances healthy, that elusive state that had bedeviled him and his employers for so long. In fact, Cavaliers marksman Kyle Korver, a teammate of Rose in his MVP season, was flashing back hard after Cleveland’s first practice Tuesday.
I think [the soft market for his services] fueled me into the offseason, and I’ll work on it. But my job is not to listen to what everybody says. I’m the player. I know how good I am. I’m 28. People act like I’m 38 years old.
“He looks really good. He looks really comfortable,” Korver said of Rose. “He made a couple of those moves at the rim today where I was like, 'Ahh, I’ve seen that before.' All those little shimmies and left-handed scoops shots.
“It’s exciting. I know how hard he’s worked. He’s been through a lot. I think this is a great place for him to really come back and show who he is.”
Rose mostly had stayed on the floor in his final year with Chicago and last season with the New York Knicks. He started 130 games and, in them, his stats per-36 minutes were 19.2 points, 5.1 assists and 17.4 field-goal attempts, only a shade off the 20.6, 6.6 and 17.5 he logged before that.
But instead of the five-year, $150 million maximum contract that danced in his head in 2015, Rose signed a one-year deal to play for $2.1 million. Instead of being the man in Chicago, the way he’d been for his first seven years in the NBA, he is a role player now in Cleveland.
No longer is Rose talking about the money that might be there for him when his contract is up. He’s answering questions about his game, his ability to fit into what James and the Cavs have honed over three years, each ending with a trip to the Finals. He remains at risk of becoming the first NBA MVP winner to fail to make it into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
That verdict won’t come for years, mind you. Rose still has time to do something about it, and he started fresh Tuesday.
“I think [the soft market for his services] fueled me into the offseason, and I’ll work on it,” Rose said. “But my job is not to listen to what everybody says. I’m the player. I know how good I am. I’m 28. People act like I’m 38 years old.”
No one has questioned Rose’s wear (he’ll turn 29 Oct. 4, to be exact). The issues have all been related to tear. The first big ACL blowout that wiped out his entire 2012-13 season, the meniscus issues that zapped 2013-14 after 10 games and several breakdowns since.
Players throughout the NBA have been rooting for a while now for Rose to come back in full. A bunch of them happen to play for the Cavs now.
“I’m excited more than anybody about D-Rose,” James said. “The kid has a lot to prove. From competing against him for so many years, especially in Miami when he was with Chicago, knowing the competitor he’s been over the years. I’ve been a fan of him for a long time. Never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be a teammate of his.
“I thought he had a helluva season last year. And people don’t really see it because of the chaos that was going on in New York. I’m excited to have him here because I want people to know that D-Rose can still play the game at a high level.”
If Rose still were that guy, his landing in Cleveland would have generated headlines to match Kevin Durant’s move 12 months earlier to Golden State. He might have been considered an upgrade to All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, now in Boston, rather than a backup and replacement until hobbled Isaiah Thomas’s hip heels.
Rose’s production with the Knicks was solid. He showed his old knack for penetrating the lane. And the basketball did get overshadowed by sideshow stuff, whether Phil Jackson’s failures, Charles Oakley’s bad night at Madison Square Garden or the endless drama around Carmelo Anthony.
Then again, Rose did post a real plus/minus rating that ranked near the bottom of the league’s point guards. He began the season in the wake of a tawdry sexual-assault trial in Los Angeles, and went AWOL from the Knicks for a night, inexcusably missing a game in January.
The hometown hook was gone; what Rose and the Bulls had during their eight years together, particularly in the five with coach Tom Thibodeau, lay in tatters. Nothing like that ever emerged with the Knicks.
Rose said he’s fine financially – he was paid about $117 million in NBA salary through last season and still has his Adidas gig, a $185 million endorsement deal that was sports’ richest ever when he signed it in 2012.
Now it’s all about Rose physically, strategically and consistently. The Cleveland players who gathered for an unofficial mini-camp at UC-Santa Barbara earlier this month vouch for his health.
“He looks great,” said Kevin Love, a 2008 draft-mate who competed against Rose as far back as high school. “He’s hungry. A guy getting a second chance, a chance to compete for a championship. He’s continued to be vocal about wanting to win, and I think he’s going to speak that into existence.”
Said Rose: “I feel pretty good. But I said that all the years I did get injured. You probably have to ask my teammates or the people who saw me in [California]. I think they were surprised with how I was moving around, how I was playing.”
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue claims his offense won’t change much with Rose stepping in for Irving and Thomas penciled in for January. Rose doesn’t shoot like the other two but as a ball dominator who can push pace, he gives up nothing.
“He does a great job of jump passing,” Lue said after Rose’s first practice, “which you don’t want to teach but just looking guys off and making that swing pass into the corner or to the big [man] rolling. Just dynamic when he gets into the paint.”
Rose already was ahead of his 2015 pace, when he took an inadvertent elbow to the eye from the Bulls’ Taj Gibson early in the initial practice and wound up with a left orbital fracture. He returned with a mask and double vision.
Now Rose’s vision is clear. He’s not playing for the city in which he grew up, the South Side or 20,000 screamers at United Center. He might wind up teamed with James and Wade in a northeast Ohio version of a 2010 Bulls blueprint. He is challenging himself to make the Cavs look smart and he hasn’t given up on a championship, no matter the role in which he might have to win it.
“Why not come here?” Rose said in an echo of his “Why can’t I be MVP?” pondering back in 2010. “Of course, people bring up the LeBron thing because I’ve been competing against LeBron for so many years. But you’ve got to understand, I’m at a different stage of my career. And life, period. Like, all that’s in the past. I let that go with my injuries.
“This is a new start. This is a new me. Hopefully people get that.”
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