After a turbulent few seasons, that saw him bounce between teams, Derrick Rose seems to have found a mental calmness and an appreciation for his new team in the Detroit Pistons. He's averaging more than 20 points a game for the first time since 2012 despite a minutes limitation that's in place to manage his health.
They knew the hoop prodigy known as Li'l Pooh at all the parks in Englewood and Chatham and Auburn-Gresham near his South Paulina home. This bantam rocket who used to explode past all the bigger guys. And then they'd come to him and say he reminded them of the similarly diminutive but daring West Side legend Isiah Thomas. Someday kid, they'd say, you could be like Zeke.
"I'd thank them," Derrick Rose was saying with a laugh, "but I really didn't know who they were talking about."
But now the onetime NBA Most Valuable Player and popular former Bulls All-Star is the legendary Chicago prep point guard in the Detroit Pistons jersey, as Thomas was, coming home as the visitor.
"It's always refreshing to (be in the United Center)," Rose said Thursday after his Pistons finished practice in advance of Friday's game with the Bulls.
Rose smiled and looked around, staring at the glittering new scoreboard above.
"Especially to see the new tweaks," Rose said gesturing above. "We never had the Jumbotron, the new tweaks up there. It's great to see they are adapting to the new age."
You move on and adapt, teams, buildings and people. And so Derrick Rose is in his third jersey since being traded by the Bulls in 2016 after eight years with the team out of Simeon High School and the U. of Memphis. The high flying introvert arrived with tears of delight as the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2008, winning Rookie of the Year and MVP. And then he departed with tears of sadness in the wake of injuries and confusion, the innocence of youth inevitably as it must be erased by the realities of enlightenment.
Rose's rocket ship to stardom that lost power through New York, Utah and Minneapolis finally splashed down in Detroit. And Rose seems to be blooming once again, albeit in stages. Detroit is perhaps the most natural basketball antagonist of Chicago, the Bulls and Pistons with a lifetime of rivalry games from the Bulls first playoff series win in 1974 to the Bad Boys despair and salvation with Thomas through the 1980s until the Bulls first championship in 1991. It's where the also onetime beloved Thomas had his greatest moments, and where Rose believes he has some more remaining. Rose is now a sixth man for the Pistons, who are 2-3, though without injured starters Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson. But as he did in Minneapolis, Rose is quickly becoming a fan favorite in Detroit, so much so fans have been chanting MVP, he already has a game winning shot and he's averaging more than 20 points for the first time since before his ACL injury in 2012. He's shooting 55.3 percent without attempting threes and among the top 25 in assists even with limited minutes off the bench. It's a veteran Rose now, 31, and in his 12th season, an inspiration as much as a leader.
"I feel great, man, to be honest, I feel great," Rose told reporters. "Even making the decision to be in Detroit. My family is happy being there, I'm happy being there. You don't know what to expect, but everything has been on the up and up. The organization's been great, the staff has been great. So I've been in awe just being in this surrounding. The spot I was in, the place I was in mentally a couple of years ago, I'm just happy I weaved through it. I got through it somehow, some way, with my family and my friends around me and I'm just grateful and l'm just trying to cherish these moments."
Like the Bulls, the Pistons are a team with hopes more than promises. They have All-Stars in Griffin and Andre Drummond, and they were a playoff team last season, though without a first round victory. But they're another team that sees a wide open Eastern Conference where anyone can slip into a comfortably high position. Suddenly, Rose on a two-year contract worth about $15 million where his former agent, Arn Tellem, is vice-chairman, is a vital part of those Pistons' hopes.
"In shorter minutes, he's still the same explosive player," said Pistons coach Dwane Casey. "Maybe not as quick as he was as a rookie or his MVP year, but he's savvy enough, tough enough. Derrick is more of a leader by example because he plays so hard and does the right things; he holds himself accountable. He's a man's man. The (Indiana) game he had three straight layups missed, but the fourth time he gets the game winner. He's very confident in what he does. He closed the game out with the game winning layup after he missed two or three in a row."
Casey said the biggest problem he has with Rose is he can't play him enough. The Pistons have a playing limit on Rose because of the multiple knee surgeries. So Rose hasn't exceeded 27 minutes this season and averages about 25. Fans have been screaming for Casey to start Rose, but Casey can only hope.
"It's very difficult because you want him out there more than his minute allotment allows because he's such a dynamic player and brings so much to the table," said Casey. "Our team changes when he's on the floor. We get faster, we're tougher, we're more physical. But there is only a limited amount of time we can keep him out there. So we have to be very disciplined. With us he's in the right opportunity as backup point guard to Reggie Jackson; it's a perfect fit. Understanding where he is in his career he embraces that role."
Perhaps, in part, because among a litany of issues with career threatening injuries, an assault trial, not being invited back in New York after one season and then dumped by the Cavaliers, Rose's NBA career was viewed as done. He was rescued in Minneapolis by former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. It was a year ago to the day Thursday, Halloween, when Rose declared himself back and said I'll Show You with a 50-point game for the Timberwolves. ESPN honored the game in its annual awards show last June as the moment of the year. So Rose has gone east, young man, across Lake Michigan to enjoy a few more moments in one of the most fluctuating careers in pro sports history.
"I was going through a lot going through injuries, dealing with things off the court," Rose acknowledged. "There was a lot of circumstances I was in I had to weave through to find the place I am in now, which is why you see the happiness. I have my family. I have three kids. I'm happy with where I am, the destination I am at. I'm just trying to take everything in and learn every day and be appreciative of where I am at.
"Coming here I'm not trying to step on nobody's toes," Rose said. "I saw there was a lot of potential and I am trying to challenge myself and become more vocal and be the leader I wanted to be when I was younger. It takes maturity (going to a bench role from MVP). I don't have a pompous type attitude. I come in and listen, for one thing. I understand where I'm at, the circumstances I have in front of me. It takes a lot of learning situations, learning from my past and learning that some of the situations I was put in the past I put on myself and I had to grow up and understand what I was doing. And it became clear I was going to have another opportunity.
"I always said if I had another opportunity like I had in New York, I would grab it," said Rose. "Me grabbing it is being vocal with the team, expressing how I feel, an understanding it's not about me. I still have a lot left in the tank. I still want to win a championship and there's no reason why we should be doing this if we're not trying to win a championship. Just trying to help change the culture here because it's a rich culture."
That now has in common multiple whiz kids from Chicago.
"I didn't really understand (Isiah and the Chicago rivalry) until I got here and (learned) he was the only one who beat MJ in his prime and he was a point guard," said Rose. "So being in that spot and understanding the spot he was in, the load he took on every night, I think being here I appreciate him even more. Having conversations with him and understanding who he is as a person and as a player and the principles he stood on I realize it and understand it's also about Chicago, the way he was brought up, his mentality."
Rose said Thomas, who came to Pistons training camp, didn't talk about the Bulls rivalry or Jordan. But he gave Rose one message.
"The only thing he told me, ‘Don't throw a Pistons jersey on the floor, that's disrespecting the history of the Pistons,'" Rose related. "That showed me he cherished the moments he played for the Pistons and it's up to me to hold that bar high."
Chicagoans, after all, are about the passion. You can see it in the neighborhoods.