The best-case scenario for Derrick Rose would be the best-case scenario for a lot of NBA people. And for the league overall.
Look, it’s a long shot. So many moving parts, so much angst at Quicken Loans Arena and the Cleveland Clinic Courts facility, and that postseason-shredding machine out in Oakland. Still, if Rose gets what he wants out of signing his one-year, minimum salary ($2.1 million) deal to join the Cleveland Cavaliers, the following will happen:
- Rose winds up as Cleveland’s starting point guard because Kyrie Irving gets what he wants, namely a trade out of town and out from under the apparently vast shadow of teammate LeBron James.
- Rose outperforms his 2017-18 salary at least eight- or nine-fold, putting up numbers as good as or better than those he posted with the New York Knicks (18.0 ppg, 4.4 apg, 47.1 FG pct) in what was his pre-reputation rehab season. That gives him leverage for real free agency in 2018 rather than this summer’s take it-or-leave it market.
- Teaming with James, Kevin Love and the rest of the Cavaliers who either were around for three consecutive trips to the Finals (winning in 2016) or have come aboard since, Rose reaches the first championship series of his career. In a perfect world – imperfect for Golden State, admittedly, and three or four other quasi-contenders – Rose and the Cavs win it all.
- Beyond a parade and pricey rings, the Cavaliers get the extreme satisfaction of surviving one of the most tumultuous, melodramatic offseasons ever for a conference champion. From Dan Gilbert’s sudden split with GM David Griffin and the failure to land Jimmy Butler, Paul George or (so far) Carmelo Anthony, to James’ passive-aggressive, purple-clad appearance at a Lakers summer league game and the Kyrie-bomb that dropped last week, Cleveland – and even James – slipped back into an underdog role, even among a few elite East teams.
- Rose finally catches the championship he’s been chasing since he arrived in the NBA as a Chicago hometown star in 2008. His tale of redemption from early MVP, through a tortuous timeline of injuries and rehabs, to relevance in a significant role for a champion mirrors Bill Walton’s. Maybe he sees value, too, in avoiding his own self-induced travails, from the tawdry sexual assault case in L.A. from which he was acquitted to his AWOL stunt with the Knicks last season.
- Adding Rose while subtracting Irving breathes life into a more classic version of the “super team” concept, when a player past his prime signed on with a Finals favorite in hopes of checking an unchecked box on his resume. If Anthony could finagle a way onto Cleveland’s roster, all the better to prop up this approach.
- James heads into 2018 free agency with far less need to relocate. He will have won his fourth title and played in his eighth Finals, clearly up in the rare air of Michael Jordan and Bill Russell. Then again, if he does leave with those achievements as lovely parting gifts for Cavs fans, who’d begrudge him?
- Irving? Freed from James’ long shadow, he’s no longer aboard the LeBron Express to the Finals, either. Maybe he and his team fizzle in the second round, giving Irving a taste of Chris Paul’s postseason frustrations. Maybe they don’t qualify at all. And there’s a good chance no one cares, simply because Irving no longer seemed to care when he wrangled his way out of Cleveland.
- The NBA, with Golden State beaten and Cleveland transformed, slows the roll toward “super teams” in general, something that’s vital in a league with more franchises than superstars. The toothpaste of guys ganging up might never fully go back into the tube, but NBA owners might see renewed appeal in adding humbled (Rose) or post-prime name players to a one- or two-star rosters, for luxury-tax savings at the very least. Maybe more players decide they want to emulate Irving, like James Harden and Carmelo Anthony before him, in seizing alpha dog status where they can get it.
Rose, ironically, used to be one of those guys, famously declining to participate in recruiting free agents during his glory years in Chicago. “I’m rolling with Keith,” he said when asked why he didn’t phone, text or otherwise buddy up to bigger names than Keith Bogans after winning his 2011 MVP.
He seemed content to be the Bulls’ No. 1, with teammates orbiting around him. That pecking order lost its gravitational pull, though, due to Rose’s injuries and, through his various absences, Butler’s rise.
That may be Irving’s fate now, as he watches from afar as a one-time rival gladly becomes a part of what he came to take for granted.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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