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Knicks take a second shot on Derrick Rose in trade with Pistons

New York sends Dennis Smith Jr. and second-round pick to reunite Rose with Tom Thibodeau.

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner

Tom Thibodeau coached Derrick Rose in Chicago and as an assistant with the U.S. Men’s National Team.

Derrick Rose and the Knicks won’t get a reunion as much as a do-over, if the trade that delivered Rose from the Detroit Pistons to New York pays off for the team and the veteran point guard.

The deal, initially reported by The Athletic on Sunday, sent Rose to New York for guard Dennis Smith Jr. and a 2021 second-round pick (via Charlotte). Rose spent one season with the Knicks in 2016-17, sputtering together on and off the court to a 31-51 record.

Now the 2011 NBA Most Valuable Player re-joins coach Tom Thibodeau, with whom Rose worked during his most successful period in Chicago prior to suffering a left ACL knee injury in April 2012. The two were together, too, for parts of the 2017-18 and ’18-19 seasons in Minnesota.

Now Thibodeau gets a 32-year-old who, while still athletic, adapted his game to sixth-man duty with the Timberwolves and the Pistons. Rose averaged 18.1 points in 26 minutes in 2019-20 for Detroit, and was at 14.2 points in 22.8 minutes through 15 Pistons appearances this season.

How will Rose’s arrival affect Knicks?

His role in New York immediately generated some controversy, pitting fans encouraged by the team’s 11-13 start, good for 7th place in the Eastern Conference, against those focused on an obvious rebuild. With Smith gone, Thibodeau’s options at point guard are inefficient starter Elfrid Payton, little-used Frank Ntilikina or rookie Immanuel Quickley.

Turning over Quickley’s developmental minutes to Rose would make little sense, even if the Knicks are desperate for their first postseason berth in eight years. Relying on Rose as a model and mentor for the newcomer from Kentucky, though, could pay off.

That, after all, is how the Pistons envisioned Rose working with lottery pick Killian Hayes until Hayes suffered a hip labral tear in his seventh game. Hayes started, Rose came off the bench – a pecking order that some Knicks faithful, excited by Quickley’s scoring skills (17.7 ppg in seven games prior to Sunday vs. Miami), might prefer for Thibodeau’s rotation.

Smith had been seen as a Rose-like scoring point guard when Dallas picked him ninth in the 2017 Draft. The product of North Carolina State averaged 14.5 points and 4.9 assists while starting 101 games for the Mavericks prior to being traded in January 2019 in the Kristaps Porzingis deal.

But shaky shooting in Dallas (40.6%) got worse in New York (37.9), and between injuries and poor performances, Smith’s court time and opportunities to earn more dwindled. The 5-18 Pistons might be able to give the 23-year-old guard enough reps and attention to revive his game.

Rose had his own frustrations in his first stint in New York. He put up some solid individual numbers, averaging 18.0 points and 3.3 assists in 32.5 minutes. But he also generated distracting headlines as the defendant in a sexual assault trial, then went AWOL for one game in January 2017.

Now in his 13th NBA season (counting the 2012-13 year lost entirely to recover and rehab), Rose’s offensive instincts are intact. He averaged a career best 1.2 steals for Detroit and his per-36 scoring rate of 22.4 points per game is only slightly off what it was as the 2011 MVP (24.1). None of it translated into winning, especially with the Pistons ranked near the bottom in both offensive (.500) and defensive (.561) effective field goal percentage.

Rose playing out this season as a free agent-to-be with the going-nowhere Pistons would have been a waste. The Knicks for know at least offer a sniff of the playoffs, especially with the play-in mechanism extending to teams in 10th place. But other teams rumored to have had interest – the Clippers, Heat, Nets and Bucks – could have thrust Rose into top playoff contention.

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

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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