There was a time when it was unthinkable to consider that Derrick Rose could ever fall out of favor in Chicago. After failing to play this season though, he used up all his credit. Next season will present more pressure on Derrick Rose than at any point in his career.
In 2010-11 he won the MVP award, largely by coming out of nowhere. However in the following season, while he played well when he got the chance, the times he played seemed too infrequent and far apart. Then the awful knee injury came and we haven’t seen him on the court since then.
Truthfully though, we’d only seen “him” in flashes for the several months before that, and part of the real tragedy of that injury was that for the first time since before the All-Star break, Rose was really looking like Rose. Technically he’s been out for just over a year, but for all intents and purposes, it’s been a year and a half.
After winning the MVP award, Rose started the 2011-12 season like gangbusters. He dominated Chris Paul as the Chicago Bulls rolled up the Los Angeles Clippers at home, behind Rose’s 29 points, 16 assists and eight rebounds. It prompted J.A. Adande of ESPN to declare that Rose had surpassed Paul as the Association’s best floor general.
It seemed that was the peak of Rose’s career thus far. Riding on the winds of being awarded the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, Rose was looking like he had every intention of defending it. But then he got one little injury after another, spending more days off the court than on it.
Through the first 21 games of the season, he was just fine, averaging about 24 points, eight assists and four rebounds per game, numbers roughly approximating what he had during his MVP season. Afterwards, the injuries started.
He got hurt against the New Jersey Nets on February 6, playing just 10 minutes. He gave it a go against the New Orleans Hornets, but only played 22 minutes. In the two games combined he scored just 10 points on eight attempts.
He sat out two weeks and then played against the Atlanta Hawks. He played the next 10 games, again, averaging about 25 points, eight assists and four rebounds before getting hurt again against the New York Knicks (why all the teams that start with New? I don’t understand! But I digress).
Again he was out for almost a month, until he came back against the Knicks on April 8, and then played only five more sporadic games for the regular season.
And as he was in and out of the lineup, his reputation and prestige started to take a hit even before he tore his ACL. The NBA is a league of what have you done for me lately, and lately doesn’t even mean last year, it means last week, or even last night.
As the memories of what Rose could do faded from the memories of fans, people speculated not only that Chris Paul was better, but that Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo were better too. Rose’s prestige was in free fall before he ever even tore his knee up.
Then the ACL tear did happen, and his sitting out for the entirety of the season certainly did not help elevate his status. The list of superior point guards grew to include players like Stephen Curry and whoever else was the man of the hour.
His Reggie’s statement, which suggested Derrick’s failure to return was because of the Bulls inaction at the trade deadline, was no help either.
The pressure nationally and locally escalated, and the once unthinkable became commonplace, as Rose was even questionable in the Windy City. People openly questioned his heart.
All “#thereturn” commercials had promised a magical moment when Rose would come back, to the thousands of cheering and adoring of fans at the United Center. It wasn’t supposed to happen next preseason in Brazil.
Murmurs started in Chicago.
Before he said he might sit out the season, many fans argued he should. But as soon as it seemed like he might, suddenly everyone seemed to be questioning why he wasn’t coming back.
It’s an odd sort of thing we do in the good old USA with our favorite athletes. We build up them up, making them out to be more than what they are, then we are disappointed to find out they aren’t what we thought they were.
So we blame them.
It’s their fault for not living up to unrealistic expectations, so we just dump on them.
Thus we end up villainizing players who have charity events to announce where they’re signing, or choose to sit out and take care of their career over the moment. It’s not the “crime” itself so much as the disappointment of realizing they are human, free to make choices we don’t want them to make that raises our ire.
But we hide behind illusory reasonings because we know that we are on less than solid ground.
The one thing that cures all that is winning, though. Nothing says forgiveness like a championship. Just ask LeBron James.
The natural cycle of weirdness in American sports after we build someone up, then castigate them for real or imaginary offenses, is to praise for overcoming adversity. Even folks like Michael Vick and Ray Lewis came back from far worse things than getting injured or raising millions of dollars for children.
The thing is that redemption has a window, and a short one at that. Forget that Rose is only going to be 25 years old. Forget that he’s actually a week younger than Kevin Durant. He will need to prove himself next season.
Perhaps he won’t need to win a title, but he’ll need to prove that he can play on at least the same level as he did on during his MVP season. If he does, then all that sitting out will be “worth it.”
If he can play at the same level he was at in his MVP season; if he can lead the Bulls to a deep playoff run where they either push or even beat the Miami Heat; if he can stay healthy—if he can do all of that, he’ll re-establish himself alongside Paul as the best point guard in the league.
If he can’t, he’ll take up residence with the Steve Francises of the basketball world as just another great player with a great future which was curtailed by injury.
This season is for Rose’s future and his legacy. History will not be written, but it will be determined whether it even merits being written, and for that reason, Rose will have as much pressure on him as any player in recent memory other than LeBron James after his Decision.