LAS VEGAS — A lot has been said about Derrick Rose in the time since he first was injured.
How long ago was that? The Philadelphia 76ers were in the playoffs, that's how long ago.
For a self-described loner, the two years have meant a lot of time out of the spotlight for Rose—with his second knee injury offering him an even more valuable lesson than the first:
The me-against-the-world mentality through which he thrived in his first five seasons is wrong.
Rose reemerged publicly Monday at the start of USA Basketball practices, and he's different. You'll see it with the Chicago Bulls come fall, when Rose aims to "control the game" as opposed to utterly dominating it. He has focused maniacally on improving his jump shot and perfecting his floater and pull-up. He doesn't want to be pin-balling off defenders to make miracles if he can win another way.
"This is only the beginning of a long journey, a long grind," Rose said with a smile Monday.
Rose envisions this as the real story, which might seem odd for someone who has already won both the NBA Rookie of the Year and NBA MVP awards. But along with the words "Forgive & Forget" tattooed on the inside of his right wrist, Rose has emerged on the other side of his rehab with a new outlook.
He has always been a worker. Now he wants to work better with others—and work with better logic.
That's why he sums up his newfound approach as "trying to find ways to make the game easy." Whether his moves were too sharp with too much torque for his body to handle before, he knows it's better "being smart with my speed instead of just running wild out there."
And that's what Rose showed during his short run to start USA Basketball's practice-ending intrasquad scrimmage Monday. When he shot the gap in pick-and-roll defense perfectly to disrupt Stephen Curry's dribble, he knew it. When he forced a shot and then was late getting back on defense as Andre Drummond lumbered behind him, he yelled, "F---!" and really knew it.
Even though Russell Westbrook is sitting out to rest, Rose still has to show enough to make the U.S.' 12-man roster for the FIBA World Cup a month from now with Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, John Wall and Curry also among those trying out.
But Rose fits perfectly with this group. No one will play heavy minutes. All the shooting guards can handle the ball at times. And USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski was already offering support, coming over to tell Rose after his lack of conditioning sent him to the bench early in the scrimmage that everything looked good and the wind would come.
"His explosiveness is back," said Bulls head coach and USA Basketball assistant coach Tom Thibodeau. "That's all there."
Thibodeau came over, put his arm around Rose's waist and had a long chat with him after the scrimmage. There's a lot of calendar to flip through until we find out which coach and star player win the 2015 NBA title in June, but no one should rule these two out.
This more careful Rose might not put up the numbers he used to, and you can look at that and believe he has lost something to these knee injuries. But both he and Thibodeau choose to focus on what Rose has gained.
"Much more patient," Thibodeau said. "I think he just found the rhythm of the game."
Rose used the first layoff to learn plenty; he watched far more basketball than ever and studied team play. The handicap of a torn ACL forcibly ended his self-sufficiency, and he appreciated the help of his friends and family.
Then his son, P.J., was born in October 2012, and that changed his view even more.
Yet with all those lessons, Rose still believes he came back and wasn't right.
"I wanted to prove everybody wrong at that time," he said of his 10-game stint before tearing the meniscus in his other knee. "I just wanted it too, too bad. This time around, I just know that I've got to let the game come to me."
This veteran savvy was going to come eventually for Rose, who says now he feels like an old 25. His work ethic is extraordinary, and self-sufficient people inherently lean toward self-improvement.
Rose is fundamentally different from so many of his peers who love showboating and preening and being bros with every opposing player. But Rose has a better sense of what and who is around him now.
And he really cares what one person in particular thinks.
As P.J. nears his second birthday, Rose has hardly played basketball at all during his son's life. There has been much more time to sit and cuddle, which lays a strong foundation for more time in the future to sit and talk.
What is happening from now on in his career is the story Rose wants to tell.
"When he gets older and realizes what's going on, he's going to look back, and hopefully that will give him a little bit of motivation knowing I had to go through so much," Rose said. "I hope that pushes him to become a great individual."
Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.