Deng, D-Wade, Understand Derrick Rose's Plight, and the Price Paid for Playing

Ethan Skolnick@@EthanJSkolnickNBA Senior WriterNovember 17, 2014

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There's never been cause to question Luol Deng's toughness. Sure, some have done so, like when his absence during the 2013 postseason was incorrectly attributed to the flu, rather than serious complications from a spinal tap.

But after twice leading the NBA in minutes per game and proving that he'll play with everything from a torn wrist ligament to a fractured thumb, he should be immune at this stage from any questioning of his dedication and determination. 

And he believes Derrick Rose should be, too. 

"The thing with Derrick is, I was there from his rookie year, I've watched him growing up," the current Miami Heat forward told Bleacher Report. "When he first came to the league, me and Joakim [Noah] would always tell him, 'Derrick, you can't play tonight. You're hurt.' And he always wants to put the team behind him and the city behind him. And even when he was hurt, he would play.

"And I really believe that some of his injuries were because he would play hurt. We would tell him not to. And he was so determined and wanted to be the best he could be, not only for the team, [but] for the city. And we kept trying to tell him to understand, like, 'Look, there's a difference between pain and injury.' And I think now after two injuries, he's being smart."

Of course, that's not how some see it. 

Rose has come under intense criticism from fans, former players and—to a lesser degree—the media for what he said last Tuesday about his approach to his most recent injuries. At that point, Rose had missed four of five games due to two sprained ankles and, after returning for two games, missed Saturday's loss to Indiana due to a mild hamstring strain. 

Here were those comments, which you've likely heard or seen by now:

I feel I've been managing myself pretty good. I know a lot of people get mad when they see me sit out. But I think a lot of people don't understand that when I sit out it's not because of this year. I'm thinking about long-term. I’m thinking about after I'm done with basketball, having graduations to go to, having meetings to go to. I don’t want to be in my meetings all sore or be at my son's graduation all sore just because of something I did in the past. Just learning and being smart.

That sounds a lot like what Deng and Joakim Noah tried to teach him. But it sounded to some as if Rose had misplaced priorities, especially in light of his $18.9 million salary this season. 

Joakim Noah and Luol Deng regularly counseled Derrick Rose to not jeopardize his future health if he felt he was unfit to play.
Joakim Noah and Luol Deng regularly counseled Derrick Rose to not jeopardize his future health if he felt he was unfit to play.Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

"I think people are taking it out of context and saying, 'What kind of guy is that?'" Deng said. "But what people don't understand is this guy is in the gym 24/7. What he's doing, he's really trying. He came back last year and he wanted to play so many minutes, and that's what led to that injury [to his other knee].

"What he's doing now is, everyone can say whatever they want to say, but in the long run, they're gonna appreciate what he's doing. It's just the way he said it didn't sound right. But what he meant is, I want to be there for my team down the stretch, that's really what it is."

That's why Deng got really steamed Thursday night while viewing TNT's Inside the NBA from his nearby hotel room in Atlanta.

Charles Barkley called Rose "a great player and a great kid...but that was stupid. We're so blessed. I limp around but I go home to a big ol' mansion. There are people that work harder than Derrick Rose that go home to a shack. There are consequences for what we do for a living. We've got the best life in the world...Derrick Rose is making $20 million a year and he's got a couple of bad knees. There are pros and cons of what we do for a living."

Barkley played as many as 75 games in just seven of his 16 seasons. Shaquille O'Neal played that many in just five of his 19 seasons (though he did play 49 of 50 games in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season).

Yet O'Neal added this: "I was taught that if you could walk, you could play. You see how Kevin McHale walks now, how Phil Jackson walks now, how Charles [Barkley] and I walk…but it was worth it. When you make comments like that, it makes you look soft…but he can only be himself. If that's how he feels, that’s how he feels." 

Deng felt a strong emotion while he watched. 

MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 2:  Luol Deng #9 of the Miami Heat handles the ball against the Toronto Raptors during the game on November 2, 2014 at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

"It upset me to see that, because what [Rose] represents, especially for today's athlete, is a blessing," Deng said. "It's so sad to see someone attacking someone like that. I was really pissed. As a friend, it really bothered me a lot when I was watching TNT, and what some of the people were saying.

"But honestly, he's an example of how a lot of kids should be. Someone who puts home first, works so hard and is so humble. And to do that to him is really destroying his identity and what he stands for." 

So perhaps it's a generational thing. Or perhaps there's some revisionist history.

But when it comes to current players thinking about post-basketball life, Deng believes that, "of course every player does." That includes himself.   

"I'm smart enough to know when I can go and when I can't go," Deng said. "Every player knows that. It's just [that] Derrick said it. So everyone is on him. But if you guys want to take a survey and ask the league, if I don't feel right, I'm not gonna play.

"People want to praise us, and praise Derrick, when he plays hurt, but then when he has a big injury and then sits out, it's like, yeah, but why did you do that? So really, he can't win."

Is Deng correct? Is every current player thinking about the faraway future?

We couldn't get to all of them in a couple of days, but spoke to a few who have endured significant injuries or ailments over the course of their careers. 

Atlanta's Al Horford, for instance, has played a total of just 38 games over the past year due to tearing his right pectoral muscle. He tore his left pectoral muscle two years prior, limiting him to just 11 games in the 2011-12 season. He said that both times, he's just been "focused on the now," on going through physical therapy and getting back on the court.

"I guess I never thought about down the road," Horford said. 

Cleveland's Anderson Varejao has had a terrible run of luck, missing 166 games over the past four seasons.

"But the one that scared me the most was pulmonary embellism," Varejao said of the blood clot in his lung that cut his 2012-13 season short after 25 games. "There was risk there for me to die. Everything else that I had, they were like freak injuries. My hand, my ankle, my quad. So I knew that I was going to rehab and be fine." 

So none of the joint or muscle issues got him thinking about troubles in later life?

"Not me," Varejao said. "No." 

Anderson Varejao says the only injury that raised a long-term concern was the blood clot in his lung he suffered in the 2012-13 season.
Anderson Varejao says the only injury that raised a long-term concern was the blood clot in his lung he suffered in the 2012-13 season.David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

Mike Miller's bodily woes were well-documented while he was in Miami. There always seemed to be something, from a concussion to two damaged thumbs to a chronically sore shoulder to a bad back, that threatened his career. He says that even in the worst of the back problems, he didn't think much about how it would impact his non-athletic future. 

"But that's not to say that you shouldn't sometimes," Miller, who is now with Cleveland, said. "I don't know the right answer on that one. For me, it was getting through the process. Mine was a little different, though, too. It was the end of the year. He's six games in. There's different ways you can slice that one. He's getting [killed] on that one, huh?"

He is. 

Sliced and diced. 

Dwyane Wade has been similarly carved when he's missed time, though he hasn't said something similar to what Rose did about basing his availability in part on the post-basketball effects of his ailments. Nor had he heard Rose's comments when Bleacher Report relayed them to him last week. 

Still, he offered plenty of perspective.

Dwyane Wade says he has thought about how some of the injuries he's suffered might affect his life after basketball.
Dwyane Wade says he has thought about how some of the injuries he's suffered might affect his life after basketball.Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

"People who have never been injured, really seriously injured, where it could be career-changing, they don't understand what D-Rose's mental [state] is when he said that," Wade said. "I mean, I'm sure a lot of people who have picked what he said apart and had a lot of things to say, but if you've never been really injured and it's been career-changing for you, then you don't know the mentality that he's going through.

"From what I get from it, he's not saying that he doesn't care about the game and he doesn't want to be out there in the moment. But he's also saying that he has to make smart decisions for his body."

Has he considered the long-term impact of what he's endured?

"Yeah," Wade said. "Yeah. I've thought about it many times."

But not necessarily about his knees, as you'd expect.

"When I messed my shoulder up [in 2007 in Houston], that changed a lot of things in my life, just thinking about the future," Wade said. "So yeah, you think about those things. You don't know what's going to happen afterwards. You understand this sport is very physical and it's going to take a toll on your body. But yeah, you think about it."

On every NBA roster, there are multiple players who have been significantly affected by injuries. Before hurting his knee, Danny Granger was the face of the Indiana Pacers franchise. Now, after a mid-season trade to Philadelphia and a short stint with the Los Angeles Clippers, he's trying to revive his career as a role player for Miami.

While Granger said that his specific injuries haven't caused him to dwell too much on their long-term impact, he added that, "I think my situation was a little different than what D-Rose is going through. You don't know what the doctors have told him."

It may be very different from what Granger was told during his own process of recovery. 

"It wasn't like my cartilage was gone," Granger said. "So they never really told me, 'This will hinder you in the future.' Everybody got different circumstances. Mine was just a long recovery. So [the long-term consequences] never crossed my mind. Now, did it cross my mind if I would ever be able to play again if it didn't heal properly? Yeah, that did, 100 percent.

"But as far as after basketball, I've already come to terms with that I'm going to have a few messed up joints. We all do. It's inevitable. When you finish playing, something's going to be hurting. It's just inevitable. It's the price we pay. You see all the former players, somebody got a back problem, somebody got a knee problem, it's inevitable, it comes with the territory, it comes with a price."

Current players can't help but notice how prior injuries have left Rockets coach Kevin McHale with a noticeable hitch in his gait.
Current players can't help but notice how prior injuries have left Rockets coach Kevin McHale with a noticeable hitch in his gait.Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Taking time off also comes with a price: pressure from the public. But Granger said he never felt pressure from the Indiana training staff, and that allowed him to block out any of the noise from the outside. He also consulted with other players, who told him that he could only do what his body allowed. 

"All the people on the outside don't understand that," Granger said. "You're really at the mercy of your body. You can try as hard you want, and be as tough as you want, but if your knee or your shoulder or your back say no, they're gonna say no." 

And, then, people are gonna say what they're gonna say.

But Granger, like Deng and Wade, says he "100 percent" got what Rose was getting at. 

"One thing that people don't understand about athletes is we retire relatively young compared to the normal person," Granger said. "And I can understand what he's saying, because everything we're putting our bodies through right now—yeah, we're well-compensated for it—but if you're an NBA player and you retire at 35, you've had a great career.

"And you're still a really, really young man. You've got kids to raise. You want to play with them and do things with them. I've got one former teammate, a good friend of mine, he's not even 40 yet, and he says that sometimes he sold his soul for money because he can't even pick up his kids, because his back is so messed up. That's the part that people don't see, don't hear about."

He also noted how McHale walks, but in a different context than Barkley did.

"You've got a lot of players like that," Granger said. "That's the side that people don't see. They kind of want us to just shut up about it: 'Hey, shut up, you make a lot of money.' But I understand Derrick's point, you know. You got a long life to live."

Ethan Skolnick covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @EthanJSkolnick


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