CHICAGO — Say this for Derrick Rose: He never fails to make media day interesting.
In the midst of a civil lawsuit filed last month by a woman claiming Rose and two of his friends sexually assaulted her in 2013, nobody has more of an incentive to stick to the script and stay on message. But Rose has never been one to think about how his comments will be received before he makes them. A question on Monday about Rose’s mindset following the lawsuit unexpectedly veered left, into territory most thought he wouldn’t touch for another year: his free agency.
“I’ve been moved on [from the lawsuit],” Rose said. “This whole summer I had tunnel vision. My mindset was just making sure that I was working out every day and spending as much time as possible with my son. And focusing on those two things. Making sure my family is financially stable, as far as seeing all the money that they’re passing out in this league. Just telling the truth. Just knowing that my day will be coming up soon and it’s not for me. It’s for [two-year-old son] P.J. and his future, so that’s what I’m thinking about now.”
To be clear: Rose’s five-year, $94 million contract isn’t up until after the 2016-17 season. He has two more seasons to prove he can stay healthy and productive before those questions become anybody’s responsibility to answer. Bringing it up now does nothing but add to the expectations and scrutiny around somebody who already has plenty of that.
“[I want to be] here,” Rose said. “But when you talk about that much money, the only thing you can do is prepare for it. I’m trying to prepare, not only myself, but my family. And I’m doing this all for my son. Like I said, I’m thinking about his future. Even though we’re alright, we’re comfortable, when you talk about that x-amount of dollars, I think it raises everyone’s eyebrows, so there’s nothing wrong with being over-prepared.”
If there’s one thing most professional athletes hate, it’s talking about free agency. The topic is usually one a player will deign to address once, at the beginning of the year, before declaring it off limits.
That’s what Luol Deng did at Bulls training camp in 2013, and it's what Jimmy Butler did last October after failing to agree to an extension with the Bulls. Sitting next to Rose at the podium on Monday was Joakim Noah, whose own contract is up after this season. Nobody even bothered to ask Noah about it, because he was never going to say anything other than he’s not thinking about it and he’s focused on the season.
That’s why it was so jarring when Rose brought up his own future free agency, completely unprompted. There will be a time to have these discussions, about what Rose might be worth on the open market and whether he’s a part of the Bulls’ long-term plans. But it was supposed to be at least another year before that particular distraction manifested itself in the natural order of the NBA’s 24-hour news cycle. Rose invited it into his life on a day that was supposed to be about turning the page on a disappointing, injury-ravaged four years.
It was, in some ways, the absolute peak of the Derrick Rose experience. Through every test of his physical and mental will, through three knee surgeries in four years, two things have remained utterly consistent: Rose’s confidence in his own ability to return to his 2011-era MVP form and his naivete about how his words will be taken, even when he’s being completely honest.
Rose is hardly the first player this summer to point out the insane amount of money coming into the league. The sizes of the contracts handed out this summer gave John Wall pause, among others, and the money is only going to get crazier over the next two offseasons when the salary cap spikes due to the NBA’s new television deal.
What’s telling is that Rose, after everything that’s happened to him since his MVP season, still thinks it’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll get a max contract from somebody. Rose will be 28 when he’s up for a new deal, and he’s played a total of 100 games over the past four seasons, only sporadically looking like the player he was before the injuries.
It’s entirely possible that over the final two years of his current contract, he stays healthy and returns to something close to peak form. It’s also possible that he puts together two more inconsistent, injury-marred years and finds himself entering a free-agency environment where the majority of teams already have long-term solutions at point guard and aren’t inclined to spend $20 million or more annually on one with his health history.
That confidence is what keeps Rose going after countless rehabs, and it’s also why, for better or worse, he’s willing to say exactly what he feels when it comes to his own abilities and career. His “Why can’t I be MVP?” comments before the 2010-11 season seemed like braggadocio until they came true. His infamous statements last year about being cautious with his body to preserve his health for future business meetings rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.
These free-agency soundbites are no different. By itself, there’s nothing wrong with what he said Monday. It’s the context that makes it look a little funny—a player whose current contract is literally the namesake of a clause in the most recent CBA that allows players in Rose’s position to make more money and whose focus should first be on getting his health and level of play back to where the idea of a team giving him another big contract is feasible.
Even if you don’t agree with the inevitable avalanche of hot takes about Rose’s priorities and commitment level, it’s hard not to at least see where they’re coming from.
That’s just life with Rose. Even when he means well, he always manages to give his detractors just enough ammo to make their points. He’s clearly chosen not to care, which is as unusual as it is admirable. But it also creates no shortage of headaches that could have been delayed, if not outright avoided.