If Derrick Rose's infamous comments about preparing for free agency caused a stir in September 2015, speculation will be unavoidable this summer and heading into next season.
The Chicago Bulls have plenty of decisions to make at this juncture, starting with their upcoming lottery pick and what they'll do with nearly $20 million in cap space during free agency.
But as Rose enters the final year of his contract, general manager Gar Forman and vice president John Paxson must wrestle with the future of their once-franchise player and whether he has a future in Chicago.
Management didn't rule out a trade the last time it spoke on record about it, and on some level it would be best for both sides to start fresh, considering the last five years (since Rose's 2011 MVP season) haven’t gone the way anyone would have hoped.
He lost the entire 2012-13 campaign (as well as significant chunks of the surrounding seasons) to knee injuries. His play has been inconsistent, and Jimmy Butler has steadily taken up the mantle as the first option on offense.
"The thing with Derrick is he's been through a lot," Paxson said at the front office's season-ending press conference April 13. "And I think because of that he's had to look out for himself in a lot of ways. I can't put myself in his place; I never had those types of injuries. So none of us have really walked in his shoes. We've got a lot of decisions to make, and that's where we start."
Here's the problem with trading Rose: He's set to make $21.3 million in 2016-17, the final year of his contract before he hits unrestricted free agency. If you reference his comments from last fall, he's already made it clear he'll be looking to cash in on the influx of cap money from the NBA's new television deal.
Rose was relatively healthy this season—he played 66 games after seeing action in just 61 the previous three years combined—but was sidelined late during the campaign with hamstring problems. It also took a while for his production to round into shape after suffering a facial fracture during training camp that led him to wear a mask for the first six weeks of the season.
If the Bulls are going to trade Rose, they have to ask themselves what they can expect to get back in return. The answer? Probably not much. Not enough to make him more valuable as a trade chip than he would be in a Bulls uniform next season.
With the rising salary cap, first-round picks are more valuable than ever because they allow four years of a young prospect on a cheap, cost-controlled contract. Expecting a first-rounder in return for Rose at this point, even one with heavy protections, is unrealistic.
Even asking for a non-star rotation player on a long-term contract is an iffy proposition. Nobody needs Rose's giant expiring contract to clear cap space, as nearly every team will have financial flexibility after the massive revenue jump.
A one-year rental of a player with Rose's health history isn't worth giving up significant value.
It's possible Rose has a bounce-back season ahead of his free agency. If that happens, it's more worthwhile for the Bulls to be the ones reaping the benefits than dumping him for minimal return just to avoid headaches in next summer's contract negotiations.
Rose's motivation from his upcoming free agency may have rubbed some the wrong way when he said it last fall. But motivation is motivation, and a healthy, motivated Rose in a contract year is the best bet to continue the positive momentum he showed at times this season.
The Bulls' lack of depth at point guard would make it even more difficult to justify trading Rose without a replacement lined up. Aaron Brooks is a free agent, and even if Chicago were to bring him back, he's nobody's idea of a starting point guard.
There isn't much at that position on the free-agent market outside of Mike Conley. Conley has no reason to leave money on the table in Memphis to join a mediocre Bulls team with a roster in flux—unless, of course, he finds value playing in the Eastern Conference. The rest of the free-agent point guard crop is spotty to say the least.
Rajon Rondo is a terrible fit for head coach Fred Hoiberg's fast-paced offensive philosophy. Deron Williams is 31 and no more reliably healthy than Rose. Brandon Jennings still has health concerns stemming from the torn Achilles he suffered during the 2014-15 season. Jordan Clarkson is a restricted free agent, and there's no reason to believe the Los Angeles Lakers won't match any offer sheet another team throws at him.
There simply aren't better options for the Bulls than playing out the final year of Rose's deal.
On balance, Rose's season was encouraging. After a horrific start, where he shot below 40 percent from the field while wearing the mask, he played his best basketball since his MVP turn, starting around Christmas.
Rose showed a willingness to attack the basket—rather than take ill-advised jump shots—at a rate that was closer to his peak than recent years. According to NBA.com's SportVU tracking data, he drove to the basket 8.9 times per game last season, compared to 7.2 in 2014-15. His three-point attempts decreased from 5.3 per game in 2014-15 to 2.3 last year.
Rose isn't all the way "back" yet, and it remains to be seen if he ever will be. But the signs are there that he's headed in the right direction. As long as that's the case, the upside of keeping him is greater than anything the Bulls could expect to get on the trade market.
Whether he's back in Chicago after his contract expires is another discussion, one his representatives will have with Paxson and Forman next summer. But all signs indicate Rose will remain with the team until then.
Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.