Derrick Rose's NBA Future Is Officially in Jeopardy

Ken Berger@@KBergNBAFeatured Columnist IMarch 1, 2018

Cleveland Cavaliers' Derrick Rose drives against the Miami Heat in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Tony Dejak/Associated Press

When video surfaced last week appearing to show Derrick Rose shooting by himself in an empty gym at Cleveland State University, the common reaction was one of sadness.

This is where the former MVP has found himself? Shooting alone in an empty college gym while waiting for the phone to ring?

With Thursday's deadline for free agents to be playoff eligible, the phone has yet to ring with anything approaching a significant offer, multiple league sources told Bleacher Report.

And it's left Rose, 29, the runaway 2010-11 MVP and once a force of nature in the game—until a barrage of injuries turned him into a shell of his former self—in a state of limbo.

"The injuries and lack of enthusiasm to play hurts him," a Western Conference executive told B/R.

The first part is true; there's no doubt that Rose's injury history transformed a superlative talent seemingly destined to be a max player for life into a role player who agreed to a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum of $2.1 million to be a backup on LeBron James' Cavaliers.

But the second part? That's where it's impossible to get into the mind and heart of an athlete who has endured the suffering—and betrayal from his own body—that Rose has.

And it's why, to me, the video of Rose dutifully floating off-balance, left-handed, short-range jumpers toward the rim with a Random Joe flagging down his rebounds speaks to the man's desire not to give up yet.

"Everyone's holding on to him being the MVP," a person close to Rose told B/R. "He knows what he can do in this league. It's just a matter of trying to find the right fit for him and his talent."

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

Barring something unforeseen, multiple team executives contacted by B/R are convinced that Rose may have to wait till next year.

To this point, Rose has received a couple of 10-day contract offers, but nothing more attractive or substantial, league sources told B/R. He's looking for an opportunity that could be a longer-term fit—and one with a team that's ready to win now, or soon, as opposed to rebuilding.

"He's not trying to go into a developing situation or trying to find out who is he is," the person close to Rose told B/R. "He knows who he is as a player."

There's a hope within Rose's camp that the Oklahoma City Thunder—down a guard with the loss of Andre Roberson and looking for any edge they can find to contend with the Golden State Warriors and/or Houston Rockets in the postseason—may still come calling. As of Wednesday, there was no traction there, sources said.

There was talk Wednesday among rival general managers that the Los Angeles Clippers were interested, but they are a team at a crossroads after the stunning move to trade Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons at the deadline.

What about Minnesota, with Rose's former coach with the Chicago Bulls, Tom Thibodeau, firmly in control as coach and president of the Timberwolves? As of Wednesday night, there had been no communication on that front, league sources said—even with Rose's former teammate, Jimmy Butler, on the shelf indefinitely after meniscus surgery.

"When Derrick Rose is healthy," a league source told B/R, "there are no problems."

Sadly, that has rarely been the case since Rose turned the NBA into a meteor shower of his own breathtaking highlights in his 2010-11 MVP season.

There was the torn ACL in the 2012 playoffs, as well as his delayed return from the surgery. Then, multiple meniscus tears, not to mention a series of ankle, hamstring and knee injuries.

In 2016, Rose was traded to the Knicks in a fire-sale deal and endured one statistically decent but ultimately unfulfilling and tumultuous season in New York—a season that, of course, ended with another knee injury.

"He thought Cleveland was going to be a good fit," the person close to Rose told B/R.

It turned out to be just the opposite.

ORLANDO, FL - FEBRUARY 6: Derrick Rose #1 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during warm ups before the game against the Orlando Magic at the Amway Center on February 6, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. The Magic defeated the Cavaliers 116 to 98. NOTE TO USER: User expr
Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

It began with Rose serving as the Cavs' starting point guard (due to Isaiah Thomas' recovery from a hip injury), only to see him injure his ankle on a freak play in the second game of the season (on a foul by the Milwaukee Bucks' Greg Monroe that was later upgraded to a flagrant.)

He missed four games and then returned to start five more before taking a two-month hiatus to deal with his latest physical breakdown—and also, to contemplate his basketball mortality.

When he came back in mid-January, it was awkward. The Cavs had lost four in a row and eight out of 10 and were careening toward an inevitable trade deadline makeover necessitated by a bad mix of talent and an even worse mix of chemistry. On Feb. 8, Rose was traded to Utah in one of three megadeals Cleveland made to completely overhaul its roster at the trade deadline. The Jazz released Rose, who cleared waivers without a single team claiming him.

When I last saw Rose in a Cleveland uniform, it was in the locker room before a 121-104 victory over the Pistons on Jan. 28. He was writhing on the floor, performing the necessary soft-tissue work on his lower extremities with one of the coolest things I'd ever seen—a vibrating foam roller.

"That's the real deal," I told him.

"Yup," he said.

ORLANDO, FL - FEBRUARY 6: Derrick Rose #1 of the Cleveland Cavaliers brings the ball up court during the game against the Orlando Magic at the Amway Center on February 6, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. The Magic defeated the Cavaliers 116 to 98. NOTE TO USER:
Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

In recent years, after all the knee injuries, I'd seen Rose come to grips with the fact that his body needed constant maintenance—that injuries weren't freak accidents, but functions of weaknesses, instabilities and poor movement patterns that had been ingrained for years.

In Rose's case, maybe far too long.

I'd interviewed him many times as he fidgeted on his locker-room chair or courtside seat with some kind of rehabilitative tool—a rolling stick, mobility band or foam roller.

I'd spied him once at a practice with the Bulls in New York, performing goblet squats with a kettlebell and a loop band around his knees, a God's honest effort to improve his hip strength and flexibility, which would, in theory, protect his failing knees.

I last spoke with Rose on the Cavaliers' practice court in Independence, Ohio, on a Saturday afternoon in January.

"I know how good I am," he told me. "And right now, the only thing that I'm missing is an opportunity. Just being patient and taking my time."

Selfishly, I hope it works. I hope that wasn't the last time I interview Derrick Rose in an NBA uniform.


Ken Berger covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KBergNBA.


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