Derrick Rose is 2-0 as a visitor at the United Center, so forgive him if he still feels comfortable in the arena he called home for eight years.
Rose certainly looked and sounded that way Thursday, smiling as he got jumpers up after Pistons practice at the UC. Afterwards, he spoke eloquently about the peace he has found in his life and game, and even joked about the gigantic new scoreboard he stood under as he spoke.
“We never had this Jumbotron. We never had those effects up there,” Rose said. “It’s great to see they’re adapting to the new age. Of course, that’s [Bulls chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf] for you.”
Yes, Rose is in a good place, on and off the court.
On it, he’s averaging 20.4 points in 25 minutes per game on 55.3 percent shooting in his first season with the Pistons, who signed him to a two-year, $15 million deal in free agency. Off it, his family has grown to three children, and he's enjoying living in suburban Detroit.
“When you hear things from afar you don’t know what to expect. But everything has been on the up-and-up,” Rose said. “Living there has been great. The organization has been great. The staff has been great. I’ve been in awe just being in these surroundings.”
The trials and tribulations Rose has endured — some of them self-inflicted — to arrive here are well documented: The knee injuries, the surgeries, the rehabs. A civil rape trial in which he was found not liable on all counts. Going AWOL from both the Knicks and Cavaliers to clear his head. Getting traded by the Cavaliers, and waived by the Jazz, before then-Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau, his former ally in Chicago, threw him a lifeline.
“Man, I’m just happy to be here,” Rose said. “The spot I was in mentally a couple years ago, I’m just happy I weaved through it, got through it somehow and some way with my family and friends that were around me. I’m just grateful. And like Isiah (Thomas) said, I’m just trying to cherish these moments.”
Rose has spent time with Thomas, a Pistons Hall of Famer and fellow Chicago native, since signing with the team and spoke of him almost reverentially, quickly noting Thomas was the only player to beat Michael Jordan in his prime.
“And it was a point guard,” Rose said. “Being in that spot, understanding the spot he was in, the load he took on every night, I think being here I appreciate him even more. Even having conversations with him and understanding who he is as a person and as a player and the principles that he stood on. I realize it and understand it’s just Chicago. You know what I mean? The way that he was brought up, his mentality, just everything. It just glows off his aura. He’s a winner. And after talking to him, I see why.”
Winning is what still drives Rose. He has accomplished plenty individually, including his Rookie of the Year and MVP seasons with the Bulls. But he's no longer in that dominant lead role. He can still score, obviously, but he’s had to adjust as the injuries mounted and his career progressed.
“It takes maturity. It takes a lot of learning from my past. And learning that some of the situations that I was put in in the past, I put on myself,” Rose said. “I had to grow up and understand what I was doing. It became clear that I was going to have another opportunity. And I said if I had ever had another opportunity like I had in New York that I would grab it.
“Me grabbing it is being vocal with the team, expressing how I feel and understanding that it’s not about me. I still have a lot left in the tank. I still want to win a championship. There’s no reason why we should be doing this if we’re not trying to win the championship. Just trying to change the culture here because it’s a rich culture.”
There aren’t many players in NBA history who have reached the heights Rose did and then experienced such lows. Asked how he can handle moving from a MVP to reserve level, Rose turned serious.
“I don’t have, like, a pompous attitude. I come in and listen, for one thing. I understand where I’m at, the circumstances I have in front of me,” Rose said. “I feel like I could be put in any situation with any group or any team and I’ll find my way in. My talent trumps everything.”
Indeed. Rose spoke Thursday on the one-year anniversary of dropping 50 points for the Timberwolves in a home victory over the Jazz. That performance drew “MVP!” chants similar to those he heard from the United Center crowd on Dec, 26, 2018 when he posted 24 points and eight assists in the Timberwolves’ blowout victory over the Bulls.
Rose’s 50-point game last season drew almost universal love and praise from around the league. Teammates and ex-teammates cheer for Rose because of all he has endured. Pistons coach Dwane Casey said he has seen this first-hand already, even as he tries to balance not overusing Rose.
In a nod to all he has endured, Rose is on an unofficial minutes limit to keep his body fresh.
“It’s very difficult. You want him out there more than his minute allotment allows. He’s such a dynamic player. He brings so much to the table,” Casey said. “Our team changes when he’s on the floor. We get faster. We’re tougher. We’re more physical. But there’s only a limited amount of time he can be out there. We have to be disciplined.
“In shorter minutes, he’s still the same, explosive player. Maybe not as quick as he was a kid or as he was in his MVP year. But he’s savvy enough. He’s tough enough.”
Casey then offered the example of Rose missing layups on three drives late in the Pistons’ home victory Monday over the Pacers and still owning the mental toughness to convert the game-winning drive in the waning seconds.
“He’s gutsy. He’s confident,” Casey said. “I root for him. He’s a man’s man. He holds himself accountable. Knowing what he’s been through with his life and career, you want him to be successful.”
Rose is back to being that, even after his widely criticized decision to sit out the entire 2012-13 season following his first knee surgery to repair his torn left ACL. Load management and making sure players’ bodies aren’t overtaxed is all the rage now. The Nets’ Kevin Durant and Warriors’ Klay Thompson are both expected to miss the entire season following torn Achilles and ACL injuries, respectively.
Does Rose believe this new emphasis vindicates his decision?
“I mean, it’s not for me to say that. It’s funny though. At the time, I knew what was right for my body,” he said. “My body is different than any other player in the league. And I feel like I needed a year. Even though I was on the court, warming up before games, this and that, and people saw me, I felt like I wasn’t ready at the time.
“Now that it’s called load management, it’s just funny how things change. It’s probably only a few people that would recognize that. I always say, when a young kid or student of the game stumbles on my story 20 or 30 years from now, they’ll see the nuances within my story and understand I was a stand-up individual.”
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