The MVP still smolders inside Derrick Rose, the inimitable scorer who once could not be stopped. Despite all the surgeries and setbacks, the myriad twists and pulls, Rose has long believed he could will himself back to greatness. His broken body would respond — it had to — and the professional agony of the last five years would dissolve into little more than a memory.
Rose abandoned the Cavs this week, the second team he has walked away from in as many seasons. The glory days never seemed so far away. Coach Tyronn Lue backed Rose on Friday. “For myself, the coaches, the players in the organization, we support him,” Lue said. “Just wish him back soon.” But few, if any, saw this coming. Nearly 11 months after Rose forced the Knicks to send a search party out for him, the Cavs were similarly blindsided. Officially, it’s an excused absence, but Rose’s sudden departure shocked his Cleveland teammates, two sources familiar with the situation told Yahoo Sports.
“I texted him and told him [that] we support him,” Lue said. “He’s going through a tough time right now, but he’s still very talented. Take as long as he needs to take, we wish him well and we want him back.”
A “personal issue” is how the Cavs described Rose’s absence, and Lue admitted: He has no idea when Rose will return. An ankle injury has sidelined Rose for the last seven games, and Cleveland has won six of them. The offense is better with Rose off the floor, and the defense completely falls apart when he is on it. Four knee surgeries have ruined his lateral movement, and opponents have feasted on basic pick-and-rolls.
“He’s been terrible,” a scout told Yahoo Sports earlier this month. “That’s the point of attack. If you can’t stop the ball, you can’t stop anybody. And he isn’t defending the ball at all. If you put him in a pick-and-roll, you are guaranteed to get any shot that you want.”
The Cavs say they want Rose back, but really, why? And how? How do you welcome back a player who isn’t sure he wants to keep playing? How does Rose regain the trust of a locker room that has to know it can’t trust him?
Rose is contemplating his future in the NBA, and the reality is he may not have one. He could return to Cleveland, finish the season, and enter free agency next summer radioactive. The market — already dry for a faded former star — will become barren. Said a longtime NBA executive, “He’s become Deron Williams.”
There will be little sympathy for Rose, but understand — few can relate to what he has lost. He had everything once. He was the face of his hometown team, an NBA elite seemingly destined for a Hall of Fame career. One injury begat another, and suddenly a dynamic star was a shell of his former self. New York was supposed to be a fresh start; instead, a civil sexual assault trial consumed Rose’s preseason (he was found not liable), and the Knicks eagerly cut ties with him when the season was over.
Rose was genuinely excited about the opportunity he had in Cleveland, telling friends how motivated he was to reboot his career. He slimmed down to take the wear and tear off his lower body, and once again it failed him. A little over a month into the season, and a battered Rose is staring down an uncertain future.
So much is at stake for Cleveland this season, and it has little time to deal with this. Jose Calderon has been serviceable lately, and the Cavs are optimistic Isaiah Thomas can return soon. Lue declined to put a timetable on Rose’s return, but Cleveland can’t let this drag out forever. Perhaps Rose can come back, can explain all this away. Or perhaps this is the end: A tired, broken player simply deciding it was enough.