In some ways, it’s fitting that Derrick Rose’s most recent injury comes just a few days before the nine-year anniversary of his one and only appearance in the NCAA National Championship Game. Rose, then the point guard for the University of Memphis, was as prolific a college prospect as there can be, and he showed off his unique combination of offensive aggression and athleticism on college basketball’s largest stage.
But he lost that game in an overtime heart-breaker. We didn’t know it at the time, but that would be a metaphor for Rose’s entire professional career — flashes of brilliance and plenty of overwhelming talent to go along with a dash of bad luck and plenty of heartbreaking disappointment.
We’re also approaching the anniversary of Rose’s first knee injury. I was in the United Center five years ago when Rose tore his ACL in a playoff game against the Philadelphia 76ers, and it’s hard to remember a time when I was more emotionally affected by a sporting catastrophe.
It was the fourth quarter with just a little over a minute to play, and the Chicago Bulls were up by double digits. Rose hopped into the lane with a little jump-stop and then just crumpled to the floor. It probably didn’t look like much on television, but I’ll never forget the all-encompassing eerie silence that blanketed the United Center crowd while Rose lay on the ground, first on his back, then crumpled into the fetal position grasping his knee.
Chicago leads the league in attendance every year, and having covered my fair share of playoff games in that building, I can tell you that 22,000 people yelling at the top of their lungs is emotionally overwhelming. Still, it’s nothing compared to 22,000 people who aren’t breathing. It was horrible. We all knew what had happened. Rose had spent over a quarter of the 2011-2012 season sidelined with a cornucopia of ailments, but that was far and away the worst of them.
What we didn’t know was that it was the beginning of the end.
After missing 18 months rehabbing that knee, Rose finally returned for the start of the 2013-14 season, but he tore his meniscus in the other knee less than a month into the season. He did the same thing to the same knee the next season, making it seem as though he were collecting knee injuries like Selena Gomez collects Instagram followers.
Now this. While Rose’s most recent meniscus tear is in his left knee, it is his third meniscus injury in four seasons, and any hope anybody had been holding out that Rose would ever return to any small piece of his MVP year dissipated into the spring air like fog. Any shot he had at getting paid this summer evanesced right along with it.
I remember attending Rose’s introductory press conference at the United Center. Tyrus Thomas and Luol Deng showed up just to watch, and there were red roses on every media member’s chairs to literally romanticize the moment. Remember, Chicago overcame paltry lottery odds to land the top overall pick in 2008 despite having only the 9th-best chance at doing so. It happened in a year when Chicago’s best high school player in years became available just in time to play in his hometown. There was a palpable buzz at that press conference. Every single one of us was excited to be there.
The fans were excited, too. They embraced Rose with a deep familial love that rarely happens for rookies in professional sports. When Bulls announcer Tommy Edwards would announce Derrick Rose in the starting lineup, he wouldn’t mention the University of Memphis. It was always, “From Chicago…” Dwyane Wade does the same now, and as much as fans love the guy, it just isn’t met with the same fervor. The city of Chicago loved Derrick Rose, and Rose loved the city, giving back in ways that weren’t always publicized enough, especially after the injuries.
But when it took Rose 18 months to find his way back to the court following that initial ACL injury, the city turned on Rose. For the first time in his life, he was hearing criticism, and not just from anybody but from his people. With the wind knocked out of the Windy City, the excitement Rose generated in that MVP season and that Eastern Conference Finals appearance just couldn’t be duplicated.
Rose is a weird dude. He says insane things to the media, which makes it fair to wonder sometimes just how tight his grip on reality actually is. And there’s no ignoring that scandal has followed him throughout his career, dating back to allegations that he cheated his way into college and of course peaking this past summer with a civil lawsuit alleging sexual abuse.
But he’s also a good dude. The first time I met Rose was at an exhibition game the Bulls played at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana his rookie year. Before the game I had been instructed by a buddy of mine with Down Syndrome to tell Derrick, “Seth says hi.” I also was told in no uncertain times to give Rose a hug for him.
When I relayed the story to Rose, he laughed and asked if Seth would like an autograph. I declined, but he insisted. Seth still has that autograph, and it remains one of his prized possessions.
Another time, I showed Rose a video of my daughter, then two years old, where she made a bobblehead of Rose kiss a bobblehead of Mark Beuhrle and say, “Goodnight.” He cracked up and said something to the effect of, “It’s amazing to me that kids that little know who I am. You forget sometimes how many people you reach.”
Beyond just my daughter, Rose did reach a lot of people in the Chicagoland area and beyond. He was the hero we all had waited for since Michael Jordan retired. Before Rose, there wasn’t a single year where any Bulls fans thought to themselves, “If things break right, we actually could win the championship this year.” But from 2009 to 2012, we all thought that. It never came together, but Rose gave everyone in this city hope.
This is why it hurts so much to see him break down yet again. He’s not dead, obviously, and he’ll heal and get cleared to play and find his way onto some team this summer, whether it be with the Knicks or some other organization. At this point, though, it’s clear that the hope that once came with Rose isn’t part of the package anymore. Like Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill before him, Rose was an uber-talented, athletically elite superstar that never quite lived up to his potential because his knees just wouldn’t let him.
I can’t help but root for the guy, but it gets harder to do so with every bit of damaged cartilage.
PODCAST: Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race
Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte break down the Western Conference playoff race and check in on the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.
NBA Daily: The Cleveland Cavaliers Need Tyronn Lue
The Cleveland Cavaliers have faced injury adversity and a roster shakeup, and now face uncertainty regarding coach Tyronn Lue’s health.
The most enduring image of Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue came moments after his team sealed the 2016 NBA Finals with a third consecutive win after trailing the Golden State Warriors 3-1. As the team celebrated its historic comeback and readied to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, one camera focused on Lue, who sat on the bench with his face buried in his hands.
— Buddy Grizzard (@BuddyGrizzard) June 20, 2016
The image tells a thousand words about the pressure Lue was under as Cleveland teetered on the brink of elimination for three games. Rather than sharing the euphoria of his players, it seemed that Lue’s emotions centered around the massive weight that had been lifted from his shoulders. Almost two years later, it appears that burden has caught back up with Lue, whose leave of absence for health reasons complicates things for Cleveland with the playoffs just around the corner.
“It’s like losing one of your best players,” said Cavaliers forward LeBron James after Cleveland’s 124-117 win at home over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.
Kevin Love returned from a six-week injury absence to post 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Bucks. James likened Lue’s absence to the burden of trying to replace Love’s output while he was unavailable.
“We’ve got to have guys step up, just like guys trying to step up in Kev’s absence,” said James. “We have to do the same as a collective group as long as Ty needs to get himself back healthy.”
There’s optimism that Lue could return before the playoffs, but there’s a great deal of uncertainty given the seriousness of his symptoms, which reportedly included coughing up blood. Lead assistant Larry Drew, a former head coach with the Bucks and Hawks, will handle head coaching responsibilities until Lue is ready to return.
Kyle Korver played under Drew in Atlanta and said he’s confident in his ability to fill in.
“We’d love to have Ty here and healthy,” said Korver after the Bucks win. “Coach Drew has done this for a long time as well. He coached me for a full year in Atlanta. We know he’s fully capable.”
Korver also doubted Drew would introduce any major stylistic changes.
“I think LD’s been Ty’s top assistant for a reason,” said Korver. “They really think a lot alike. They coach very similarly. We miss Ty, but I think the style of what we do is going to be very similar.”
While style and approach should remain unchanged, what could an extended absence for Lue mean for the Cavaliers? Lue cemented his legacy as a leader by keeping the Cavaliers together as they fought back from a 3-1 deficit to the Warriors, but Drew hasn’t had that kind of success as a head coach.
In 2012, the Hawks had a real opportunity to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in Atlanta history. The Hawks faced an aging Boston Celtics squad in the first round. The eighth-seed Philadelphia 76ers awaited in the second round after defeating the top-seeded Chicago Bulls.
After splitting the first two games in Atlanta, the Hawks faced a pivotal Game 3 in Boston with the opportunity to retake home court advantage. Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat writer Michael Cunningham used Synergy Sports to break down every offensive possession for Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. His conclusion? For three quarters, Rondo did not score a single basket while guarded by Hawks combo guard Kirk Hinrich.
The Hawks traded a package that included a former and a future first-round pick to obtain Hinrich from the Wizards in 2011. But in Game 3, Hinrich failed to score a point despite his effective defense. Apparently feeling the need for an offensive spark, Drew left Hinrich on the bench in the fourth quarter and turned to career journeyman Jannero Pargo.
With Hinrich out of the game, Rondo’s offense came to life as he slashed to the basket at will. Boston opened the fourth with a 13-7 run before Pargo went to the bench and Atlanta closed on a 15-7 run to force overtime. The NBA did not publish net rating data at the time, but we can now see via historical data that the Hawks were outscored by nearly 52 points per 100 possessions in Pargo’s minutes in Game 3. Rather than entrust Atlanta’s season and his own legacy to a player the Hawks traded two first-round picks to obtain, Drew went with Pargo, a career end-of-bench player.
What does this mean for the Cavaliers? It means the team needs to get Lue back. Drew and Lue are both former NBA players who have received mixed reviews as head coaches. But when his legacy was on the line, Lue pushed the right buttons.
For Drew’s part, in his first postgame press conference since Lue’s absence was announced, he remained publicly deferential.
“Coach Lue is the one who makes that decision,” said Drew when asked about lineup combinations. “That’s not my call. We look at a lot of different combinations — whether guys are starting or whether they are coming off the bench — and we assess everything.”
On the critical question of how lineups will be fine-tuned as the Cavaliers prepare for the playoffs, Drew once again emphasized Lue’s active role even as he steps away from the bench.
“I’ll talk to Ty,” said Drew. “He’s got the final say-so. Whatever he wants, then that’s what we’re going to go with. But if he tells me to make a decision, then I’ll have to make the decision.”
With Lue suffering acute symptoms, there’s no way of knowing when he will be ready to step back into the pressure cooker of a leading role for a team with championship aspirations. But the Cavaliers need him and need his steadying influence and instincts. Cleveland is a team that has battled through injuries and a major roster overhaul at the trade deadline. It also faces the pressure of James’ impending free agency decision this summer.
Now, with the playoffs just around the corner, the Cavaliers must endure uncertainty about Lue’s ability to return and lead the team. James has emphasized that Lue’s health overshadows any basketball concerns, but gave his most terse remark when asked about learning that Lue would step away on the same day Cleveland finally got Love back.
“If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” said James. “That was my reaction.”
A Breakout Season for Joe Harris
Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Harris talks to Basketball Insiders about his second chance with the Nets.
The NBA is all about second chances. Sometimes players need a change of scenery, or a coach who believes in them, or just something different to reach their full potential. They may be cast aside by several teams, but eventually, they often find that right situation that allows them to flourish.
Such was the case for Joe Harris. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft, Harris rarely saw the court during his time in Cleveland. He averaged about 6.4 minutes per game over the course of about one and a half seasons with the Cavaliers.
During the 2015-16 season, his second in Cleveland, he underwent season-ending foot surgery. Almost immediately after, the Cavaliers traded him to the Orlando Magic in an attempt to cut payroll due to luxury tax penalties. He would never suit up for the Magic as they cut him as soon as they traded for him.
After using the rest of that season to recover from surgery, he would sign with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2016. He had a very strong first season in Brooklyn, but this season he’s truly broken out.
“I think a lot of it has to do with just the right situation in terms of circumstances. It’s a young team where you don’t really have anybody on the team that’s going out and getting 20 a night,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a collective effort most nights and it can be any given person depending on the situation. It’s one of those things where we’re real unselfish with the ball. A lot of guys get a lot of good looks, so your production is bound to go up just because of the system now that we’re playing.”
Known primarily as a sharpshooter in college at the University of Virginia as well as his first stop in Cleveland, Harris has started developing more of an all-around game. He’s improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays as well as crashing the glass and playing strong defense.
In a relatively forgettable season record-wise for the Nets, Harris has been one of their bright spots. He’s putting up 10.1 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field while playing 25.4 minutes per game. He’s up to 40.3 percent from the three-point line and he’s pulling down 3.3 rebounds. All of those numbers are career-highs.
“My role, I think, is very similar to the way I would be anywhere that I was playing. I’m a shooter, I help space the floor for guys to facilitate,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “I’m opportunistic offensively with drives and such. I’m out there to try and space the floor, knock down shots, and then play tough defensively and make sure I’m doing my part in getting defensive rebounds and that sort of stuff.”
Although Harris didn’t play much in Cleveland, he did show glimpses and flashes of the player he has blossomed into in Brooklyn. He saw action in 51 games his rookie year while knocking down 36.9 percent of his three-point attempts.
He also saw action in six playoff games during the Cavaliers’ run to the 2015 Finals. But more importantly, it was the off the court things that Harris kept with him after leaving Cleveland. The valuable guidance passed down to him from the Cavaliers veteran guys. It’s all helped mold him into the indispensable contributor he’s become for the Nets.
“Even though I wasn’t necessarily playing as much, the experience was invaluable just in terms of learning how to be a professional,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “The approach, the preparation, that sort of stuff. That’s why I learned a lot while I was there. All those good players that have had great, great, and long careers and just being able to kind of individually pick their brains and learn from them.”
When Harris came to Brooklyn two years ago, he initially signed a two-year deal with a team option after the first year. When he turned in a promising 2016-17 season, it was a no-brainer for the Nets to pick up his option. Set to make about $1.5 million this season, Harris’ contract is a steal.
However, he’s headed for unrestricted free agency this upcoming summer. Although he dealt with being a free agent before when he first signed with the Nets, it’s a different situation now. He’s likely going to be one of the most coveted wings on the market. While there’s still a bit more of the regular season left, and free agency still several months away, it’s something Harris has already thought about. If all goes well, Brooklyn is a place he can see himself staying long-term.
“Yeah, it’s one of those things that I’ll worry about that sort of decision when the time comes. But I have really enjoyed my time in Brooklyn,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great organization with a lot of good people, and they try and do stuff the right way. I enjoy being a part of that and trying to kind of rebuild and set a good foundation for where the future of the Brooklyn Nets is.”