Trailing 5-0, the raucous crowd in New York City’s Madison Square Garden was a tad surprised that the Chicago Bulls had begun the game looking rather listless. The Bulls were playing their third game in four nights, so the slow start was less surprising to them.
Three possessions in, though, Derrick Rose decided he had seen enough. Little did we know then that the next time fans of the New York Knicks would see Rose, he would be playing alongside Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis instead of against them. And in his swan song for the Windy City, Rose showed the faithful packed inside of the World’s Most Famous Arena a thing or two.
Now, over the course of the 2016-17 season, he will have the opportunity to prove that it was more than lightning in a bottle.
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One can easily recall players whom, over the course of history, failed to live up to the tremendous expectations that either their pre-professional hype or early-career accomplishments created.
Tyreke Evans, unfortunately, joins a rare list of NBA players who seemingly peaked as a rookie. Evans is one of four players in NBA history who averaged 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game as a rookie. The other three were Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. What we learned from Evans is that a bright morning sky doesn’t necessarily signify a beautiful sunset at twilight.
The same can be said for the likes of scores of others, most notably, Anfernee Hardaway, Grant Hill, Brandon Roy and Greg Oden.
In professional sports, players are like stocks or commodities. They have market values, are owned and are fully alienable, being able to be unilaterally sold or traded.
In professional sports, the values that we attribute to players are based on what they have done for us lately. In the world of stock trading, in the same way that earnings reports and personnel matters impact the trading price of a company’s stock, what transpires in real life can and does affect the perceived value of a young player.
In other words, in hindsight, free agency couldn’t have possibly come at a worse time for Stephen Curry. Because of concerns of his long-term viability and capability to endure the rigors of the NBA, he signed a four-year contract that would pay him a sum total of $44 million through the end of the 2016-17 season.
Conversely, one could make the argument that former Washington Wizards point guard Gilbert Arenas enjoyed the benefit of a confluence of events that resulted in him becoming a maximum-salaried player despite factors suggesting that he wasn’t a wise investment. Needing to retain their franchise player, Ernie Grunfeld and the front office in D.C. offered Arenas a six-year, $127 million maximum contract. Arenas would eventually agree to accept $111 million, thereby affording the Wizards a 12.5 percent “discount” on what they were willing to pay. Arenas would go on to play just two games the following season and was nowhere near the same player he was before his second knee surgery. In the 2009-10 season, Arenas managed to appear in just 32 games for the Wizards and was eventually traded.
Somehow, “disaster” would not even begin to describe the decision of the Wizards to re-sign Arenas in July 2008. Had things played out exactly the same way but Arenas became a free agent one year later than he did, his financial future and NBA earnings would have suffered dramatically.
In hindsight, there were some jarring similarities in the free agency decisions that the Warriors and Wizards made with Stephen Curry and Gilbert Arenas, respectively. The difference is that the Warriors took a cheaper risk and won, while the Wizards took an expensive risk and lost.
Right now, it’s impossible to know whether Rose will end up being the next Arenas—a player whose tremendous gifts were undercut by a body too frail to withstand the rigors of NBA competition—or whether he can at least partially revert and re-emerge as a force.
On March 24, 2016, though, he certainly gave Madison Square Garden food for thought.
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On the game’s third possession, sensing that his team needed a shot in the arm, Rose decided to assert himself. Receiving a wing-pass from Mike Dunleavy, Rose corralled it at the top of the key. With Jose Calderon guarding him, Rose used a screen from rookie Cristiano Felicio, created separation with one dribble to his left, and rose majestically. His 20-foot jumper found the bottom of the net. It was a sign of what was to come.
The very next possession, after recovering a loose ball, Rose did his best Usain Bolt impersonation, exploding into the frontcourt and going full-force at the rim.
When it was all said and done, Rose had turned in a vintage performance. He turned corners with the strength and speed that reminded us of Stephon Marbury and the freakish athleticism that once had us comparing him to Russell Westbrook. Despite being the smallest man on the court, Rose owned the paint and torched the Knicks with step-back bank shots, high-arching floaters, gravity-defying reverse layups and pull-up jumpers.
By the end of the night, he was 13-for-24 from the field and turned in what was only his third 30-point performance of the season.
For at least one night, he looked like the Derrick Rose of old. He looked every bit like the youngest Most Valuable Player in NBA history. And, at least on that night, he looked every bit like a player capable of helping Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis take the Knicks franchise to the next level.
Although just 27 years old, Rose has already had a fair number of debilitating injuries. From tearing the ACL in his left knee in 2012 to twice tearing the meniscus in his right knee (once in 2014 and once in 2015), Rose has already had multiple fairly serious knee procedures. He began the 2015-16 season handicapped, as he missed the final weeks of preseason preparation after an errant elbow in practice caused a left orbital fracture that required surgery. A sore ankle caused Rose to miss two November contests before hamstring tendinitis caused him to miss three games to begin 2016.
Though still nowhere near the player he was back during the 2010-11 season, Rose had his fair share of moments during the 2015-16 season. The explosiveness and athleticism that used to be his calling card were evident.
Following the All-Star break last season, in 21 games, Rose averaged 17.4 points per game on 47 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent shooting from three-point territory. As was the case with his athleticism, from a macro perspective, his shooting efficiency had slowly begun to return as well.
Hallmarked by what would go down as his final appearance in Madison Square Garden in a Chicago Bulls uniform, Rose gave Knicks fans a preview of things to come.
Although ancient history at this point, recall that Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Dwyane Wade have had prior issues with their knees, and each have been able to return to form as extremely productive players.
Usually, in the NBA, if you find yourself waiting for something to happen for more than three years, it’s gone forever. Still, there are always exceptions to the rule, and considering that the time that Rose lost during the 2015-16 season were primarily for injuries not associated with his prior knee surgeries, there is a chance that he could buck the familiar trend.
Rose’s stock has never been lower. This is true. His ongoing legal issues certainly complicate matters as well. But for a 27-year-old prideful player who is entering the final year of his contract, he certainly seems primed for a bounce-back season.
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The beauty and intrigue of playing the stock market is that one has no idea where the top or bottom of a stock lies. In July 2007, Blackberry Ltd. (formerly Research In Motion) stock traded at about $230 per share, while today, the going rate is about $8. Apple, on the other hand, began the 2007 calendar year being traded at about $12 per share before topping out in 2014 at around $645.
As Blackberry Ltd. attempts to find creative ways to restructure its company and debts and find new products to steal back some of the smartphone market share that Apple and Samsung have come to dominate, for Rose, the equation is much simpler.
The 2016-17 New York Knicks have a low ceiling and a high floor. Much of where they eventually land will be determined by Rose and what he is capable of providing them. Still, despite what the prevailing sentiment may be regarding the risk that Phil Jackson took in trading for him, there is some reason for optimism.
During stretches of last season, it appeared that Rose was progressing. And at this point, with Rose still just 27 years old, Jackson may have gotten his hands on a penny stock that has the potential to take off, yet again.
For the Knicks and their fans, that alone makes the 2016-17 season worth watching.
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