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NBA AM: A Disconnected Derrick Rose?

Derrick Rose seems to be disconnected from his teammates, the latest on George Karl possibly joining the Kings and a look at why the Lakers and Knicks are having trouble finding trade partners.

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A Disconnected Derrick Rose?: After pulling out a tough win last night in Orlando, most of the Chicago Bulls players slowly dressed by their lockers. Some were taking their time icing sore body parts, some were a little quicker to get in the shower. But a glance around the locker room revealed something out of place. Where was Derrick Rose?

As groups of teammates sat around the locker room talking to each other or to the media, Rose was nowhere to be seen. A glance toward the door revealed a completed dressed Rose, who seemed to be trying to slide out the side door before he realized (or was told) he had to talk to the media.

For weeks, the subject of what’s wrong with the Bulls circled the team, especially during the latest losing streak, and there it was right in front of you.

Something is not quite right with Derrick Rose.

After nosing around it seems all year, Rose is often the first person dressed and out of the locker room, not only on game days but during practice days too.

While the rest of the team breaks off into their groups, Rose is often the lone wolf and gone.

While everyone in the Bulls locker room sort of takes the same stance on Rose (mainly that he’s their brother and they love him), there is really a sense that being away from the team on a day-to-day basis throughout much of the last two seasons created gaps – gaps there were not there when Rose was ripping through the NBA and winning the MVP award. Rose was as much a part of the group as anyone.

The gist from in the locker room is that the Bulls are simply giving Rose his space and allowing him to find his way back into a process that works consistently for him and the team. The problem is the massive swings you see from the Bulls and Rose on a night to night basis are somewhat explained when you watch the locker room dynamic.

Rose is simply not as connected to the others as much as he once was (or as connected as the rest of his teammates are).

Breaking through the mental barriers of injury is hard, especially when your body has failed you as much as Rose’s has. Being off to the side while your friends and teammates battle through adversity can change things. It changes the day to day process.

Getting all of that back is not as simple as showing up. Those bonds have to be rebuilt and it seems that the disconnect you see on the floor from time to time is clearly evident in the locker room.

For the Bulls to turn the corner completely, Rose has to find his way back to the group. This isn’t a case of the group not wanting him back, more a case of Rose fighting through his own challenges to get to the point where fitting in feels right again.

The best teams in the NBA are a cohesive unit, usually on and off the floor. When things get disconnected, there is usually a reason and while Rose is clearly back to playing, it remains unclear if he’s made it all the way back in the nuances of the process.

Breaking through the barrier after being out so long is never easy. While Rose seems to be finding his game, there still seems to be more work to do finding his place with the team.

Karl And The Kings Making Progress:  USA Today’s Sam Amick and The Sacramento Bee’s Jason Jones have been tracking the day to day progressions of the Sacramento Kings’ quest to hire veteran NBA coach George Karl.

The gist of where things stand today seems to be that both the Kings and Karl have bridged the gaps on what a contract for Karl needs to look like in terms of money and contract years, a hurdle that seemed like a deal breaker a few days ago.

The remaining parts are getting all the voices involved in the process to sign off on the deal.

Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadive was said to be a little torn on the idea. He knows what’s going on with current Kings coach Ty Corbin is not working and wants to see change, but word is he seems split on whether to pull the trigger now versus waiting and doing a proper search in the offseason.

Kings GM Pete D’Alessandro is said to be pushing hard for Karl, and getting the deal done now.

There have been reports that some of the more vocal minority owners within the Kings group would rather wait the process out and do a real search, and their voices have been getting louder as this saga plays out.

Then, there are the reports about Kings center DeMarcus Cousins and his agents having material issues with Karl as the team’s next head coach. However, both Cousins and his agents have tried to defuse any involvement with the decision.

Cousins went on a rather lengthy rant last night when the topic of coaching was brought up, turning this back on the media.

“I’ve just got a question for y’all: How you gonna stop God’s plan?” Cousins asked. “How you gonna do that? How you gonna do that? That’s all I want to know. How you gonna stop God’s plan?”

“This city done put me through so much, and I’ve stayed loyal to it the whole time,” Cousins said. “I just wanna know how you gonna stop God’s plan? God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers. The marathon continues. I’m out.”

For those who are wondering why Cousins and his agents would have any input or say into the process, part of that is over sensitivity by Kings ownership about keeping Cousins with the Kings in the long-term, but also making sure he’ll buy into the change.

Where his agents come into play is a long history with clients on Karl-led teams, teams that never went much deeper than the playoffs. The last thing the Kings want is for Cousins to start talking about a trade to another market.

The public stance from their side is simply that they don’t run the team and are not standing in the way of hiring anyone.

The private stance is that this season is lost, so why not do a full and proper search rather than hire someone right now?

It seems increasingly likely that a deal between the Kings and Karl is going to happen and happen in the next few days.

The plan has always been to put Karl in place during the All-Star break so he would have time to assemble a staff, install some change and hold a practice or two to get things moving.

Sources close to Karl liked the idea of taking over a team at this point in the season, mainly because it gives Karl a chance to really evaluate the roster, see which players fit best and be completely invested in the offseason, especially the NBA draft.

If Karl wins, that’s considered a bonus. If he loses, well, that was going to happen anyway. Getting into the situation for the final 30 games could allow him to set the table more appropriately for next season and getting a jump on that might yield the best turn around – at least that’s the plan anyway.

It’s Hard To Move Money:  As the February 19 NBA Trade Deadline gets closer and closer, the noise factor will increase as well. There are two teams that continue to get the most fan chatter about trades, and unfortunately they are the two teams that are among the least likely to make a deal: the New York Knicks and L.A. Lakers.

Both teams have been active in the trade market all year. The Knicks have made a trade and a couple of moves, while the Lakers have been swinging and missing.

Both team have similar problems – they’d like to make deals, but they really don’t want to take anything back that impacts their cap flexibility this summer. That unwillingness to take back money makes them tough to deal with.

The popular narrative among Laker fans is that players like Jeremy Lin, Jordan Hill or even Ed Davis possess trade value. In some cases they might, if the Lakers were amiable to taking back a little contract money.

Lin’s contract is oddly constructed from back when Houston signed him to a back-loaded offer sheet to poach him from the Knicks. The way the contract got accounted for against the cap gives him a cap number of $8.374 million, but an actual cash payment of just under $15 million.

At this point in the season, 61 percent of contracts have been paid, so a team acquiring Lin wouldn’t eat the whole $15 million, but they would be on the hook for just over $5.85 million for roughly 66 days. That’s a big number for a player of Lin’s ability, even more so if the Lakers won’t take back any salary in a deal. Beyond dumping him for nothing, it’s hard to image anyone offers anything of value for Lin because of the cost associated.

Hill has had a solid season but is currently dealing with a hip flexor injury. His contract also was constructed to give the Lakers flexibility, but also gave Hill assurances he’d have some influence over his future. His deal for next season is non-guaranteed, giving him veto rights on a trade this year. Barring the injury, he’d be a very attractive trade chip as an ending $9 million deal, but in order to do that Hill would have to agree to a trade and there is a sense that he is not willing to leave Los Angeles, since being a Laker and getting the chance to showcase his game as a starter will likely help him when he hits free agency (whereas landing with a contender that may park him on the bench could drive down his value).

The Lakers could pick up Hill’s option year now, which would remove the veto power Hill has, but then that’s asking a team to take on $9 million in salary next year and again the Lakers being unwilling to take any long-term salary back.

Steve Nash’s ending contract offers nothing of value to a team looking to add to the roster, so the only way the Nash expiring contract has trade value is if the Lakers take back a contract and they are unwilling, meaning Nash’s expiring deal holds little to no value.

Davis has also had a solid season, but is currently on a one-year minimum deal. Trading for Davis might land you a player for a playoff run, but Davis likely walks as a free agent to his best contract situation. If a team really has eyes for Davis long-term trading for him gains no advantage as Davis does not have Bird Rights, so a deal is in essence giving away an asset for a player that can walk away or that you have to use cap space to re-sign. Where Davis is at salary-wise makes it hard to return anything of real substance and also falls into the Lakers’ unwillingness to take on money beyond this year.

The Lakers have been active, so don’t mistake lack of progress as lack of interest, but the overarching plan is to preserve the cap flexibility for free agency. As long as that goal remains in place, it’s going to be hard for the Lakers to flip any of their players for anything of value.

The Knicks find themselves in a similar situation.

They’d love to trade away guard Jose Calderon or dump off Andrea Bargnani, but unless they take back contract cash, it does not seem like there is a trade market.

Calderon is having a subpar season and is owed $7.4 million next season and $7.7 million in 2016-2017. That’s a tough deal to move without taking back anything.

There has been a sense around the Knicks that if a deal for Calderon does not surface in the next 10 days, that there is always the draft for another shot at a trade, but the concept of moving money for nothing in return still remains the challenge.

The Knicks do have the option of using the stretch provision in the Collective Bargaining Agreement on Calderon this July and spread his remaining two years and $15.11 million out over twice the remaining years plus one, which is five years.

There is no point in stretching Calderon now, as this season is already accounted for and there is a chance for a trade either at the deadline or the draft, before the Knicks have to make the call on stretching Calderon.

If the Knicks were to decide to go that route, Calderon’s cap number would drop from $7.402 million season to $3.02 million, freeing up $4.38 million.

One Knicks source commented that if the team were going to have to carry a cap hit for the next five years worth $3.02 million, then taking on a contract around that number would make more sense than just eating the space, so while the Knicks say they don’t want to take back cash, there is a sense if they could find a deal that flips Calderon for a lesser value deal, they’d consider it. So while their stance on taking back no real money might make a deal hard to pull off, if they open the door to taking back a little, they might find a trade.

NBA teams have until 3 p.m. EST on February 19 to consummate and submit a trade to the NBA. There is still time for moves and with the extended All-Star break this year, more teams will be in “war-room” mode in the march to the deadline and that might yield a few more deals.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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