Should Derrick Rose Play?

Derrick Rose bench

The case of Derrick Rose is already both a cautionary tale and a lesson in hope for an athlete. While news from coaches at USA Basketball camp shows nothing but good vibes (even as Rose misses game time), his two lost seasons make the optimism a precipitate of just that—lost seasons. We have no idea what to expect of Rose: before the set of injuries, he shared the most crucial characteristics of all truly great NBA stars.

An MVP and conference finalist by the age of 22, Rose possessed shades of a Jordan-like mean streak with a certain, veiled humility that contrasted the allure-seeking vanity of LeBron James at the time. Rose wasn’t anything close to Jordan on the court, of course, but he had precious room—and time—to improve.

Fast forward two years later. After ripping apart both his ACLs, Rose seems to have an on–off switch when playing. It was very easy to see how free he used to be on an NBA court: his speed and dribbling ability would allow him to run fastbreaks alone. His relatively high basketball IQ (at least for his age) can be put to use once he breaks free and it creates masterful vision in the open court. In my life, I have only seen three active players who could be, end-to-end, faster than LeBron James. One is Derrick Rose.

One of the others is what Rose, at least in terms of good health, hopes to be. That player is Russell Westbrook. After Patrick Beverley may/may not have injured Westbrook’s knee for him, Westbrook quickly re-injured the very same knee again at the beginning of last season. After Westbrook missed 36 games, one could say he regenerated incredibly quick compared to Rose’s amble pace.

I have only seen three active players who could be, end-to-end, faster than LeBron James. One is Derrick Rose.

After his injury, Westbrook returned to his usual overexertion on the court, and really, the injury will probably be forgotten. Westbrook is young and aims to get better, even if his career field-goal percentage is simply just bad shot selection. We’ll forget about Westbrook’s injury—the same can't be said of Rose's.

The other player who could catch the LeBron train? That would be Kobe Bryant, who too has suffered two devastating injuries of his own over the last 18 months. Bryant’s upside, as a 36-year-old bereft of agility or reckless speed, is more emblematic of what a lessened Rose would feel like.

Logically, it is extremely hard to trust two surgically-repaired legs to commit to the same torque-wrenching, risque moves Rose pulls off around the rim. It is even harder to fathom that a player could fully recover from two injuries that were considered near-career-ending ailments until a recent decade ago.

Both Rose and Bryant have arguably made wrong decisions in timing their comebacks: Kobe clearly returned too early, not spending enough time simply resting his limbs, while Rose possibly rested too much, forgoing the 2013 season even as he was 100 percent throughout most of the second half of that year. Both, shockingly (or unshockingly, depending on your critique) re-injured themselves in the matter of two weeks or less. Both stars tried to cheat basketball—one by resting too much, the other by not resting enough. It didn’t just resemble the tale of Icarus; it mirrored it. Twice.

As it turns out, shattered confidence (and not a certain proximity to the sun) may be basketball’s underlying peril, one receiving little coverage on actual airways—but many whispers in your brother’s circle of friends.

Derrick Rose Team USAThis is precisely why Rose, who is currently playing on-and-off for Team USA, decided to put in work this summer anyways. He needs a competitive environment to thrive in before he hits another NBA court again, and Team USA is the perfect place to do it. Even if Pa​ul George just got carted off in one of the most gruesome injuries ever recorded, Rose is finally attempting to save face by playing sanctioned, competitive basketball in the offseason to prepare.

It’s a flashpoint for both critics and supporters of Rose to ask whether he should even be playing right now. After all, the risk for reinjury is a valid concern for both Rose and his sponsors, including his own NBA team, the Chicago Bulls.

Rose’s personal history would suggest that he should play at any cost—but then again, the NBA’s recent history suggests otherwise. Over the last two years, the NBA has underwent a startling transformation to become the crown jewel of American sports, even while enduring conference disparity on a historical scale. Perhaps the most surprising element of this run of success is that it has come during an unusual injury epidemic for stars, eternally fatigued by the growing athleticism (and decreasing physicality) of a faster, more agile league.

In addition to Rose, Kobe, and Westbrook, half the Eastern Conference has been ravaged by bad fortunes, and many teams have played routinely hurt even through the playoffs. Dating back to the 2013 season, here’s a list of players of note that have either missed significant time to injury or had their quality of play severely hampered: George, Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Kevin Love, Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving, and Tyson Chandler.

Newsflash: that’s a major, major chunk of the league’s best outside of LeBron and Durant. Add the words “injury-prone” to the list and Stephen Curry, LaMarcus Aldridge, Al Jefferson, Tony Parker (you can’t hide behind Pop forever, Tony!), and Chris Paul join our All-Star-level team of victims.

The smorgasbord of hobbled individuals above only adds up to this conclusion: injuries, rest, and player safety should be major priorities to Adam Silver & Co. over on Fifth Avenue. Ideally, more should be done during the next round of league policing than to simply punish a player’s right to play for his country, even if players are in fact employees of their teams.

Quite fittingly, the one player who's never been policed on that matter was Michael Jordan, possessing a brilliantly negotiated “love of the game” clause in all contracts he ever signed. However, there’s encouraging evidence that Silver already listens: the All-Star break is being extended to one week to accommodate the season's brutal travel schedule.

Most media members cry tyranny, painting a slave mentality on the matter as even well-liked owners, such as Mark Cuban, have come out in support of restricted USAB play in the future. Bullet points are fired as actual bullets, with the increased tension between players and management the resulting casualty.

Players definitely have deserved gripes—the pride in playing USA basketball is unified, strengthened as years go on. It is most likely the single humbling experience for a select group of men who, as anything but humbled since they’ve seen a basketball, spend most of their current days in constant search of competitive validation amongst their peers.

A player’s case to play for his country, then, is even more simple: USA Basketball is the only honor that could supersede an NBA title for champions and equate as one for others. It is not as if management has no case: mention “Shaq” and “company time” in the same sentence and watch all the ugly pile up. Players, paid millions of dollars, are indeed investments. At what cost their well-being and betterment comes together will always remain in question.

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