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NBA MVP Or The Next Penny? The Long Journey Back For Derrick Rose

It was November 22 when things shifted for Derrick Rose again. It was a typical game for the Bulls on the road against the Portland Trail Blazers. For fans it was a chance to watch last season’s Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard, square off against Rose, in their first matchup against each other.

In the first half, Derrick Rose was playing aggressive and was driving to the hoop with ease. After returning during preseason and playing in his tenth game back, he finally looked like he was losing the rust. He had developed confidence in his knees and was using his explosive ability to get to the rim. Towards the end of the third quarter, Rose had scored 20 points. He was definitely having the best game since he returned. Then it happened… Again.

With three minutes and 34 seconds left in the third quarter, Joakim Noah tried to force a pass into the paint to a cutting Rose, which was destined to be a great finish. Nicolas Batum intercepted the pass while Rose forcefully cut back trying to run to play defense. His knee buckled after the cut. He hobbled up the court, first trying to run and put pressure on it. Then he walked right off and sat on the Bulls bench. The trainers and Bulls personnel all focused on him.

As fans around the world watched, we hoped it wasn’t what we thought it was. This cannot be happening again, not to D. Rose. After all of the rehabilitation from his torn ACL injury in the 2012 NBA Playoffs in Philadelphia and the marketing campaigns on his return, the setback was pretty evident. The injury did not look good on television. His face was full of agony and you can catch a glimpse of the frustrations that were going through his mind. It was a torn right medial meniscus tear, the same injury that took out his fellow explosive guard counterpart Russell Westbrook in the 2013 Playoffs. The bad news came days later, with the Bulls organization announcing that Derrick Rose would go through a season-ending surgery to repair the tear.

During the 21-minute press conference, Rose looked around the room full of reporters and uttered “Wassup?” into the microphone with a smile that you could tell was painful. The first question from a reporter’s mouth:

“Derrick, can you just talk about the mental part of what you had to go through since the first moment in Portland, when you felt some pain in the knee then having find out it was surgery again?”

The mentality of Derrick Rose
The mental of aspect of Derrick Rose has longed been analyzed. A quiet and humble star from Chicago, Rose was never a player that sought the spotlight. We have seen it on many occasions, especially during the 2012 NBA All-Star Game when he was named a starter (1:40 mark).

He is one of the most unique superstars. In a league saturated with very charismatic NBA players, Rose is in his own world. He is not LeBron or D. Wade and is not going to show off his personality. It is just who he is.

In 2012, Derrick Rose appeared on the cover of GQ as writer Will Leitch tabbed him as the next Jordan on the front page. Leitch wrote in the feature about Rose’s denial of the spotlight:

“As the star of a top team in a league that markets individuals more than any other sport in America (a league that has long had a reputation of harboring the hardest-partying athletes in America), Rose bristles at the thought of going out. In one way, this is refreshing. He just wants to do his own thing. But the more I think about it—the more I hear Rose talk about how little he enjoys interacting with strangers, how desperately he misses being able to walk around unnoticed, how mournful he gets when the topic of “attention” is breached, how obviously uncomfortable he is even in basic social situations outside his immediate circle—it strikes me as unbearably sad.”

Rose has never liked the attention. Michael Jordan may have lived an iconic life in his time in Chicago, but Derrick Rose is the city’s native son. The pressure was always at another notch for Rose, growing up. He was the chosen one, the one to make it out the tough Englewood neighborhood. He carried the spirit and the hopes of Ben Wilson, a prodigy out of Chicago that was killed prior to his senior season in 1984.

Did the attention rise too fast for Derrick Rose?
I remember the first time I saw Derrick Rose back in high school. It was in January of 2007 at the Nike Super 6 Showdown in Madison Square Garden. It was Rose and Simeon Academy versus now Charlotte Bobcats guard Kemba Walker and Rice High School. Until that point, I heard stories about Rose dominating in Chicago, but it was not until I saw him up close that I knew how spectacular this guy could be one day. As a senior in high school, he was built like a pro and his athleticism was off the charts. That year for the Wolverines, he nearly averaged a triple-double, averaging 25.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.8 assists a game. He was the No. 1 point guard in the class of 2007 that featured other stars such Kevin Love, James Harden and Blake Griffin. Rose was the class gem.

What scouts were saying
“This one of the true point guards in the class. Has size and athleticism and he’ll hammer it down. At the same time, he runs a team, passes at a high level and is tough to rattle. Has a huge reputation in Chi-Town and guys love playing with him.” – Scout.com

“Rose’s ability to create scoring opportunities, his willingness to share the ball and his capability of taking over a game with his scoring during crunch time makes it clear that the top priority for Rose is winning. Skill wise, he has lightning speed and power with the ball, he gets into the lane with ease and he is a very good rebounder. His outside shot, although reliable, is the weaker part of his game, but expect it to become more consistent over time.” – Rivals.com

Rose, of course, was a McDonald’s All-American and made the tough decision to play for the University of Memphis over his home state at the University of Illinois. He received a lot of backlash for the decision.

Rose ignited John Calipari‘s dominance in the recruiting world, as becoming the staple for the Calipari one-and-done era. He was a huge success at Memphis, leading the team to a No. 1 ranking but falling to Mario Chalmers and the Kansas Jayhawks in the title game. It was clear Rose was going to be the top pick in the 2008 Draft. His physicality for the game was remarkable for a point guard.

New Breed
Rose represents a new breed of NBA point guards. Rose and Russell Westbrook are by far the most athletic point guards the league has ever seen. But both have battled severe knee injuries, and both have taken different routes in terms of coming back from injuries. The timing of their injuries was different, of course, but Westbrook has returned recently and has been displaying his old self, showing off his freakish athleticism. Rose, on the other hand, has been sidelined. Westbrook, who trains with Rose during the offseason, told Bulls reporters during the Thunder’s March 17 game against the Bulls that he believed Rose would return to normal.

“Very confident,” Westbrook said when asked about Rose’s return.

“I’ve talked to him numerous times. He’s a tough guy, as you guys know. He does a good job of coming out competing. It’s unfortunate he had to be hurt and out another year. But he’s going to come back the same D Rose he was before.”

Superstar
After being named the Rookie of the Year in 2009, in 2010 he was the first Bulls player to be chosen for the All-Star Game since MJ and in his third season he became the league’s youngest MVP in NBA history, at the age of 22. He won by a landslide and received 113 out of 120 first-place votes and is the only other player to win the award during LeBron’s dominance the past five years. He brought Chicago back to prominence for the first time since the MJ days as he led to the Bulls to an NBA-best 62-20 record and joined an a elite class of players to average 25 points, 7.5 assists and four rebounds. The only other players to accomplish the feat were Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. During his MVP press conference, the emotions ran high for him.

During the next season, Rose signed a lucrative contract with the Bulls for around $95 million and his marketability went up. He was a superstar and was the most entertaining player to watch other than LeBron.

Brand Investment
For Rose, the return is different from others. He is an all-around investment for some companies such as adidas. Adidas made Derrick Rose the face of their brand after his MVP season. The brand was in need of a superstar to compete with Nike. They gave Rose a 13-year, $185 million contract in 2012, which is the largest shoe contract in history. Two months after signing, he tore his ACL in Philadelphia. The Bulls were the No. 1 seed and the only team that had a legit chance to knock off the Heat in the playoffs.

Is he the next Penny
Throughout the past two decades we have seen some terrible injuries to elite point guards that have taken some of the game’s best players from us early on.

Penny Hardaway is a player that was in Rose’s position as a laid back superstar who had a mega sneaker endorsement deal. Penny was something special but after a devastating knee injury during the 1997-98 season, he was never the same. Other emerging point guards that were plagued by injuries–Terrell Brandon, Mark Price, Steve Francis–all were bound to become bigger stars then what they were until injuries hampered their growth.

Now in the relevant age, superstars such as Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo and Westbrook have all dealt with serious knee injuries and have returned. I am hoping Derrick Rose does not fall into the same category as Penny Hardaway as an elite star that was on his way to becoming one of the greats in the game. Derrick Rose is a different kind of player than Penny was and his body is toned to get through any injury.

Clearance to play
After being cleared to play in April of 2013, and as he participated in pregame shootarounds, we as fans all analyzed him and wondered if he was ready to return. Would he come back during the playoffs? He eventually elected to wait until the 2013-14 season to return to the court. The wait persuaded people to talk about his mental stability and if he would ever be the same again. During the offseason, Rose worked harder than ever and was finally speaking with confidence that he would return to his MVP shape. He had one of the best commercials in the summer with adidas–entitled “Basketball is Everything”–to promote the D Rose 4 sneakers. The commercial highlighted the luxuries of life that came with being an NBA player, but also emphasized that if you take away all of this stuff, he would still have everything he needs because he has basketball.

The Return
When he returned, it was great seeing him back on the court but there was still something off about his game. It was not the same Derrick Rose we were accustomed to seeing. During the ten games he played, Rose’s free throw attempts declined from 6.1 attempts during the 2011-12 season to 3.2 attempts this season. His shooting percentages were low and despite having the guts to use force in his legs, there was still an incredible amount of rust in his game.

Then the game in Portland happened and once again we were right back in disbelief. It is crazy to think how much of adidas’ attention is now focused on Damian Lillard, the last player rose faced before he got hurt.

Doesh e have the mental makeup to come all the way back?
I certainly believe that Derrick Rose has what it takes to become an elite player in the NBA again. You cannot find players built like Rose on any given day. He is someone that has worked tremendously on his body and has the power to return. He is a very confident player and is a guy that punishes his body driving to the paint against defenders. Once he feels he can do that again, I am pretty sure everything would be okay for the young phenom. He is the future for the Chicago Bulls and with everything in place with Joakim Noah as another cornerstone, and a no-nonsense head coach in Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls have a chance to compete for a championship next year.

What do you expect from Rose the rest of his career?

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