So, Derrick Rose has this big green ball. He carries it with him everywhere.
If Rose isn’t holding a basketball at the Minnesota Timberwolves facilities — or taking a shower, I guess — he has this ball in his hands. Always.
The ball itself appears to have once been a forest green medicine ball. You know, one of those that you would find in the “abs area” at a gym. But the ball is so worn that the green has faded into a disgusting shade of beige.
I asked Rose about the ball a few times last season after he joined the Wolves after the Utah Jazz, Rose’s opponent Wednesday, waived him in a salary dump. But Rose would never elaborate on the ball’s significance.
“Nah, man. You don’t know about that,” would always be his response.
Rose has, of course, returned to Minnesota this season, with a bang. And so has the ball.
“It’s the secret, bro,” he said after the Wolves knocked off the Indiana Pacers at Target Center on Oct. 22 upon further pestering. “I’m making a 3 every game. You know I wasn’t doing that seven years ago.”
The booger ball, as I refer to it, that is somehow unleashing some sort of witchcraft largely remains a mystery.
Rose the basketball player, however, is not.
Scoring 50 points against arguably the best defense in the league kind of lets that cat out of the bag.
On Wednesday, Rose boosted that “3 every game” average in his 50-point performance by knocking down 4 of 7 shots he attempted from distance. But, really, it wasn’t any sort of game evolution that dictated this performance.
Yes, Rose has spent countless hours in the gym on off days.
Yes, he works on his body “four times” as much as he used to, he says.
But this — a game that deserves a thick bookmark in the still unfinished Book of Rose — was a performance that harkens back to who he was seven years ago.
You know, those times when Tom Thibodeau’s hair was a few shades darker, and Jimmy Butler wasn’t yet in the league. Those days, when Rose was younger than Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins currently are. Yeah, that MVP chapter of the book.
It was that guy at Target Center Wednesday night; old-school, vintage Rose who showed up on Timberwolves throwback jersey night. (Because of course that’s how it would happen.) Just like it was seven years ago, when Rose dominated through attacking the rim and hitting mid-range jumpers, the former-MVP was back converting 15 of his shots from 2-point range. He even got to the line 11 times where his night culminated in two free throws for points 49 and 50.
Turning Back The Clock
“It’s been a while, bro,” were the words that pierced as Rose’s still red eyes peered through his now dreadlocked bangs at the podium postgame.
“I look relaxed up here but I’m jittery as hell on the inside. For real, bro, I probably won’t go to sleep until like five or four or somethin’ like that.”
Just as it has been since he arrived in Minnesota, this and all of Rose’s commentary was real. Only this time his honesty took the form of sheepishness rather than his customary deliberate style.
So much of Rose’s public commentary has had to be explanatory because he has felt the narrative surrounding him has spun out of control. He’s been trying to rewrite his story since he got here.
“I don’t have an Ahmad Rashad to talk on my behalf,” Rose said earlier this season. On this night, he didn’t anyone to speak for him. Rose’s sense of relief in the notion that his play — and unfettered emotion — spoke the volumes he couldn’t.
LeBron James, Rose’s teammate in Cleveland last season, called Rose “misunderstood” Monday when he was at Target Center to face the Wolves. Describing Rose as a “man that just wants to play basketball and be with his son.”
And James’ words ring a sentiment you will hear from any of his teammates yet echo almost nowhere on the internet. His colleagues also don’t like the narrative that has formed around the oft-injured guard who has garnered the label of malcontent since his fall from grace.
I’m not sure anyone feels more strongly about this than his coach. While Thibodeau won’t always make those beliefs known to the media, the Wolves president of basketball operations actions have been plenty loud since Rose’s arrival.
Thibodeau picked Rose up off the scrap heap last spring when many pondered if his career had come to a close after being let go by the Jazz. Further, Thibodeau the coach gave Rose a chance to prove himself on the floor through immediately inserting him in the rotation.
And in the playoffs last season, while Jimmy Butler was dinged up, Thibodeau leaned heavily on his old friend. Rose defended James Harden of the Rockets frequently in the 24 minutes per night he played in off the bench — scoring 14 points per game on 51 percent shooting to boot.
Rose repaid the favor to Thibodeau, whose roster was strapped with a full salary ledger, by immediately re-signing with the Wolves in free agency for the league minimum.
“This is where I wanted to be. That’s it,” said Rose when asked about what was apparently a no-brainer decision to return to Minnesota.
Rose The Person
Wednesday night, Thibodeau, who has only grown increasingly tight-lipped this season given the media circus surrounding the team, opened up. Like Rose and LeBron, Thibodeau also believes has been some misrepresentation.
“The people that know him, they know the character that he has,” Thibodeau said after the game. “When Derrick was the MVP of the league, his teammates loved him.
“He has courage, he has humility and he has character. He’s been through a lot of adversity. He’s probably one of the most mentally tough people that I’ve come across. He’s got great awareness, he knows what’s happening everywhere. He knows whos doing what. He knows who’s saying what. I believe in this guy. I’ve known him a long time. I’ve said this many times: When he’s healthy, he’s one of the best players in this league.”
Rose is healthy; that much is abundantly clear. The reservations he played with, particularly when he was in New York, no longer show up on the tape.
In fact, his aggression sometimes hurts him.
New York Rose strayed away from getting to the rim, as he unsuccessfully relied on a floater game. The jump shot wasn’t there either. Playing for the Knicks, Rose developed something that approached a phobia of his jumper; this occurred particularly from deep, where he made a dismal 21.7 percent of his attempts.
Whether it’s the green ball, health or just getting up shots, that phobia is gone.
The confidence of old Rose is back, even if not every bit of his athleticism has returned.
“When I was coming off my injuries, I wasn’t reacting, I was thinking,” said Rose when asked what is different. “That sounds weird or backward to a lot of people. But when I’m at my best, I react instead of think.
“The last couple of years I didn’t have that rhythm. I didn’t know if I was going to float the ball, I didn’t know if I was going to pull up, I didn’t know if I was going all the way to the rim, I didn’t know if I was going to fake pass and jump up or fake pass and pass to the big. It’s all just coming together, but it took six or seven years.”
It’s clear that Thibodeau not only allows this reactionary style of thinking and play but embraces it. Consistently, Thibodeau talks about how the Wolves need to “trust the pass” and he has harped on the need for shots to either come at the rim or from deep. Yet, with Rose, he appears to be invested in a bigger picture; letting some of that go for what he must believe is the greater good.
“[Derrick has] been super-aggressive from the start of the season,” said Thibodeau. “I saw it when he was 22 and he did it every night. It was like that every night. And the thing that I respect the most about him is his willingness to share, to do what’s right. You don’t have to have a lot of rules with Derrick. He’s going to do the right thing. He’s going to put the team first.”
Yes, Rose’s decisions are not always the correct ones, but the player who seemed authentic when he said he would do any for the team this — including washing the uniforms and picking up garbage — does appear to put the team first. And for that, he does probably deserve some trust.
In the eyes of fans, that trust has to grow after this performance. But to those that are in that locker room with him every day, playing with a vengeance was a given. They knowconfident Rose, and that is what they expect.
While it sounds like revenge, that is not the word Rose uses. He says he’s “past the revenge part” because it almost drove him insane. Instead, Rose is leaning on something else: just working his ass off.
At the podium, Rose harkened the words of the late great Frank Sinatra who once said, “the best revenge is massive success.”
This is one game. It’s not a blip; there has been a consistent linear progression to Rose’s output. But still, this isn’t massive success. Rose agrees. However, I do think he would say the narrative is moving in the direction he likes, though.
How does the rest of this story play out exactly? Literally, no one knows. Hell, it’s unclear who will even be healthy let alone on the team come Friday — an, of course, critical factor in a team game. What is clear, though, is that the story of Rose is not yet finished. In his eyes, tonight’s performance is but a footnote that precedes at least a handful of pages he has not yet put pen to.
He has the right coach to let his imagination, and game, run free with because Thibodeau shares Rose’s vision.
“I shared this with him last year: In every story, there’s a beginning, a middle and an end. And I think the end’s going to be great.”