Derrick Rose, the conduit to Pistons' postseason hopes
Detroit — There was a time when signing Derrick Rose would have meant changing everything.
Making him focal point. Him with the ball. Building everything around him.
There was a time when getting Rose, the No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft, would have made the Pistons a title contender instantly, providing a Miles Davis-style virtuoso with impeccable improvisational skills to run the offense.
Rose, 31, was the league MVP in 2011, leading a Bulls team that vied with the LeBron James-led Miami Heat for supremacy in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat won that series before falling to the Mavericks in the NBA Finals.
One of the assistant coaches on that champion Mavericks team was current Pistons coach Dwane Casey. The rookie of the year that season: Blake Griffin.
That time has passed, but time has a way of coming back around to bring everything together again.
Better late than never.
With Rose’s addition in the offseason, the Pistons are not only looking to get back to the playoffs but to assemble a veteran group that can move beyond the first round for the first time in more than a decade.
Instead of having the team fit around him, Rose is looking to be the missing link around the existing pieces such as Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, to help the Pistons make that jump back to relevance.
“I got all the accolades in the past and now I want to win. That’s the only thing missing from my resume: a championship,” Rose said. “Being here and seeing what happened last year with the Raptors and coming to the East, you never know what can happen.”
The Pistons aren’t projected to be a championship contender, but Rose sees some potential in the pieces that led him to sign a two-year deal for $15 million early in free agency this summer, despite having other suitors. He was highly sought, coming off a resurgent season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he posted 18 points and 4.3 assists in 51 games.
He still had some of the same dizzying moves that garnered him the MVP trophy in 2011, but myriad injuries have taken some of the sizzle away. Since leaving the Bulls in ’16, Rose has bounced around to the Knicks for a season, briefly teamed with James with the Cavaliers the following year and settled in Minnesota for a season and a half.
Rose admitted that he considered walking away from basketball during that nomadic span, disenchanted with off-the-court issues, before getting some clarity and guidance and refocusing himself on things that he could control to reinvigorate his love for basketball.
“I just want to play. When I was younger, my ability and my talent covered up everything and I didn’t have to see the business side; all I had to do was go out there and play,” Rose told The Detroit News. “When I did have the injuries and went from being at the top to being at the lowest, I got to see what guys normally go through on a normal basis like getting cut and people telling you that you’ll be part of the team and then trading you.”
One of the key influences was his agent, B.J. Armstrong, who was a backcourt mate of Michael Jordan during their heyday with the Bulls. Understanding the pressure of expectations in Chicago and New York, he was able to help Rose pull out of the doldrums.
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“It’s a complex answer. (It was) having the right people in my life, like my mentors and my agent, B.J. Armstrong. He’s been through everything I went through,” Rose said. “It has something to do with (my battery being drained). From where I grew up, you’re anti-business and you learn (teams) use you.
The time with the Knicks was difficult for Rose, in the cauldron of the New York market and a Knicks team that finished 31-51 and struggled to find relevancy on the court, but plenty of headlines off it, with Carmelo Anthony, a young Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah.
Rose sought refuge in Minnesota with Tom Thibodeau, who coached him with the Bulls. That helped ease some of the sting from his previous stops and helped him realize his value more as a person than as a player.
“I figured out that Thibs loved me unconditionally. He’s the first coach up here that I felt like loved me unconditionally and it wasn’t about what I did for him,” Rose said. “He hit me up for my birthday and he really cared about who I was as a person. I didn’t know I was going to Minnesota — he reached out and said they didn’t have a spot because they had two or three point guards.
I was a (small forward) when I first came in. That let you know he just wanted me on the team and it wasn’t about my position. He knew there was some way I could help, and he was just looking out for me.”
The cast is different with the Pistons, but the aim is still the same — winning. Rose has found a kindred spirit in Griffin, who has tried to enhance the team culture with more attention on creating winning habits and focusing on the details.
“We had that conversation at lunch one day, talking about how early in our careers, we were so focused. Everything he was saying, I could really relate to because he was so focused,” Griffin said. “We realized there’s a better balance because we did it too much. It has an effect on you. With that being said, we’re still cut from the same cloth in that everything means a little bit more. You can see that in the way he plays.
“When I first got here, I felt the atmosphere was a little bit more relaxed when we lost games. That’s not how I’ve ever been or the teams I’ve been on have been. That’s the same for him.
“Hopefully, we can get back this year where you come in the locker room after a loss and guys are pissed — because they should be — and not laughing and saying we have another (game) tomorrow.”
That’s welcome news for Casey, who values the mental approach to the game that Rose brings. With the additions of Markieff Morris and Rose, he sees the veteran second unit as an advantage.
“The mental toughness part is very important but also the next-play mentality,” Casey said. “That’s what Derrick Rose brings. He and Blake are mentally and physically tough. We’ve raised the bar and level of mental and physical toughness. To win in this league, you have to be able to play through things.”
There was a time when the Pistons didn’t have as much of that mental toughness and folded when games got close.
Those times could be gone with Rose blooming in Detroit.