Los Angeles — Pistons coach Dwane Casey looks up at the clock, knowing that the available time is dwindling.
Tick, tick, tick.
Casey only has about six or seven minutes in each quarter to play Derrick Rose in each game.
That’s the deal. Everybody knows it.
“We had a meeting this summer with the medical people and his agent and everybody to come up with a plan to help Derrick. Believe me — nobody loved Derrick Rose more and I wish he could play 80 minutes out of 40,” Casey said Tuesday. “But he can't, so we have to protect him from himself. It's up to the medical people; it's their decision and it's their plan.”
It’s like “Ultraman,” the fictional character in the Japanese TV show. In each episode, the superhero would fight monsters, but after a certain amount of time, a light on his chest would start blinking and he would have to fly away. That gave the monsters time to continue their destruction, but Ultraman would return just in time to save the day.
That feels like Rose’s mission with the Pistons.
Whenever Rose and Blake Griffin are mentioned this season, the misunderstood terminology of “load management” creeps into the conversation. Rose is on a minutes restriction — about 26-27 minutes per game — as the Pistons look to extend the 31-year-old Rose’s career and maximize his effort in that time span.
The Pistons’ training and medical staffs have combined for a plan for Rose’s minutes, and much to Casey’s chagrin, he has to stick to it if he wants to keep Rose active. There have been small deviations: Rose has played more than 27 minutes four times, but his max has been 28:33. Some of his highest-scoring games have been in those outings.
For what it’s worth, Rose revealed Monday that he’s up for more playing time.
“I feel good, but it’s not up to me with the minutes; it’s up to the coaching staff and the (training) staff to come up with it,” Rose said. “Of course, I want to be out there, but I guess they see something I don’t, and they’re worried about it — just being cautious with me.”
There’s reason for the concern: Rose played just 51 games last season with the Minnesota Timberwolves and already this season, he’s missed six games — some because of a hamstring issue and a couple for rest days — but he’s been healthy for the most part.
Rose has been an offensive spark off the bench — and in Monday’s loss to the Utah Jazz, he was their best offensive option, with 20 points in 26 minutes. But Casey would be playing with fire whenever he tries to extend those minutes in spurts. The cap seems to be 28 minutes and Casey will get a nudge if Rose gets too close to it.
In 28 games this season, Rose is averaging 16.8 points, 5.9 assists and is shooting 33 percent on 3-pointers. He’s been pretty consistent with his scoring, but often when Rose gets hot, it’s time for him to sit again.
Typically, Rose plays the last six or seven minutes of each quarter, which puts him in during the critical periods of the game, including closing the game. But one of the Pistons’ biggest issues this season has been the starts of third quarters, when Rose is on the bench.
“I promise you, I would love to play him more and Derrick would love to play, but he can't, I mean physically,” Casey said. “We don't want to put him in that situation, his body in that situation. So according to the game, we have to be creative.”
It’s by design, and although fans wonder aloud why Rose doesn’t start — especially after injuries to Reggie Jackson and Bruce Brown’s offensive struggles have left them short on options — the answer is clear that the minutes would be harder to distribute with him opening the game.
Even if he started the game and played the first six minutes in the first and second quarters, Casey would be inclined to flip that in the second half, putting a huge void at the end of the third and opening of the fourth quarter, where a similar lull could happen and Rose's body would cool down too far.
That’s the quandary.
“If you're a starter your minutes are going to get ramped up with some, some kind of way. That's why we try and can't wait for that,” Casey said. “I'm watching the clock to see what we can get in there. But to start the second half, it's very difficult to stay under that and also being at the end of game; it's almost impossible.”
For what it’s worth, Rose isn’t lobbying for more minutes; he’s just ready when his name is called.
“I really don't know; that's something that you got ask coach. I don't really care about the minutes or worry about the minutes,” Rose said. “Whenever he puts me out there, I just try to play my game and that’s it. I’ll let the coaching staff worry about that.”
Like sands through the hourglass, so are the minutes of Derrick Rose.