Derrick Rose has worked too hard to overcome the many times his body betrayed him to all of a sudden betray his own career with some unprofessional behavior. Rose went missing Monday night and skipped out on the New York Knicks’ loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, leaving his organization to scramble and teammates to worry for his unexplained absence. But Rose returned to the practice facility Tuesday to meet with management, apologize to his teammates and blame the whole situation on a “family issue” that required him to rush home to Chicago, but that he said has since been “resolved.”
The Knicks played along, fined Rose for being irresponsible, and prepared as if he would return to work Wednesday in Philadelphia as the team’s starting point guard. Move along now. Everything’s cool, right? Not quite, as with nearly everything involving the Knicks over the past few decades of mostly on-court irrelevance, and Rose over the past few years of diminished returns and injury stops and starts.
Lumping Rose into the typical dysfunction of Madison Square Garden absolves him of his responsibility in this situation. Nothing involving owner James Dolan’s perpetual, toxic insanity, president Phil Jackson’s lack of accountability, or even Carmelo Anthony’s inability to elevate the franchise can shield Rose from allowing a situation that could’ve easily been resolved with a phone call or text to become a fiasco. Rose further complicated the matter by not answering his phone because, as he told reporters, “I needed that space to myself and needed to be with my mom.”
Rose doesn’t have to provide intimate details of his personal situation to the team or the media, but he did owe his teammates, management and the coaches an explanation for his absence somewhere between the time he decided to hop on a plane to Chicago and the opening tip. Even if he felt awkward, Rose has other people in his inner circle who could’ve handled the situation on his behalf. Rose later explained that he’s “not perfect, far from it,” and promised that this situation wouldn’t happen again. But one has to wonder why it happened at all.
Instead of fining Rose and quickly throwing him back into a uniform, the Knicks should spend a little more time examining what would make a 28-year-old in a critical contract year, with no injury limitations, no track record of insubordination and a reputation for always playing hard – flaws and all – suddenly decide that he didn’t want to play in a basketball game. Only Rose and Knicks management know what was communicated to get them all “on the same page,” as Rose said Tuesday. For him to make such a huge gaffe suggests that his problems were deeper than a situation at home, lack of playing time, or the Knicks’ recent losing skid.
The timing of this incident can’t be coincidental. Rose was benched in the fourth quarter of the two previous games against Milwaukee and Indiana – cities within two-hour drives of his hometown – and faces his former team, the Chicago Bulls, on Thursday night. Rose has played well this season, though not consistently, and the Knicks have struggled to win games when he looks to score too much; New York is 1-12 when he takes 17 or more shots. But he called reported friction with coach Jeff Hornacek “crazy,” and denied that it had any influence on his disappearance. Hornacek also backed Rose’s claims that their relationship is fine.
“It had nothing to do with the team or basketball,” Rose told reporters of his absence. “But that’s the first time I ever felt like emotionally I had to be with my family.”
While he said he remains “motivated” by playing in New York, Rose recently told the Chicago Tribune that being traded from the Bulls “stung me more than anything.” Rose’s detachment from home cannot be discounted. It’s understandable if he wanted to be with his family and was just homesick. How many professional athletes can claim they spent most of the first 28 years of their life residing almost exclusively in their hometown? Rose is especially close to his mother, whom he singled out during his emotional MVP speech in 2011, and he has also been separated from his son, P.J.
This has been a tumultuous few months for Rose, beginning with the unexpected foundational upheaval of being traded from his hometown and having to start over in New York, continuing with an embarrassing civil sexual assault trial that exposed unseemly details of his private life and cost him a training camp with his new teammates, and culminating with an uncharacteristic, irresponsible act.
No matter the circumstances that led to his departure, Rose has placed more scrutiny on a career that has stalled since beginning with an inspiring trajectory. Coming back from bailing on his team won’t be as simple as lacing up his signature adidas and having a couple of good games. Rose will have to earn the trust of teammates, who have barely had time to know him, and earn the respect of a fan base that has welcomed him as he pushed to lead a “super team” back into the postseason.
Losing eight of nine doesn’t mean the end for the Knicks because the Eastern Conference is riddled with teams that have taken turns being lousy only to still remain in the playoff picture. This will either be the reset Rose needs to regain his focus, or his career will continue to head in a direction with which he is uncomfortable.
Rose resisted the urges to surrender the multiple times his body broke down, withstood the criticism of his passion and commitment, and sprinkled reminders that he can still, occasionally, summon the spectacular. But now he has some self-inflicted adversity to overcome, the kind that can prove exactly what he’s made of and where he wants to be when it’s done.