Derrick Rose understands his career arc has been one of a kind: From being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, to being an NBA All-Star and youngest MVP in league history, to the devastating injuries, to a sixth man role, to fighting for a reserve role, to now serving as a veteran leader who is awaiting his next moment of opportunity with the New York Knicks.
Rose, 34, started his 14th season in coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotation but has since taken on more of a leadership role as Thibodeau turned to increased minutes for Miles McBride. Rose and Thibodeau are as tight-knit as any player-coach duo in the league, having been together for most of the past decade, so the conversation about Rose’s diminished role was straight forward. All along, Rose has maintained his joy for basketball and a newfound sense of appreciation for sticking in the NBA for as long as he can.
“I’ve learned a simple lesson: Still being here,” Rose told The Athletic. “For one, I’m very appreciative to understand my role. I’m not here for entitlement, I’m not here feeling like I need minutes or anything like that. I’m just here to win and try to help the young guys out. I never thought Id be in this position. I never thought I’d be playing this many years.
“I’m waiting for my chance, for sure, but I can’t complain. Being in this position. I’m taking advantage of it. I’m looking at it where I’m saving my body, and you never know in the playoffs when I could be used.”
The Knicks have turned their season around, from a 10-13 start to their current seven-game winning streak and the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference at 17-13. Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett continue to lead these Knicks, with strong contributing roles from Quentin Grimes, Mitchell Robinson, Immanuel Quickley, Isaiah Hartenstein and McBride. As The Athletic‘s Fred Katz recently expanded upon, New York has been discussing trade scenarios around several players, including Rose, Quickley, Cam Reddish and Evan Fournier, an aspect that does not phase Rose.
“The team is keeping communications open with me: When they told me I don’t think that they want to move me like that, they know that I have a lot left, and they love my connection and relationship that I have with all of the players on the team,” Rose said. “I’m not in the locker room trying to f— up the vibe of the team by having a messed up attitude like that. I’ve had so many lives in the NBA that now I’m in the position where I can sit back, teach the young guys, and if Thibs needs me, I can catch a rhythm and play the way I want to.”
Rose recently went one-on-one with The Athletic to speak about his role as a leader, the rise of Brunson, his Chicago Bulls legacy and his desire to be a team owner after his playing days.
How do you manage this new spot on the roster, being out of the rotation yet having such a significant presence in the locker room?
It makes my job easier seeing Jalen, seeing the way that he’s playing. He listens, so that’s half the battle when you’re dealing with someone like that. He’s a hell of a player, a winner too. He he won in college, won in high school, and he’s trying to win on the next level now. So it’s up to me to guide him, and not be forceful, but try to give him as much info, knowledge and wisdom as I can.
I know how close you and Tom are. How was that conversation between you two when he informed you that you would be out of the rotation moving forward?
It was a regular convo. He just said that he was going with Deuce (McBride), and I told him that I understood. I’m cool with Deuce — like super cool with Deuce. I spent Thanksgiving with him last year, all of that. I got close to his family about him. And for him to be in my position, there’s no way I hate or hate on the minutes that he’s getting, especially when he’s playing the way he’s been playing and he’s producing. I just got to play my role with cheering him on, being a pro, leading by example. Just be a pro about it.
How much does it eat at you as a competitor, though?
No, I want to play. But at the same time, there’s still a lot of basketball left. Thibs (and I) always talk about it — he always says this is the bottom of the mountain, we got a whole mountain to climb. I just got to make sure that I’m always prepared. That’s the biggest challenge. Being in the new position, being in a new situation every year, this year is the first time I went through this. So learning, adjusting, trying to keep my body ready if you do need me, all that is going to take time. But it should be good.
How often do you think about the exit of some of the game’s best greats who perhaps had a struggle adapting to a lesser role or leadership spot late in their career?
I do a little bit, but I feel my story is a unique story where I’m with a coach that allowed me to come to any team that he was on and he’ll figure it out for me. I love my conditioning, so being in this position, things can turn quick and I could be playing. Just like how things turned quick when I wasn’t playing. Always being optimistic. As long as we win … if we wasn’t winning right now, I’d probably have a different approach, because I’m human. But as long as we’re winning, that’s all that I care about.
There’s always conversations about whether your No. 1 should be retired in Chicago and whether you are a selection for the Hall of Fame — what do you feel?
I feel the love that I get around wherever, everywhere I go in the country, out of the country, that’s all I need. That’s all I need. Even then, I don’t like hunger. I don’t like to be seen like that. I’m in a quagmire type of situation. It’s kind of awkward, where I feel it will be cool for my family to come to a jersey retirement ceremony like that. But I think about what would I have to say while I’m on the court. It’s kind of weird. I’m there, but I think about, ‘Damn, I’m going to have to speak to everybody at the celebration.’ That’s what I think about because I don’t always like that moment.
How do you view this next chapter of your career?
Organizing myself, being a pro for the young guys, and positioning myself to be in the place where I could do whatever I want. I felt I saved enough money. It’s never been about money. I saved up enough. Now, that idea that I feel like I could have a shot at doing whatever that I want. If I want to get into coaching, it’s probably not that. If I want to get into anything in the basketball world, I know that I have the network to do that. But who knows?
I don’t know. I feel coaching is a real huge responsibility. And with my family right now, I can say it’s my biggest responsibility. Making sure I’m there, giving them my time, giving them my life. Trying to figure life out with them, purchasing land, by building a crib, organizing myself as a man. I’m provided a family so that this generational wealth can be passed down.
What do you see for yourself post-career? (Rose has made over $150 million during his playing career. In 2012, Rose also signed a deal with Adidas that was reported to be for $190 million over 14 years.)
I’m into ownership. I feel like I saved up enough. It’s not like I need a loan, I’m good. So I’m waiting. I’m waiting for my time.
(Top photo of Derrick Rose: Stephen Maturen / Getty Images)