Talking in definitive terms regarding anything that is constantly fluid is usually unwise. However, in sports we attempt to do such things on the regular. It is a dangerous game we play, one in which we are more often wrong than not.
Yet, danger sometimes fails to dissuade human beings from doing that which seems irresistible. The negative stigmas we attach to players or the positive vibes we tweet about can stick with guys for the rest of their careers, with almost zero chance we change our minds on the subject.
We do so, mind you, while ignoring all the nuances which go into evaluating an athlete. Instead, things tend to get simplified. If a player is great, we ask why “he’s never won any titles” to diminish that possible greatness. If a player is up for a max deal, we talk about the player as “not a superstar,” even though max money has not necessarily become attached to stardom. So it goes.
Derrick Rose has experienced an interesting journey to this point in his NBA career. He has fallen into numerous perception categories. Coming out of Memphis in the NBA draft, he was considered a great prospect, but one with many flaws. Then he became an NBA MVP, a legitimate superstar, one that any franchise would love to have. Fans all over the league enjoyed watching him, considering him one of the best in the game.
Then injuries happened, followed by Rose’s own precautions to prevent any sort of everlasting alterations to his body because of those injuries. Since then, whether legitimate or not, Derrick Rose has endured an all-too-familiar shift in public opinion: He’s gone from being the universally beloved star to a guy some folks view as not being fully invested in basketball.
People can only speculate, though. To be honest, it seems logical that human persons — regardless of occupation — wouldn’t let their job ruin their health for the rest of their lives. However, this is sports, where being objective gets hurled out the window in favor of obligatory declarative statements which lack proof. Speculation has to run rampant, because it is part of the life-blood of pro sports — and it is also how everyone helps define athletes in terms which make it easier to understand them. This is true even if the speculation-turned-fact-guessing is wrong or misguided, as is usually the case.
Rose is far enough removed from injuries that we expect him to be good again… except none of us really know how differently his body, athleticism, and gifted skill set will be altered after having his knee become… not organically his knee anymore. While science and medicine have advanced well beyond many’s expectations, this isn’t Detroit set in the Robocop world. We are still leaps and bounds away from making injuries into semantical issues.
Even the “minor” injuries can be considered damaging to the former MVP. Minor injuries and surgeries only ever seem to be considered “minor” when the procedures and body-damaging pains aren’t ours to deal with.
Fair or not, though, this is a pivotal season in the career of Derrick Rose. Sports does not allow a set amount of time in which to view a particular player through different scopes of a lens. Rose, now 27 and with a plethora of health issues behind him, isn’t going to be given the benefit of the doubt on his career trajectory going forward.
That’s despite Rose heading into the 2015-2016 season with a new head coach in Fred Hoiberg. The argument can be had that this is a good thing for Rose. Hoiberg — “Hoiball” — is an offense-friendly system, one in which players should excel… at least on the offensive side of the ball. It’s the side of the ball people tend to cite when judging players’ worth.
Still, an adjustment period should be expected. It is unlikely to be awarded to Rose, though. The media and fans, not all but a large sum within those two groups, have grown tired of what they considered Rose’s indifference to playing through pain, wanting to be great, and viewing his comments of wanting to be healthy as an old man as some sort of slight to the sport they enjoy watching. It is the classic, and almost always inaccurate, “If I were in this dude’s situation I would do X” way of thinking. We say we’d do X, but we wouldn’t be capable of it and couldn’t relate to the person who actually has to make the decision.
Some of that is certainly unfair. Yet, it is also time to acknowledge that Rose can’t forever be a superstar who isn’t an every game (or at least, majority of the games) superstar. To use an NFL-ish term to help separate levels of quarterbacks, we can’t keep considering Rose as an elite-level player if he isn’t actually playing up to that level.
Injuries, especially the type Rose has suffered from, do not help players get better with age. Rose can certainly try to alter his game to lengthen his career and find a new style in which to become a superstar again, but the days of going to the basket with no regard for his body are over. It is going to be a different version of Derrick Rose playing basketball in Chicago — and possibly elsewhere — for the rest of his career.
Because of that, Rose may be entering a season which defines him. With the previous version of Rose seemingly gone — while perceptions of his heart, drive, and other narratives we can’t prove become constant talking points — he will need to have a special, injury-free season to regain the trust, faith and hope of fans.
Then again, because this is sports we’re talking about, it could merely be yet another season in the ever-changing story of Derrick Rose.