How may different ways does Derrick Rose need to show the world that he's just not that into this anymore?
The Bulls, and the basketball world, were blindsided two years ago when Rose was unwilling to return after he was cleared to play in the wake of his torn ACL. It never ocurred to the Bulls that their indefatigable warrior would not take to the court the moment he was ready.
His brother and his protective circle became an integral part of the story. Indeed, Rose has had a protective circle around him for his entire life and has never had to be his own man, and make his own decisions.
A dozen games into last season, he tore his meniscus, and everyone agreed from the jump that he would sit the season out. But this year, a theme began to develop. Rose delivered a string of unfortunate statements, talking openly about how he didn't want to be in pain later in life (as if this is a basketball, as opposed to a football, problem). It was clear that self-preservation was on his mind.
Maybe this was planted there by his militantly over-protective brother, Reggie, whose own basketball aspirations were snuffed out by injuries. Maybe two long, arduous rehabilitation processes had sapped his passion for the game. Maybe the guaranteed money had removed his sense of urgency. (Remember him crying after signing his big contract? "Mom, we made it!" Maybe this, getting his family out of Englewood, was his Championship all along.)
Maybe it was all of the above.
But the Derrick Rose we saw this year was undeniably a changed man and a changed player. He showed flashes of excellence, but disappeared for longer stretches. He was indifferent on defense and passive on offense. The ruthless penetration of the paint was rarely there. He played scared, afraid to leave his feet in traffc - at times even looking down while airborne. In tense moments, he too often was a wallflower. While opposing teams went on runs, Derrick too often deferred, and shrank from the fight.
With 24 minutes left in the season and the Bulls trailing, Rose scored 2 points on 4 second half shots against a Cavs team with Kyrie Irving sitting on the bench. He watched undrafted Matthew Dellavedova eat his lunch.
And this on the heels of a Starksian 2-for-17 finish in the pivotal Game 5.
Incomprehensible. Would the pre-injury Rose have gone so meekly? Not in a million years. He may not have prevailed, but he would have raged against the dying of the light.
Every time Rose had a good game this year, we all hoped against hope that it portended a return to greatess. Yet each and every time, he fell back again. He would take a half off. He would settle forperimeter jump shots - if he shot at all. He would ignore defensive challenges.
It wasn't that he tried and failed, battled and lost. It was that much of the time he seemed to have no fight in him at all.
His play, his body language, his actions in returning from injuries... everything he does says, "Let me just get to the end of this thing with my knees intact and my money in the bank."
Only we don't even need to infer it. He has said as much, so his game and his choices need no further interpretation.
Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah gave everything they had of their aging, wounded legs. Jimmy Butler showed up to do battle with an all-time great. But when it all began to slip away, the Bulls knew they could no longer look to #1 to lead them. They knew that Rose just wasn't there. And that self-doubt was all that LeBron and his mates needed to blow the whole thing wide open in the end.
Will a new coach bring a new energy that helps Rose rediscover the love of playing basketball that for now has clearly - clearly - left him?
It has to happen. Or the Bulls need to find Rose a new home.