If someone had said then, in the summer of 2011, as the NBA was in the midst of a lockout, that six years later Rose would be signing for the veteran’s minimum, they would have been laughed out of every room.
They also would have been right.
Rose will be teammates with James next season after agreeing on Monday to a deal for the minimum with the Cleveland Cavaliers, completing a stunning career arc over the past six seasons that remains hard to fathom. Remember: during that lockout in 2011, the “Derrick Rose Rule” became part of the NBA lexicon, a new creation that allowed the Bulls to pay Rose at 30 percent of the salary cap on a five-year max contract.
He signed that deal in December 2011, and it expired July 1. That contract paid him $94 million over those five years.
His next contract will pay him $2.1 million for one year.
It was an accurate reflection of both Rose’s market value and the interest in his services, despite his name recognition and his stat line with the New York Knicks (18.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists) last season. While those numbers are respectable, they hide that Rose simply can’t replicate the magic he possessed earlier in his career.
What made him such a unique and brilliant player was his remarkable athleticism. He had an explosion with the ball that was breathtaking to see, seemingly able to change directions at will and in the blink of an eye. But after several knee injuries — including two back-to-back that cost him virtually all of two seasons and three straight playoff runs in Chicago — that same burst just isn’t there.
Without it, the player left behind is one capable of creating offense for himself, but a poor shooter and defender with a below-average assist rate. That isn’t a player that’s going to be a difference maker on a team like Cleveland — let alone one that’ll be capable of making significant contributions in a setting like the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.
That said, the thinking here for Cleveland — and specifically, newly installed General Manager Koby Altman, who was finally (and deservedly) given the job on Monday — is understandable, particularly if operating under the assumption the Cavaliers are going to move on from Kyrie Irving in a trade before the start of the season.
The one thing Rose can still do is attack the basket. And on a team loaded with shooting, if he’s asked to come in and create baskets when James is on the bench for 12 minutes or so a night in reprieve of the superstar, then Rose will have plenty of room to operate.
Of course, Rose may be an even worse option to play alongside James than Jose Calderon, the point guard the Cavaliers signed on July 1. While both are terrible defensively, Calderon is a terrific spot-up three-point shooter, having shot 41 percent from three-point range for his career, which is an absolute necessity when playing with James. Rose, on the other hand, shot just 13 for 60 (21.7 percent) from three last season.
The significance of Rose signing with the Cavaliers isn’t really about his impact on them, though; his presence won’t have any bearing on whether Cleveland makes it out of the Eastern Conference (only whether James remains healthy impacts that prognosis). Instead, it’s the remarkable decline in fortunes of a player who was, only a short time ago, one of the faces of the league.
Over the past couple seasons, Rose talked openly about going after another max contract as a free agent and cashing in again when he hit the open market. But as one point guard after another received deals, he kept waiting and waiting for an offer to materialize.
Eventually, one did. And while his role in Cleveland will allow him to remain in the spotlight, it will come with a paycheck far smaller than Rose dreamed it would be.
Life comes at you fast in the NBA, where time remains undefeated and reality never takes a night off. In going from making the maximum to the minimum on Monday, Rose learned that the hard way.