INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Derrick Rose admits that his mental approach in the past — not just his physical ailments — started to lead his career astray and says he is determined to get back on track with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I was in a dark place years ago, man,” Rose said Saturday. “By a dark place, I mean, I was playing, like, revenge basketball, and that wasn’t my way of playing basketball.
“I enjoy competing, but when I came back it was about just trying to get back to the top and proving everybody wrong. Like, I know who I am as a man, I know who I am as a player or person. There’s no point in doing that anymore. It’s just being secure as a person and knowing who I am.”
Rose, who beat out LeBron James and Dwight Howard to be named league MVP in 2011 in just his third year in the NBA with his hometown Chicago Bulls, is now in his ninth season and signed to a minimum contract with Cleveland. It’s his third team since being drafted No. 1 in 2008.
Since suffering a torn ACL in his left knee in the Bulls’ opening game of the 2012 playoffs, Rose has played in just 230 out of a possible 394 regular-season games, as injuries have persisted.
He played 64 games for the New York Knicks last season, averaging 18 points on 47.1 percent shooting, 4.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds.
Whatever Rose proved with that production, however, was called into question by the Knicks’ 31-51 record, yet another occurrence of torn meniscus in his left knee that required minor surgery, and a troubling situation in January when he failed to show up for a game against the New Orleans Pelicans and initially left the franchise in the lurch without any communication as to his whereabouts.
Rose signed a $2.1 million deal with Cleveland in July, intending to join the team as Kyrie Irving‘s backup. Irving was traded a month later, and his replacement secured in the deal, Isaiah Thomas, will be sidelined until late December with a hip injury — which opened up a golden opportunity for Rose when Cavs coach Tyronn Lue named him his starting point guard when training camp opened up this week.
“That just says a lot about him, about his character,” Lue said of Rose choosing Cleveland. “A guy who has been MVP, who started his whole career and to come here for the minimum knowing and thinking that Kyrie is going to be here with him being the backup, it just shows he wants to win.
“And that’s who he is as a person. You can see it every single day. He wants to be a winner. He wants to win. He works that way. So it’s just great to have him here.”
Rose was the Cavs’ standout performer at the team’s minicamp in Santa Barbara, California, multiple sources told ESPN. Rose is resolute on not just demonstrating that he can still play individually, instead showing that he can play in the manner in which Cleveland needs him to as a distributor.
“I get to play my game,” Rose said. “Before I made it to the league I think I was a facilitator. The NBA made me into a scorer. I had to score my first year with the Bulls, and I think you’ll be able to see my passing abilities once I’m here. My job is to facilitate, be aggressive at the same time, be a threat always when I get the ball.”
Lue said seeing Rose’s passing ability up close has impressed him so much that he went back to study clips from the 28-year-old’s career on Synergy, a video analytics service popular among NBA and NCAA coaches, to see just what type of passes he can expect Rose to make in the Cavs’ offense.
“More than anything, he’s just playing free and he looks good,” said Kevin Love, who shares a trainer, Rob McClanaghan, with Rose. “He’s not carrying any weight in any way, whether it’s physically or on his shoulders, any burden in that respect. I think for him that’s huge. Coming out here and having a lot of fun playing basketball, and you can see that, especially when we go 5-on-5 or we’re just out there playing our sets.”
When asked directly if Rose can reach his former superstar level again now that he’s with the Cavs, Lue replied, “From what I’ve seen, yes.”
While Rose hopes to shed the revenge aspect of his approach in Cleveland, he still carries an edge to him. When a reporter asked him Saturday if he needed to put in extra work on his 3-pointers — Rose shot just 13-for-60 from deep last season — he responded with a thorough retort.
“Want me to tell you why, though?” Rose said. “Last year when you’re only shooting 14 to 15 shots and they want four or five of those shots to be 3s, do you know how efficient you have to be out of the eight or nine shots [to still average close to 20 points]? At the end of the day, when you get paid, they look at numbers.
“So if I’m shooting four or five 3s a day and I’m not being efficient with those eight or nine shots, I’m only averaging eight to nine, 10 points a game, so why shoot ’em? And we’re losing. I know my strengths, and my part of my game and me not shooting them last year was me being stubborn and me knowing who I am and knowing my game. This year I’ve been working on it.”
Lue wants Rose to shoot 3s when he’s open, but he realizes “his biggest strength is attacking the basket, getting to the paint,” adding, “he’s one of the best I’ve seen at doing it.”
The numbers back it up. Even with everything going on in New York last season, Rose still ranked 11th in the league with 10.0 drives per game, according to NBA.com/Stats (James, for reference’s sake, averaged 9.5).
“I’m not going to hold him back,” Lue said. “Play his game. We want him to be comfortable.”
Which is precisely how Rose sounds.
“I’ve been preparing myself for this situation, this stage for a long time,” he said. “Preparing my body, preparing myself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, trying to be well-rounded for this stage and for this journey. Being here, the guys, I feel like I’m in a great situation. Everybody’s focused. I love the staff, I love the front office, I love everything about it and I love Cleveland. That helps a lot.”