NEW YORK—Early in the third quarter, the crowd started chanting his name at Madison Square Garden.
Then, they did it again. And again. And again. All four times, they would be denied. There would be no Derrick Rose in the first of two Team USA exhibitions here this week, but the man himself said afterward that there’s nothing to worry about.He’ll play Friday, Rose said after the U.S. men’s national team toyed with the Dominican Republic in a 105-62 victory on Wednesday night.
“Just trying to protect myself, just knowing that this is a long, long schedule and this is the most basketball I’ll be playing in two years,” Rose said. “So I’m just going in, trying to gear up, making sure that I’m healthy.”
It’s essentially been a three-year journey for Rose, who has played only 10 games the past two seasons due to injuries to both knees. For those who might be a bit apprehensive after the injury to Paul George and withdrawal by All-Stars Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant, Rose smiled as he set the record straight.
“No, not the knees,” he said. “No, no, no, no; you don’t have to worry about that.”
It was the fourth consecutive rest day for Rose, who hasn’t practiced or played since Team USA’s exhibition victory over Brazil on Saturday night in Chicago. His coach, Tom Thibodeau — an assistant with the national team and one who is notoriously vague about injuries of any kind — described it as “general soreness.” Rose described it as “just body fatigue.”
Teammate Stephen Curry said: “He doesn’t look hurt to me.”
Whatever the case, it’s understandable if the most decorated remaining member of a decimated Team USA has generated some uneasiness with his extended absence.
“We went in with the idea that as long as he’s feeling good, he’s going to play,” Thibodeau said. “He’s got to play at some point. Basically, he’s been out for three years, so he’s got to play. This is a great setting for him because of the depth of the team. … He doesn’t have to play a lot of minutes. He doesn’t have the burden; doesn’t have to score big. He just has to go out and play –- find the rhythm of the game, run the team. It’s ideal for him, but if he needs rest, we’re going to give him rest.”
Rose went through shootaround Wednesday morning and participated in pre-game warmups. At one point, he said the decision to sit was “a team thing.” At another point, he said, “They gave me the opportunity to go out there and play tonight, and I chose to rest a little bit.”
Then, he said, “I wouldn’t say it’s my call.”
It was frustrating, Rose said, but a necessary step in his comeback.
“Come on, here?” he said. “The crowd chanting your name like four or five times? Like, come on man; I want to be out there. But at the same time, my health is the No. 1 issue right now.”
With George suffering a gruesome leg injury in a Las Vegas scrimmage, and with reigning MVP Kevin Durant citing mental and physical fatigue in his decision to quit the team, the question of whether NBA players should risk injury in offseason international tournaments is now embodied by Rose.It was a question that commissioner Adam Silver addressed during a pre-game news conference to discuss the Hoops for Troops initiative between USA Basketball, the NBA and the U.S. military. Silver called it “an individual player decision.”
Seated next to Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs, Silver said: “There is a big risk without enormous financial reward. But I’m sitting next to our highest ranking military official, so I’m almost embarrassed to be talking about the risks that our players face as compared to what our men and women in uniform face.”
Curry, who has battled chronic ankle injuries in his young career, said he has “zero doubt” Rose will fulfill his commitment.
“There’s obviously been a lot of questions the past couple of weeks about whether we should be or should not be doing this or what’s in it for us,” Curry said. “But it’s some great memories. It’s a pretty cool fraternity of guys who’ve worn this jersey and won gold medals.”
So if you listen to Rose, his coach, and his teammates, there’s no reason to expect another oddly worded news release from Team USA explaining Rose’s decision to leave the team.If you take them at their word, then Rose will be out there on the practice floor on Thursday, and on the floor at the Garden on Friday night against Puerto Rico.And on the plane to Spain after that.