When the Knicks announced their starting lineup at 7:33 p.m. on their official public relations Twitter account, Brandon Jennings was listed as the team’s starting point guard, and Rose was simply said to be “not with the team.” It was an announcement that kicked off three surreal hours in which the Knicks were routed at home by the New Orleans Pelicans and no one, from reporters covering the league to his teammates to the coaching staff and team executives, had any idea where he was.
Eventually, Joakim Noah — Rose’s longtime teammate and friend — told reporters he’d spoken to Rose after the game, and that he was all right. Per an ESPN report, Rose later reached team officials, telling them he had a family situation and had returned to his hometown of Chicago. And early Tuesday afternoon the Knicks announced Rose had been fined, but not suspended, for his absence, noting also he was expected to be in uniform Wednesday.
But that was all well after Knicks Coach Jeff Hornacek had met with the media members following Monday’s game and seemed to have no information about Rose’s whereabouts.
“That’s just going to have to wait until we hear from Derrick himself,” Hornacek said. Teammates said they had no idea where their starting point guard was, and they simply hoped he was all right.
The disappearance of Derrick Rose raises plenty of questions regarding his absence, his future with the Knicks and that of the team itself.
Rose returned to practice with the team on Tuesday and afterward confirmed he had in fact returned to Chicago to be with his family. He did not, however, provide a strong reason for why he did not contact the team until after the game. He did, however deny a rift with Hornacek.
The lack of a detailed explanation is a problem for Rose moving forward. Of course everyone hopes that he and his family okay. But no one would have had a problem if he’d needed to address a personal matter and taken leave from the team — as long as he’d actually told someone about the issue. There have been countless times where someone, be it a player or coach, has needed to go take care of a family situation, and no team would ever stop anyone from doing so.
Instead, the Knicks were blindsided. When the Knicks convened for shoot-around at the team’s practice facility in the suburbs north of New York on Monday morning, there was no hint Rose would be absent from the game. He was present at shoot-around, and when Hornacek met with members of the media less than two hours before Monday’s game, only one player — rookie forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas — was said to be unavailable.
The lack of information makes the lack of a suspension rather curious and leaves his team sorting through additional drama as it tries to right itself from losing eight of its last nine games. Even now that Rose has returned, many questions remain for both him and the Knicks.
Why could he not be troubled into texting the Knicks about his whereabouts? Why is the team relatively okay with a player going AWOL? Is this instance something small that won’t happen again or part of a larger problem between the player and the team? And finally, will this incident do anything to change Rose’s status on the team going forward? While the Knicks said he would be in uniform Wednesday night, that does not mean he will necessarily play in their game against the Philadelphia 76ers. (Though Hornacek seemed to indicate Rose would in fact play.)
The truth is that Rose needs the Knicks more than the Knicks need him at this point. Despite his resume, which includes being the No. 1 overall pick in 2008 and the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2011, Rose is no longer a player to be feared by opposing teams. Yes, he’s proven he can still score this season, as he’s averaging 17.3 points per game. But Rose’s defense has been below average, and his lack of a three-point shot (he’s shooting 24.5 percent, and is a career 30 percent shooter from behind the arc) leaves him at odds with the modern NBA, where effective shooting at virtually every position — up to and including at center — is vital.
Set to enter unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career this summer, Rose needed to prove he could be a difference-maker after being acquired by the Knicks this summer from the Chicago Bulls for a package of Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant and Jose Calderon. The fact Rose spent most of training camp in Los Angeles as a defendant in a civil rape trial, in which he was eventually found not liable, only made the need for a fresh start all the more apparent.
Instead, Rose has looked like the same player he was the past two years in Chicago in the wake of two lost seasons to knee injuries — a decent scorer who does little else. That’s a player without much demand in today’s NBA.
And all of that was before Rose disappeared Monday and the Knicks continued their recent tailspin in as ignominious a way as possible. Between Rose’s disappearance, Carmelo Anthony and Kyle O’Quinn both being ejected and at one point trailing by 29 points at home against a Pelicans team 10 games below .500, it doesn’t get much uglier than it did at Madison Square Garden Monday.
So where does everyone go from here? It would be helpful for everyone to hear from Knicks president Phil Jackson. But given Jackson’s two most recent public interactions with the media have consisted of him commenting on LeBron James and his “posse” and then subsequently criticizing Anthony, it seems unlikely Jackson is about to break his silence with the team’s beat writers anytime soon — particularly given a potentially delicate situation. However, these instances are precisely the kind Jackson should handle, given he’s being paid $12 million a year to be the face of the organization.
As Rose’s comments Tuesday alluded to, there has already been speculation of trouble between Rose and Hornacek, especially after Rose was benched in favor of undrafted rookie Ron Baker at the end of Friday’s game in Milwaukee. Given that is the only win the Knicks have had in the past two weeks and Baker’s play in the fourth helped swing it in New York’s direction, it’s hard to fault Hornacek for how he’s handled his point guard.
A buyout could be another possibility, given Rose is on an expiring contract. But considering he was already starting for the Knicks, and it didn’t appear that was going to change anytime soon, it’s hard to see how getting bought out and going elsewhere would do anything to help his status heading into the summer. Instead, it would only add to the baggage Rose is currently toting as he tries to land another lucrative contract in free agency.
In trading for Rose and then subsequently signing Courtney Lee and Noah to big-money contracts in free agency, the Knicks hoped to surround Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis with the kind of talent necessary to turn the Knicks back into contenders in the Eastern Conference. Instead, it’s simply reverted the Knicks back into the same ridiculous mess they’ve been for virtually all of the past 15 years. Now they have a point guard that has gone missing, a center in Noah who is the runaway winner for both worst contract of the summer — one that has over three years remaining — and now has Anthony leading the league in ejections after getting tossed for the third time during Monday’s loss.
For all of their problems, however, even after Monday’s defeat, the Knicks are two games out of seventh place in the Eastern Conference, and three games out of fifth. Losing eight of nine may make it seem like the season is over, but in the Eastern Conference it just means its the Knicks’ turn for a slide down the standings, and there’s plenty of time to right the ship.
The question now is whether Derrick Rose will be part of those efforts. After the way Monday played out, its anyone’s guess what will happen next.