It’s a credit to Derrick Rose’s past and a hopeful glance to the future that USA Basketball selected the injured Bulls superstar to their 2014-16 player pool Thursday.
But while Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau’s comments after his team’s win Wednesday in Cleveland, coupled with Rose taking part in shooting drills in that morning’s shootaround are encouraging, in terms of his recovery process, assuming that it means the point guard could play in the summer’s World Cup of Basketball is a bit premature at this stage. Just being one of the players named shows that though Rose is out of sight, he’s not out of mind, but similar to Miami’s LeBron James and New York’s Carmelo Anthony, both of whom have already said they’ll likely skip the 2014 event, it’s more of a nod to the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
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Getting healthy enough to participate in USA Basketball’s July training camp, prior to the current 28-man roster being pared down to 12 players and heading to Spain is a great target and motivational goal for Rose, regardless of whether it occurs or not. If he is indeed sidelined for the remainder of the season, as the Bulls said after his November right-knee injury and subsequent surgery to repair his torn medial meniscus, then having his first stretch of competitive basketball in what will be at least seven months to be with and against some of the game’s top players would be very revealing, for better or worse.
Rose famously doesn’t play pickup basketball in the offseason, so facing off with point guards such as Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard would be quite the test after playing only 10 regular-season NBA games in the past two years. Of course, Rose himself didn’t rule out a potential late-season return this year, so maybe it won’t be his foray into live action.
Either way, the NBA’s landscape has changed in his absence, as Paul—the veteran floor general, who is currently injured as the Clippers are in town to face the Bulls, could opt to rest, like counterparts James and Anthony—is still widely regarded as the league’s top point guard and Westbrook, whose health could determine his participation, has maintained his spot as a top-tier player at the position, but other challengers, such as the aforementioned trio of Curry, Irving and Lillard, not to mention snubbed Wizards playmaker John Wall, have started to ascend the list. In other words, Rose wouldn’t be a lock for the squad just by showing up, even with Thibodeau on the national team’s coaching staff, unless he’s again at an elite level.
But there’s no harm in pushing to get there as soon as possible, as the extreme side of the take-your-time route has already been explored and if trying out for a team is what’s necessary to get Rose in a gym competing before next season, then so be it. Just looking at the names he could be facing off with—and USA Basketball chief Jerry Colangelo could always add others, especially if players prove worthy over the second half of the regular season and then, in the playoffs—it won’t be easy.
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At this point, Kevin Durant and Kevin Love, by virtue of making commitments last summer, if not their extraordinary talents, are locks to make the team. So is arguably the best power forward in the game, LaMarcus Aldridge, who reportedly reached out to USA Basketball and Colangelo to express his interest.
Curry, one of the league’s most prolific shooters, should be considered a virtual shoo-in, and the same goes for Paul George, viewed by some observers as one of the NBA’s top-five talents. Big men Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin would also be hard to turn away if they wanted to suit up, while Irving, who played for USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, and 2012 Olympians James Harden and Chicago native Anthony Davis also are considered favorites.
Assuming those players are healthy, that doesn’t leave a lot of openings left for the remaining players in the pool who desire a spot. To a certain degree, a healthy, in-rhythm Rose would have an upper hand because of his superstar status and past participation in the 2010 FIBA World Championships, in which he won a gold medal, as well as his NBA coach being on hand.
Rose’s his health will be prioritized, it’s hard to assume his game will automatically be clicking by the summer and the competition will be stiff, but using that July training camp as a figurative carrot at the end of the stick isn’t a negative, for both the Bulls next season and USA Basketball, in 2016. By then, operating under the assumption that a veteran, hopefully injury-free Rose is back to form, maybe he could be one of the team’s elder statesmen, joining Davis in welcoming younger Chicagoans like Duke freshman Jabari Parker or Whitney Young’s Jahlil Okafor into the fold.
For now, though, just the idea of maybe being healthy enough to test both of his surgically-repaired knees out against the best competition he’ll find should be enough motivation for Rose’s ongoing rehabilitation.