Derrick Rose has climbed out of the "dark place" he said he found himself in years ago.
The new Cavaliers point guard has abandoned "revenge basketball," a mindset into which he likely retreated to silence his critics when injuries threatened to rob him of his amazing gifts.
But as Rose pointed out on Monday, "I'm 28, people act like I'm 38 years old." Now healthy, he signed a veteran minimum contract with the Cavs on July 25 to showcase his skills and resurrect his career.
At that point, he was slated to be Kyrie Irving's backup. About a month later, the Cavs honored Irving's trade request and sent him to the Boston Celtics. All-Star Isaiah Thomas, the point guard the Cavs received, is sidelined until perhaps Jan. 1 with a hip injury, thrusting Rose into a starting role.
After LeBron James' minicamp in Santa Barbara and five days of practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts, Cavaliers players and coach Tyronn Lue are raving about Rose, some offering unsolicited opinions.
"I'm real excited about Derrick Rose," Tristan Thompson said Tuesday, interjecting that at the end of his answer to an Irving question. "I'm happy for him. I feel like we got a steal. Especially looking at his numbers and how he played last year with the Knicks. They had so much going on, but if you look at his game film and what he was able to do, he can still play at a high level.
"He had one finish on the left side where he kind of scooped it like some Kyrie filet. It was nice. I'm glad he's on our team."
That same day, Kyle Korver saw moves reminiscent of Rose when the three-time All-Star won the 2011 NBA MVP award with the Chicago Bulls.
"He made a couple of moves at the rim and I was like, 'Ah,' I've seen that before,'?" Korver said Tuesday. "Those little shimmies and left-handed scoop shots. It's exciting. I know how hard he's worked. He's been through a lot. This is a great place for him to come back and show who he is."
Since April 28, 2012, Rose has been through a torn ACL in his left knee, two tears of the meniscus in his right knee and a fractured left orbital bone. The torn ACL also cost him the entire 2012-13 season. He played only 10 games in 2013-14 because of the first torn meniscus. The orbital fracture came in his first practice of the 2015-16 season and left him shooting with blurred vision for a while.
Last season he started 64 games for the Knicks, hitting .471 from the field, third-best of his career, but a career-low .217 from 3-point range.
Irving averaged 6.1 3-point attempts per game last season. Rose shoots 3s every day after practice, trying to improve his percentage beyond the arc.
"If he's open, he's got to shoot those shots because he's going to get a lot of open shots in this offense," Lue said Saturday. "But his biggest strength is attacking the basket, getting to the paint. He's one of the best I've seen at doing it. So, he has the freedom just to play. I'm not going to hold him back. Play his game. We want him to be comfortable."
Kevin Love has been competing against Rose since high school, Rose at Simeon Career Academy in Chicago, Love at Lake Oswego (Ore.). Love can see a difference in Rose from the end of his Bulls' career and his one season with the Knicks.
"More than anything he's just playing free and he looks good," Love said Saturday. "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."
The heart of Rose's rejuvenation seems to be that freedom. It could be a result of the mental release that comes from joining a team full of stars, or perhaps from the knowledge of how hard he's worked.
"I was in a dark place years ago, man. By a dark place, I mean, I was playing like revenge basketball and that wasn't my way of playing basketball," Rose said Saturday. "I enjoy competing, but when I came back it was about just trying to get back to the top and proving everybody wrong. 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."
While many at Cavs headquarters are surprised by Rose's performance in practice, he doesn't share that feeling.
"I wouldn't say that, and that's not to be cocky or to brag or boast about it," he said. "I put a lot of hard work into my body and my craft. I know how good I am, no matter what the media say — I'm not talking about you all right here. It's all about being on that stage, believing in myself and going out and doing what I do.
"I've been preparing myself for this situation for a long time. 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."
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