NEW YORK — Derrick Rose aims to play in the U.S. National Team’s exhibition against Puerto Rico on Friday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2). After four days off, he took part in Thursday’s practice and said he could have played Wednesday against the Dominican Republic.
“But there is no point when you can get a little more rest,” Rose said. “That is all I tried to do.”
Rose is doing the right thing for him, the Chicago Bulls, and for the chances of him playing his best basketball come April, May and June. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
It’s also good for Rose that he’s here with USA Basketball, with his NBA coach — Tom Thibodeau — alongside him. His time with the National Team is an opportunity to knock off some rust, get his body used to playing again, and build his basketball endurance.
The U.S. has always done whatever it takes not to push its players too hard. There’s a reason this team only plays four exhibition games, while some other national teams play more than 10.
Hang Time general manager Sekou Smith wrote Thursday about Rose’s decision. But really, Rose’s decision is easy. He should stick with this team as long they have a uniform for him and play as much as he thinks he can.
The real decision lies more with USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo, coach Mike Krzyzewski, and the rest of their staff (which includes Thibodeau). They need to figure out how well Rose’s timeline, in terms of rest and recovery, aligns with theirs, in terms of playing nine games in 16 days once the FIBA World Cup begins on Aug. 30.
The U.S. certainly doesn’t need Rose to play every game. They will cruise through pool play (in what may be the weakest group of the four) no matter who they put on the floor and likely won’t be challenged until the quarterfinals or semifinals. They have Kyrie Irving to start at point guard in Rose’s place, as well as Stephen Curry, who can play both the one and the two.
But do they have Damian Lillard as well? Let’s assume that the following players are on the 12-man roster for the World Cup…
- Stephen Curry
- Anthony Davis
- Kenneth Faried
- James Harden
- Kyrie Irving
- Klay Thompson
- Rudy Gay
- Kyle Korver
- Chandler Parsons
- Mason Plumlee
Nos. 1-6 above are absolute locks to make the team, while 7-10 are in the eye of the beholder. Rudy Gay and Chandler Parsons seem like necessary stretch-four options (because Faried can’t shoot), but if you want to replace Korver with DeMar DeRozan (scoring over shooting) or Plumlee with DeMarcus Cousins (talent over fit), you have an argument. Everybody has made some sort of impression over the last few weeks and we’ll find out soon enough who the staff thinks are the best fits alongside their core guys.
But there are just two more roster spots left. If one of those two goes to Rose, do you now have to bring Lillard along as insurance?
Rose has said that this week’s rest days were to prepare for the long schedule ahead. But if he’s taking four days off after the first exhibition game, how many of the USA’s five pool-play games (in six days) can he be expected to play in? And can he be counted on to play in the quarterfinals on Sept. 9, the semifinals on Sept. 11 and the gold medal game on Sept. 14?
These are the questions that Colangelo and Krzyzewski have to start asking themselves in the next 24 hours. They plan on reducing the roster from 16 (to 12 or 13 or 14) on Saturday morning, before the team flies to the Canary Islands for their next phase of training.
“If I can play,” Rose said Thursday, “I am going to play no matter how many games there are. If I am healthy enough to play, I will play. I am not worried about that. With all the training I have been doing in the past, I am prepared for it. Right now I have been getting my legs under me more. Yesterday we were winning by 30 or 40, so there was no need. No disrespect to the other team.”
Rose may want to play as much as possible, but there were two “ifs” in that quote. And unless there’s no doubt about his ability to play a certain amount of games (seven?) at the World Cup, Lillard would need to be on the roster.
If Rose and Lillard are added to the list of 10 above, the team loses the ability to bring an extra big man (the second of the Cousins/Plumlee duo). And the U.S. probably isn’t be willing to do that.
One of those two (Cousins or Plumlee) will back up Anthony Davis, who, unfortunately, can’t play 40 minutes a game. But neither of those guys gives the U.S. everything it needs in a big man. Plumlee runs the floor, plays active defense, sets screens, and finishes at the rim … but can’t shoot outside of three feet and is a liability at the free throw line. Cousins has the offensive talent and has been the team’s best rebounder … but isn’t nearly as active or quick as Davis or Plumlee.
NBA TV’s Matt Winer asked Colangelo about the bigs during the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s rout. Colangelo said that he’s looking for “depth” and “insurance” out of that group.
“It would be nice for Coach to be able to look down [the bench],” Colangelo said, “and see two or three bigs sitting there, just in case.”
That sure sounds like the team would prefer to have both Cousins and Plumlee on the roster. Does that mean they have to sacrifice a wing (Korver or Parsons) or make a decision between Lillard and Rose?
This isn’t about fear or concern regarding Rose’s knees. He said after Wednesday’s game that the rest had nothing to do with them, but rather “just body fatigue.” There’s no reason not to believe him.
It’s about his timeline. At some point between now and next Friday (when the final World Cup roster needs to be submitted), he and the staff need to have a discussion about how much rest he’s going to need over the next few weeks and how well that aligns with the team’s schedule.
Friday’s game and how Rose feels on Saturday will help provide an answer to that question. But until there’s absolute certainty about where Rose stands on his way back to being a full-time point guard, Lillard needs to stick around as insurance.
Expect at least 13 players to be on the plane to the Canary Islands on Saturday, and for the U.S. staff to take its time making a final roster decision. That decision should come down to how much they can expect Rose to play in Spain.