It is quite possible that Derrick Rose may have no significant impact on the history of the Knicks as a player. He could struggle through another injury-riddled season. He could show an inability to ever find that magificent acceleration and rim-running wrecklessness that he displayed in his MVP season in 2011.
But the move Phil Jackson and Steve Mills made on Wednesday to acquire Rose, reserve guard Justin Holiday and a 2017 second-round pick from the Chicago Bulls for Jerian Grant, Jose Calderon and Robin Lopez still could resonate as a shrewd move.
Rose, who turns 28 when the new season opens, has one year left on his contract. The Bulls were motivated to trade him for two reasons: 1) Jimmy Butler had emerged as the lead guard, 2) Rose was headed to unrestricted free agency and they had no intention on re-signing him.
That second point is what made him attractive to the Knicks.
Despite his injury history, which limited Rose to just 166 regular season games in the last four seasons (including sitting out the entire 2012-13 season), Rose is still a significant upgrade at the point guard position.
“Derrick is one of the top point guards in the NBA who is playoff-battle-tested,” new coach Jeff Hornacek said. “He adds a whole new dynamic to our roster and immediately elevates our backcourt.”
That much is true, but with an asterisk.
Last season he appeared in 66 games, which is the most he’s played since the 81 games from his MVP season in 2010-11. He averaged 16.4 points and 4.7 assists in 31 minutes per game while the Bulls struggled in a coaching transition from Tom Thibodeau to Fred Hoiberg.
Rose’s game could fit in the type of offense Hornacek wants to employ. While it will be Triangle-based, Hornacek has said he wants to push the ball more in transition and get easy offense. Rose can attract defenses, which should open the floor for Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, but that will be something to monitor. Can Rose even come close to his MVP form? Realistically, he just has to be decent.
Rose will be playing for a new contract and, therefore, should have added motivation going into this season. That should benefit the Knicks, who still have about $30 million in salary cap space to add other pieces to a lineup that includes Rose, Anthony and Porzingis.
Losing Lopez will hurt, because he became a very reliable, durable center at an afforable cost. He now has to be replaced. Grant had potential, but it seemed like he was a square peg trying to fit into a Triangle hole.
With the new need to find size, expect the Knicks to stay in Chicago when it comes to their focus on free agency, as Joakim Noah, a terrific passer, rebounder and defender, is considered a logical fit in the Triangle. Pau Gasol also has a relationship with Jackson from their Laker days.
The Knicks will also need shooting and bench scoring. There’s still a lot left to be done, but as one very established and respected NBA veteran told me after the trade, the addition of Rose absolutely does change the outlook on the Knicks as players in free agency.
And here’s where the deal really shows it’s potential. Rose’s presence is an attention-grabber for free agents this summer. So perhaps it gets you a dinner with Kevin Durant in Los Angeles on July 1, but it likely isn’t enough to get him to sign on the dotted line.
Still, the alternative was to try and sign Mike Conley to a four-year max. The options significantly decline after that if Conley decides not to take the offer.
So you get Rose for a year. Let’s say he does get hurt and doesn’t play well. The beauty of this trade is that you let him walk and his contract comes off the books and you are now looking at the potential of another $40 million of cap space in 2017.
That’s when Russell Westbrook will be a free agent.
So in conclusion, what Jackson and Mills did here was upgrade the most important position, improve the potential of their roster and yet maintain flexibility for next summer.