Derrick Rose is returning to the Cavaliers, but what happens next?

What direction is Derrick Rose’s career heading on the Cleveland Cavaliers? (AP)

Last we heard from Derrick Rose, the Cleveland Cavaliers point guard was “evaluating his future” due to a seemingly never-ending string of injuries that derailed the former NBA MVP’s career. Rose left the team late last month amid reports the left ankle injury he suffered on Nov. 7 could keep him sidelined into early December, but that return date has remained in serious question given his mental state.

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For now, at least, Rose has put an end to questions about whether a three-time All-Star once thought to be a future Hall of Fame lock would really enter into early retirement at the age of 29, reportedly rejoining the Cavaliers at the practice facility on Monday to continue rehabilitating his left ankle.

“This has been a very challenging and difficult time for Derrick,” Cavs general manager Koby Altman said in a statement announcing Rose’s return to the team. “We will continue to provide him with support and have patience as he re-joins his teammates and works his way back on to the court.”

Cleveland offered no official timetable for Rose’s return, suggesting his status would be updated “as appropriate when he reaches the point of returning to play.” But should he ever reach that point?

The Cavaliers are a different team than the one Rose last played for in early November. They owned a 5-6 record and the league’s worst defense at the time of his ankle injury. Questions abound, from a general lack of effort to massive early deficits, team meetings and finger-pointing, and the NBA world was wondering if this was finally the year that LeBron James’ reign atop the East was in jeopardy.

The Cavs lost their next game following Rose’s injury, but since then they’ve won 11 straight over a three-week stretch in which they’ve produced a near-top-10 defensive rating. Cleveland has been 18.4 points per 100 possessions better without Rose on the court than they were with him in the lineup, despite starting the likes of Iman Shumpert (now also injured) and Jose Calderon in Rose’s stead.

This has been a common theme among teams employing Rose after the knee injuries that cost him 212 games combined over the four seasons following his campaign as the youngest MVP ever in 2010-11.

Now, just as the Cavaliers are starting to look like the team that’s been to three straight NBA Finals, they must figure out how to incorporate Rose back into a team that’s found its rhythm with another veteran starting at the point and Dwyane Wade running the second unit to great success.

Not only that, but the injured Isaiah Thomas is reportedly nearing a return later this month, adding one more point guard to the mix. The Rose-Wade combination never made sense, given both players’ inability to shoot and their need to handle the ball in order to wield much influence at this point. If Thomas returns, Wade is the better option to lead the second unit and even Calderon is a superior net positive, the question becomes whether the Cavs should even welcome Rose back into the fold.

Rose accepted a veteran minimum salary in Cleveland this season and planned to improve his stock in  2018 free agency, but his absence from the Cavaliers reportedly marked the second straight season he’s left his team and contemplated retirement. The hope is that his most recent departure gave him enough time to restore his physical and mental well-being for the long run. The fear is far worse.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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