Derrick Rose wants to come back to the Knicks, and might take a pay cut to do it

Derrick Rose’s career is in transition. (AP)

In just a couple of weeks, Derrick Rose will enter unrestricted free agency. After being drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 2008, re-upping on a max extension of his rookie deal in 2011, and being traded to the New York Knicks before the start of the 2016-17 season, the former NBA Most Valuable Player is about to get the right to determine where he’d like to play for the first time ever … and, according to his agent, he doesn’t want to go anywhere.

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From Yaron Weitzman of Bleacher Report:

“Derrick loves New York and wants to be there,” Rose’s agent, B.J. Armstrong, told Bleacher Report recently. “We’ve expressed that to them and been very consistent about it. Whether it happens is on them; all we can do is be clear.”

Armstrong said Rose, who underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee in April, is healthy and working out. He also insinuated that Rose would be willing to take a pay cut (he made $21.3 million last year).

“In the end, we want to explore everything—if you’re going to compete, you clearly need a number of [top] players, so let’s figure that out,” Armstrong said. “We want the best team possible. That’s it. All the other stuff, if the team wins, everyone wins.”

The suggestion that Rose might be amenable to a pay cut represents a fairly significant shift from the midseason messaging that saw friends of Rose say he would seek a maximum contract this summer. Those reported rumblings, as you might remember, came in January, just after Rose returned to the Knicks following an unexcused absence that raised questions about his future in the Big Apple.

As the season wore on and the Knicks grew more and more dire, the likelihood that Rose would be long for Madison Square Garden seemed to wane. After the All-Star break, Jeff Hornacek’s team began re-emphasizing team president Phil Jackson’s preferred triangle offense, which wasn’t exactly music to the ears of the pick-and-roll-conversant point guard:

Derrick Rose has a philosophy now with the triangle, a system still like a foreign language to the point guard: “Don’t F’ it up.” […]

Let’s just say, Rose remains reluctant in his embrace of Phil Jackson’s system.

“S–t, do I have a choice? Do I have a choice?” Rose said when asked if he’s warming up to the triangle. “I just want to win games. Winning takes care of every category for an athlete.”

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Soon after, Rose went down with a torn meniscus in his left knee, sidelining him for the remainder of the season and necessitating his fourth major knee surgery since 2012. The team left the door to a Rose return ever so slightly ajar, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post:

“We haven’t discussed that,’’ Hornacek said […]. “Derrick did a lot of good things for us this year, with the way he can break down the defense. As the season went on, he got more comfortable with the offense. It’s unfortunate he has to have another surgery. I’m sure he’ll come back strong from it. He worked hard last year in the summer to get his body in good shape. I’m sure he’ll do that again. We’ll take a look at it and see if we can bring him back.’’

During a visit to United Center to watch the Bulls take on the Boston Celtics in the opening round of the 2017 postseason, Rose struck a noncommittal note in a brief chat with K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

“I’m going into it with an open mind and will listen to everyone,” Rose said. “Last season sucked losing. But it was a great experience. I loved the guys that I played with and I loved the coaching staff. And who wouldn’t like playing in New York? It was great.”

And yet, according to Jackson, Rose had “expressed [to the Knicks] that he wants to be back,” according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

“We talked about him going through rehab and work and whatever he has to do. And he’s chosen to go back to Chicago to do that. He’ll also be in L.A. but he also took the time out to say he really he enjoyed playing here even with the losses, which of course surprises us because he’s been on some very successful teams but he wants to redeem himself as a player. Which I like that attitude. I like who Derrick represents as himself. He’s very direct about taking on a big challenge.”

OK, so: Rose was uncomfortable in the Knicks’ offense, thought all the losing they did last year sucked, and has clearly expressed both himself and through his agent that all he wants to do is be involved with “the best team possible.” But he also liked playing in New York, enjoyed playing through the losses and wants to be in New York, even though the Knicks are coming off a very disappointing 31-51 season to continue a string of four straight sub-.500, postseason-free campaigns, and would be willing to take a pay cut (and, in all likelihood, a role reduction) to do it?

I’m not sure anything about that makes perfect sense. Which, I suppose, is pretty much par for the course for both Derrick Rose and the Knicks circa June 2017.

Rose’s counting stats (18 points, 4.4 assists, 3.8 rebounds in 32.5 minutes per game in 66 starts, 47.1 percent shooting from the field and an 87.4 percent mark from the free-throw line) during his lone (first?) season in New York were his best since he suffered his first knee injury during the 2012 NBA playoffs. His ability to beat defenders on the perimeter and penetrate into the paint mattered for New York’s offense; the Knicks scored 5.5 more points per 100 possessions with Rose on the floor than off it last year. On that end, he was legitimately helpful.

The problem: his often disinterested and disconnected defense, both on the ball and as a helper, tended to give back nearly as many buckets as he helped create. With Rose off the court, the Knicks allowed 106.1 points per 100 possessions, the same number the Charlotte Hornets gave up for the full season. With him on the court, New York hemorrhaged points to the tune of 111.1 points-per-100, even worse than the Los Angeles Lakers. Without Rose, the Knicks defended like a middle-of-the-pack NBA team; with him, they performed like far and away the worst defense in the league. That inability to generate stops, more than any offensive geometry, has been the Knicks’ biggest problem for the past decade and a half.

The questions:

• If you’re Jackson, what kind of pay cut would you need Rose to take to make bringing back his triangle-averse, defense-optional, fresh-off-another-knee-surgery game palatable, even if only on a short-term deal while you groom a point guard prospect plucked with the No. 8 overall pick in next week’s 2017 NBA draft? (The Knicks have long been rumored to have their eyes on French prospect Frank Ntilikina, a rangy defender with a solid shooting stroke who seems like a sound fit for the triangle.)

• If you’re Rose, how much of a haircut are you willing to take to stay in the city you want to be in, prove you can stay healthy for more than 65 games at a time, and prove you’re capable of even bigger things on the court in pursuit of one more lucrative long-term deal as you enter your 30s? Or, as posited by Alex Wolfe of Posting and Toasting, is trying to get something cooking with the Knicks just Armstrong’s way of trying to generate more interest in his client elsewhere?

We’ll have to wait a few more weeks to get some answers, but Rose’s representative appears to be making his client’s intentions plain, and putting the ball back in Phil’s court. Knicks fans can only wait with bated breath to find out what he does with it. (Personally, I’m hoping for a baseline hook shot. It’s been too long, Zen Master.)

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!