Timberwolves Twitter was sent scurrying for question marks and thinking emojis Monday night when ESPN dropped a report that the Wolves had reached out to the Knicks about a potential deal for Derrick Rose as Thursday’s trade deadline approaches.
There are so many things to unpack here — so many obvious connections and questions, yet also some potential motivations that might not be as plain.
First, of course, Rose played for Wolves coach/President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau in Chicago, winning the MVP award in 2010-11 — Thibodeau’s first season with the Bulls, when they went 62-20. Rose was almost as good the following season, when Chicago went 50-16. Ah, but that postseason he tore his ACL. And things have never quite been the same.
In the past five seasons counting this one — four with the Bulls and now this year with the Knicks — Rose has played just 175 games, averaging 17.1 points and 4.7 assists on 42.5 percent shooting. At age 28, he’s not old. But those last five years suggest he’s hardly a cornerstone player. He’s a useful player when healthy.
So why on earth would the Wolves want him? Well, here are three possible motivations:
1) Thibodeau is convinced that Rose — whose knees appear to be OK even as he has missed some time this season with other minor injuries — can return to something much closer to his old form. That would be a pretty big gamble given Rose’s injury history and the last several seasons of evidence, but this is a player Thibodeau knows inside and out.
2) Thibodeau and the Wolves might be just that eager to move on from Ricky Rubio — the likely piece going back to the Knicks in return for Rose given they play the same position and Rubio has been the subject of trade rumors — that they would essentially get rid of him in a salary dump. Rose is making $21.3 million this year, but his contract expires after this season. Rubio has two more seasons left after this one, at a total of about $29 million. If Thibodeau is sold on Kris Dunn as the point guard of the future, he might want to use that cap room on other positions.
3) Thibodeau sees some comparisons between Dunn and Rose but knows Dunn isn’t ready to take over as the full-time point guard yet. He wants to bring in Rose to both see what the Wolves offense would look like with a score-first point guard who knows his system and also to serve as a guidepost for Dunn (even if it was just for a couple of months) before turning it over to Dunn next year.
If you’ve followed reports in the past year either directly linking or at least rumoring interest between Thibodeau and several other former Bulls either via free agency or trade (Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson among them), you might be inclined to think the first option would be the motivation for any pursuit of Rose.
It seems more likely, though, that it is something more like a combination of Nos. 2 and 3 that would motivate such a deal. If this season has shown anything about Thibodeau, it’s that he is working a long-term plan here. He also goes out of his way to praise Dunn. If he could free up cap space while also getting a look at how the Wolves might operate when Dunn is fully up to speed by renting Rose for two months, the coach might be happy.
Rubio going to the dysfunctional Knicks would be sad, but he would be in a big market with a fresh start. Maybe the trade could be win-win, even if it’s not for the obvious reasons.