MINNEAPOLIS – There was a level of angst expressed by the Timberwolves faithful on Thursday morning when the inevitable finally happened and Derrick Rose signed for the remainder of the season with Minnesota.
Rose to the Wolves speculation had started the moment the point guard was traded by Cleveland to Utah last month. It was no secret the Jazz were going to waive the oft-injured Rose and it also was no secret that Wolves basketball boss and coach Tom Thibodeau, who had coached Rose during his MVP season with the Chicago Bulls in 2011, would pounce on the opportunity for a reunion.
In his second season with the Wolves, Thibodeau has established two things about himself. One, he’s a basketball junkie who seems to consider the rest of life to be somewhat of a nuisance. Two, he is predictable in his personnel moves and if he has an opportunity to add a favorite from his Bulls days he is going to do it.
That is why former Bulls Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler, and now Rose, are on the Wolves roster, although no one is complaining about what Butler brought to the team before suffering a knee injury on Feb. 23 that is expected to sideline him for the remainder of the regular season. Gibson also has been a positive addition.
This is also why the names of former Bulls Luol Deng and Joakim Noah have been tied to the Wolves since Thibodeau arrived.
“It was huge, for sure,” Rose said when asked about how much his previous relationships influenced his decision to join the Wolves. “Especially when Thibs got the job, for one. And you throw in Taj, Jimmy and the coaching staff. I’ve been knowing them and been in battle with them for years. So it’s comfortable. I’m very comfortable here. Usually when I’m comfortable, I play well.”
Rose’s arrival will make Thibodeau comfortable as well. Players like Gibson, Butler, Rose, Deng and Noah are Thibodeau’s security blankets and right now he needs to feel a sense of security.
With Butler out, the Wolves have gone from looking like a sure playoff team to one that has lost its swagger and now dropped three in a row after losing to Boston, 117-109, on Thursday at Target Center. Minnesota is only two games from falling out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Celtics game was the third in a difficult eight-game stretch that still includes Golden State, Washington, San Antonio, Houston and the Clippers.
What remains to be seen is how much Thibodeau will rely on Rose. Rose, who did not play on Thursday, was used sparingly by Cleveland this season and at one point left the team for two weeks because of personal issues. After spending last season with the Knicks, Rose averaged a career-low 9.8 points and 1.6 assists per game before being jettisoned by the Cavs. Rose, of course, has long dealt with knee issues that turned him into a journeyman.
Jeff Teague, the Wolves’ starting point guard, is in the first season of a three-year, $57 million contract and Tyus Jones has settled into the backup role and appears to be improving.
So how much will Rose disrupt Teague and Jones’ playing time? That’s the unknown when it comes to Thibodeau, who is well aware of Rose’s injury problems but has never been shy about playing guys for extended minutes.
“The only thing I’m missing now is the opportunity,” Rose said. “Talking to Thibs, he sounds like he’s going to give me the opportunity, so it’s all about learning the guys and fitting in at the right time.”
It’s fair to wonder how much Rose can help a team that had only 15 games remaining after Thursday. Rose’s teams have had better results with him on the bench than in the game in each of the past three seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The 2015-16 Chicago Bulls had a minus-4.2 net efficiency with Rose on the floor and were plus-1.9 when he was on the bench. Last season, the Knicks were minus-3.9 with Rose and plus-0.2 without him and Cleveland was minus-5.3 with Rose and minus-1.6 without him.
“We just thought he could help the team,” Thibodeau told reporters Thursday morning. “That’s what our expectations are: come in, be a good teammate, try to help us win. … He’s been around. He’s been in a lot of games. I think he’s seen a lot of different things, he’s familiar with what we’re doing, he’s played with some of the guys we have. So that’s a plus.”
Actually, it remains to be seen whether adding Rose will be a plus at all.