CLEVELAND -- If Derrick Rose's absence from the Cleveland Cavaliers ends with him hanging it up rather than returning to the team, LeBron James says he only hopes that Rose finds peace in his decision.
"We want, whatever he decides to do, we want the best for him," James said following the Cavs' 100-99 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Friday. "At the end of the day, you can't substitute nothing for happiness. And obviously, we know the injuries that he's been going through his whole career. We hope this ain't the end, but if it is, I was happy I got an opportunity to spend a couple months with him and watch him be the great point guard that he once was.
"But at the end of the day, a clearer head, there's no substitute for that. We want the best for Derrick. ... No matter if he comes back, no matter if he doesn't, we want him as an individual, as a man, as a father to be just happy with whatever decision he makes."
League sources told ESPN on Friday that Rose has left the team and is seriously re-evaluating his future in the NBA. There is growing uncertainty inside and outside the franchise about whether he will return to the team, the sources said.
Rose has missed 11 of the Cavs' 18 games this season, including the past seven because of a sprained left ankle. One team source told ESPN of Rose: "He's tired of being hurt, and it's taking a toll on him mentally."
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said he "expects" Rose to return but did not offer up a timetable as to when that would occur.
In 2014, when addressing his unfortunate string of injuries, Rose revealed just how deeply he thinks about the implications of what his body has been through as a professional basketball player.
"I know a lot of people get mad when they see me sit out," Rose said at the time. "But I think a lot of people don't understand that when I sit out, it's not because of this year. I'm thinking about long term. I'm thinking about after I'm done with basketball, having graduations to go to, having meetings to go to.
"I don't want to be in my meetings all sore or be at my son's graduation all sore just because of something I did in the past. Just learning and being smart."
Dwyane Wade said he remembers Rose receiving "flak" for that quote, but he said he empathizes with him.
"I've always understood it," Wade told ESPN before the Hornets game. "Unfortunately, I've had to deal with a lot of injuries so I've always understood what he meant by it, what he was saying. At the end of the day, this game is a small portion of your life. Hopefully this is not going to define you. It's something that you love to do, but if you can't do it the way that you want to do it, then you need to think about not doing it. And whatever decision he decides to make, it's going to be the best decision for D-Rose, and at the end of the day, that's all the matters."
James, however, said the only person who can truly know what Rose is going through is Rose himself.
"I don't get it. How can I get it? None of us can get what he's going through," James said. "It's impossible. He's his own man. I cannot get what he's going through."
James then referenced a quote from Theodore Roosevelt's "Citizen in a Republic" speech delivered in Paris, France, in 1910. The speech includes a passage referred to as "The Man in the Arena," which states in part, "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood."
James said it's his favorite quote, pointing out that it's printed out on a piece of paper that is taped up in his locker.
"Anybody can sit on the outside of the arena and criticize the man in the arena that's given his blood, sweat and tears," James said, discussing the lessons of the speech. "But until you walk in the face of the line of battle, or adversity or whatever the case may be, you don't understand. So, I understand as a professional athlete, but I don't understand, I can never understand what he's going through because I've, it's his life, I've been with him two months and I can never understand that, but what I do understand is I want him to be happy. Like I said, there's no substitution for that, but the man in the arena. For everybody who always think they got the answer to every damn thing."
If Wade's story can serve as any sort of example, there is still a chance that Rose can get through this period of uncertainty and go on to be a productive player once again.
"It's hard when you're dealing with injuries after injuries after injuries -- it takes a toll on you mentally," Wade said. "This game brings so much joy to guys, and it brings the opposite as well. It will take you to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. If you're not mentally where you need to be, it affects you with your family, it affects you in your day to day. You're just hurting. When you're hurting you're frustrated and sometimes you think about walking away from the game.
"I definitely thought about it. I'm glad I didn't. That was almost four years ago. I'm glad I didn't because I'm still able to enjoy the game. But it definitely was a for real moment for me to think about it because I was hurting every time I made a move. No one wants to live like that."