TORONTO -- Derrick Rose has changed.
Not his game. His perspective.
"Yeah, just letting me know what's real," Rose said Thursday, in the wake of comments he made about his health and future. "As long as I'm being myself and inspiring people the way that I am and touching people the way that I am, that's all I can do, caring about myself and just being positive."
The aura of invincibility that defined Rose's game earlier in his career is gone, too. That's not to say he can't be the same player he once was, or close to it, after the injuries, the surgeries, and the ups and downs of 2 1/2 years worth of rehab. But Rose has begun thinking and openly discussing his future, in basketball and after his career is over, more than ever before.
Before the injuries, Rose always wanted to be on the floor. He played through nagging pain because he wanted to prove he was the best. He played with no fear. More importantly, he didn't allow fear to cloud his thoughts. There was no talk about the future, only the next game, the next challenge.
When he came back last season and his right knee gave out after 10 games, all those doubts and insecurities came to the forefront again. All the hard work he put in to get himself back on the floor went out the window. But as Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau pointed out again Thursday, there are three aspects to Rose's latest return: mental, physical and emotional.
Which leads us back to the former MVP's recent comments.
Could Rose have been more eloquent in choosing his words earlier this week? Yes. He's in the third year of a max contract from the Bulls that will pay him almost $100 million in total. The shoe deal he has with Adidas is worth more than $200 million. The average person can't comprehend that kind of money, or the idea that a 26-year-old wouldn't want to play through the soreness of a couple of sprained ankles after missing so much time the past two seasons.
But Rose doesn't seem to care nearly as much about the public's reaction to his decisions like he once did. He knows he has to make decisions that are best for his long-term health, not for any kind of short-term gain. Most of all, Rose knows better than almost anyone that his basketball life is short.
That doesn't make him much different than his teammates, who know how much risk is involved in what they do, and they have stood solidly behind Rose for the past 2 1/2 years because they see all the work he puts in behind the scenes. They are willing to continue to be patient with Rose as he makes his way back because they know they can't win a championship without him.
Privately, several teammates and Bulls personnel blamed the media partially for the uproar caused by Rose's comments. Even if Rose was the one who turned an innocuous question into a national story, the organization is looking to move forward. Bulls center Joakim Noah stood up for Rose on Thursday after their 100-93 victory over the Toronto Raptors.
"This is not a one-man team," Noah said. "But at the end of the day we need him, we need him and I don't want to see him down. I know sometimes it's frustrating, you've got injuries, you've got tweaks. Every time something happens to him people act like it's the end of the world and that's f---ing so lame to me. Relax. He's coming back from two crazy surgeries, obviously we're being conservative with him, and when things aren't going right, he's got to listen to his body more than anybody. So everybody needs to chill the f--- out."
So just how much has Rose changed since that first knee injury? Everybody seems to have an opinion, but those directly involved seem to agree that things are different.
"I think all players should change each year," Thibodeau said before Thursday's game. "You should grow with each year of experience, so you never want to stay the same. So I think he's had to deal with a lot of adversity, you have to learn how to get past that. I think it's all part of being a pro. I think most guys at some time or another during their career, they're going to get hit with something that they have to get past.
"Unfortunately for him, it was two consecutive injuries, two consecutive years. I think for him the only way to approach it is the way he has approached it. You have to look at it really as seeds of growth. How do you get past it? Keep grinding away. He's got to shake a lot of rust off. When you're out that long, basically it's been three years, that's a long time in pro sports."
But even as Rose continues to look more like the same player physically, Bulls' personnel understand that might be the easiest step in the process. The mental part of the game, especially after the temporary setbacks he's already suffered this season, scares the Bulls more than anything else because of the uncertainty of it all.
In the short-term, Rose is just trying to stay positive after his latest setback this season, a hamstring injury suffered Thursday night.
"This is going to happen," Rose said of the setbacks. "Talking to a lot of people that had surgeries, my agent [B.J. Armstrong] had five or six surgeries. It's just going to happen, especially when you miss two years ... [I'm] just trying to do everything right. Eat right, hydrate right, stretch right, work on my flexibility, just trying to put everything on my side so at the end of the day I'm just trying to get better."
But that's the biggest quandary for Bulls management moving forward. Even if he does everything right in his rehab, will all these setbacks take too much of an emotional toll? Rose may physically regain his form, but that mindset has changed, and it doesn't seem as if it will ever be the same.
Does that mean Rose was wrong for being honest about his future?
No. It means he's human.