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'Happiness' the key for rejuvenated Piston Derrick Rose

CHICAGO -- Exactly one year after his career-best, 50-point Halloween explosion in Minnesota, former Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose entered the United Center for Thursday's practice as a member of the Detroit Pistons.

Before hitting the court, he made time to visit the media room for a quick chat with his autobiographer, Sam Smith, then took the court in red, white and blue team gear ahead of Friday's game.

At 31 years old, the NBA's youngest MVP in history says he's back being happy with the game of basketball in Motown.

"I was going through a lot, I was going through injuries, I was dealing with things off the court," said Rose, who reached a two-year, $15 million deal with Detroit this offseason. "It was a lot of circumstances that I was put in and I had to weave through to find the place that I'm in right now, which is what you see the happiness."

In his 2016-17 season with the New York Knicks, Rose was accused of rape in a civil lawsuit, a claim a jury dismissed. That same season, he went missing from the Knicks with a family issue and had a fourth knee surgery. A year later with the Cavaliers, his season was curtailed by ankle injuries, and in 2018-19, he was sidelined by ankle and elbow injuries during a stint with the Timberwolves.

"I've got my family now, I've got three kids, I'm happy with where I'm at right now, the destination I'm at right now and I'm just trying to take everything in and learn every day and be appreciative of where I'm at," he said.

In comparing Rose's stats from his first five games of each season, his 20.4 PPG this season ranks second to only his per-game average to open his 2010-11 MVP campaign, per ESPN Stats & Information research. His 6.2 assists rank third, and his 55 percent field goal percentage and 94.4 percent free throw percentage rank first.

Part of his success is attributed to being healthy. He's also thriving against second units where he gets more open shots. Pistons coach Dwane Casey said it's very difficult to keep him on a minutes restriction -- under 28 per game -- when he's playing so well because of his dynamic talent. But it's certainly necessary to get the most out of his ability, particularly later in the season.

"Our team changes when he's on the floor," Casey said. "We're faster, we're tougher, we're more physical. But there's still only a limited amount of time we can keep him out there so we have to be very disciplined."

Another Chicago legend, Pistons great Isiah Thomas, was there to welcome Rose during Detroit's training camp at Michigan State University before his official debut. Thomas was personally invited by Casey and Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem and was there to offer advice as Rose enters this new chapter of his career, primarily as a high-scoring reserve.

Thomas also attended Detroit's home game Monday against Indiana in which Rose's go-ahead bucket lifted the Pistons past the Pacers 96-94, and will likely be around more, as the team recently announced an official partnership with his Cheurlin Champagne company.

"We just hadn't seen an athletic guard like that with that type of motor, that type of dog, so all of us were excited to watch him, proud of his career, especially when he got to the NBA," Thomas, a two-time NBA champion with Detroit, told ESPN. "And then going to the Bulls, he was living everybody's dream because all of us wanted to play for the hometown, to play in Chicago, get drafted and wear the Bulls uniform. So every time Derrick Rose ran out of the tunnel, I always imagined that he's truly living our dream because that's what he wanted to do. Now that he's here in Detroit, I'm really happy for him.

"I told everybody that Detroit's gonna love him and he's gonna love Detroit."

After constantly being compared to Thomas growing up on Chicago's South Side, Rose sees it as an honor to try to carry on that winning tradition within the organization as someone from the same city. So far, he hasn't had to fall back on Thomas too much, but the NBA Hall of Famer is certainly keeping an eye out on his progress and is there if necessary.

"It's going to be time for that," Rose told ESPN. "I mean, we talk for sure, we communicate, but it's going to be a time and a place for all that but he doesn't have to say much to me. He's the first guy to beat Jordan in his prime, the only guy, to beat him in his prime, prime as a point guard so it means a lot. It shows how much of a leader and how competitive he was.

"I didn't win a championship yet but that's where I'm trying to get to," Rose said. "Being here, I'm going to get as much knowledge from him as possible and see if I can help build here."

Rose's inner circle remains small these days, but his high school coach, Robert Smith of Chicago Simeon Career Academy, is among those who remain in touch regularly.

With Rose off to a good start, his name is back buzzing in Chicago, notably at the barbershops and with the young kids next in line to pursue their professional basketball dreams.

However, Smith sees something different when he looks at Rose nowadays: happiness.

"He's a different dude. He's got his family, his kids and his lady. He don't need all of that extra stuff and I think him having those kids -- it kind of slows you down as a man," Smith said. "As a young kid, fresh out of college after one year and you run into all this money as a kid who never had nothing, you're going to make a whole bunch of mistakes because you're not used to everybody clinging to you and wanting you. But now that he's got his kids and family, you can tell he's different.

"He's a grown man now. Before he was a kid. Now he's grown man with responsibilities," he added. "He grew up to be a man and that's also helping him out a lot, too."