A seriously compromised USA Basketball National Team, combined with Derrick Rose playing and talking as if he never sustained an injury in his life, should make anyone hoping to see Rose return to his MVP form next season nervous.
Why? Because for all of Rose's talk about having learned that he must dial back his instinct to be in attack mode every second he's on the floor, NBA executives watching him perform with the national team say they have seen little change in his approach.
"He didn't back off at all," said one rival Eastern Conference general manager. "He was blasting baseline to baseline the way he always has. And on defense he actually was blocking shots left and right because guys were testing him. He wasn't, in any way, shape or form, favoring his leg or looking as if he'd been hurt."
Added a Western Conference GM: "You'd never know he got hurt."
As impressive as it is that he is showing no signs of tentativeness after missing most of the last two seasons with knee injuries—signs that would be particularly noticeable sharing a floor with the league's best young talents as they battle for roster spots—it means nothing inherent can stop Rose from indulging his same old instincts. Which have been: impose his will or die trying.
When the national team's training camp first opened, Rose promised to be more judicious.
"Of course, I wanted to prove everybody wrong last year," Rose told CBS Sports' Ken Berger of his approach coming off his first injury that led to a second. "I just wanted it too, too bad. And this time around, I just know that I've got to let the game come to me; go out there and just play."
So far, no one is seeing him let the game come to him. "Grab the game by the scruff of the neck and make it do his bidding" is more like it. The possibility that he'd change his approach when this summer's 2014 FIBA World Cup competition begins for real on Aug. 30 is hard to imagine.
The tournament alone might've been worrisome, what with Spain expecting to pose a formidable challenge to the U.S. gold standard. Now, with both Paul George (compound leg fracture) and Kevin Durant (personal reasons) out, the road appears infinitely steeper. There was speculation among several league executives watching the national team train that coach Mike Krzyzewski and program director Jerry Colangelo could opt to go with a super-small roster that features Pelicans forward/center Anthony Davis as the only true conventional big man. One executive said that Rose, Durant and Davis were playing at a different level than everyone else in the camp.
That strategy is most likely out of the question now. Even though there are concerns that highly emotive Kings center DeMarcus Cousins could be goaded into acting out and creating an international incident, the inability to play Durant or George at the 4 leaves Coach K with an extremely limited supply of big men who have the requisite jump shot and ball-handling needed in international play. Brooklyn Nets big man Mason Plumlee, Pistons center Andre Drummond and Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried are not noted for either skill.
Then again, if Spain is the primary worry, then having bodies to match up with the Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, has to be a consideration.
Whoever the big men are on the final 12-man roster, Team USA will win or lose based on its perimeter excellence, particularly when it comes to creating dribble penetration and shooting from long range. The challenge is that Rose is the only capable defensive point guard, what with Stephen Curry, James Harden and Damian Lillard as the other candidates.
Perhaps under other circumstances, the presence of Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as a national team assistant might offer a safeguard for how hard Rose goes and how much he is used, but Thibodeau never has demonstrated the least bit of caution when it comes to using Rose or anyone else.
So who or what stands between Rose and an unbridled attempt to drag Team USA to the top step of the medal ceremony? Only Rose's newly minted conscience, it appears. If actions do indeed speak louder than words, that's not nearly enough. In the scrimmage in which George snapped his leg, Rose did all his damage attacking the rim, no matter who was there to defend it.
Let's face it: Rose will go all out because he can't help it. The Bulls simply have to hope he'll still be able to do the same when it matters for them.
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.
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