Derrick Rose's absence raises question of whether he's the right fit with Knicks

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What's next for Derrick Rose? (Getty Images)
What's next for Derrick Rose? (Getty Images)

NEW YORK – Where’s Derrick?

The first thing you wonder is if Derrick Rose – the Knicks point guard who was AWOL for New York’s 110-96 loss to New Orleans on Monday night – has been found. And he has – at least according to teammate Joakim Noah, who told reporters that he spoke to Rose after the game and said that Rose was OK. Rose sent similar text messages to friends, league sources told The Vertical, though as of the early hours of Tuesday morning his communication with the organization has been minimal.

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Where’s Derrick?

The next thing you wonder is why Rose – a starter and a key cog in the Knicks’ fight for a playoff spot – would abandon his team. Family issue? Personal reasons? It’s been a challenging year for Rose. Traded from Chicago in June, Rose was a defendant in a civil rape trial (he was found not liable) that consumed most of training camp. He has been playing catch-up all season, all while trying to familiarize himself with a new team, new city, new role.

Yet if it was a personal issue, why not say it? Why not tell Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek instead of forcing him to face the media with no answers. Here’s an industry secret about the “personal reasons” absence: Reporters often don’t dig too deep on it. Athletes are human, with real problems that need to be addressed. An isolated, unexplained absence for personal reasons wouldn’t have been met with much inquiry, even in a media-saturated town like New York.

“Right now we don’t have enough information to give you anything,” Hornacek said. “That’s just going to have to wait until we hear something from Derrick himself.”

Rose needs the absence to be for personal reasons, too. It’s the only way he comes back from this. Think Knicks fans will take to a player who quits on a team in the midst of a tailspin? Rose has no equity in New York. He’s a one-year rental whom Knicks loyalists hoped would rebound from an endless string of injury-ravaged seasons to be the backcourt yin to Carmelo Anthony’s frontcourt yang. His numbers have been decent (17.3 points per game), but his defense has been mediocre, his 3-point shooting worse and he’s watched as undrafted free agent Ron Baker played the fourth quarter in a win over Milwaukee on Friday night.

In this case, personal reasons will require an explanation – and a good one. But it’s the only way the door to return opens. Quitting on your team because you are struggling and unhappy with your role – Rose’s relationship with Hornacek has become strained in recent weeks, league sources told The Vertical – is unacceptable. Teammates won’t accept it. Fans, either. Rose would put Knicks president Phil Jackson in a position of either having to suspend him or buy him out.

Speaking of which: Where was Jackson? At Madison Square Garden for the game on Monday – but nowhere to be found after. Information about Rose’s unexcused absence spread through social media quickly. Yet instead of addressing the situation – as many other NBA executives would do – Jackson forced Hornacek to do it. It was Jackson who acquired Rose, and soon after seemed befuddled to learn that the civil trial would cost Rose most of camp. It was his responsibility, not Hornacek’s, to articulate what the team knew about Monday’s situation.

The Knicks play again on Wednesday, in Philadelphia, and no one in the organization knows if Rose will be there. The team frantically searched for Rose on Monday, with some high-level staffers relying on Twitter for information. The organization will likely try to salvage the situation, to prop up Rose and hope he can contribute to the playoff push. Rose may have sabotaged any chance for a future in New York, but with half a season to go, he can still help the Knicks in the present.

Where’s Derrick? Believe me: The Knicks would like to know, too.

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