MILWAUKEE — Mention the word and the Zen-like calm of Derrick Rose will turn sour, bristling at the notion that his play now, at 33 years old and 14 seasons in the NBA, is showing signs of "Vintage Rose."
He is 11 seasons and a countless procession of injuries removed from the 2010-11 season when he became the youngest Most Valuable Player in NBA history at 22 years old. And it is not that he is showing signs of the awe-inspiring athleticism that earned him those honors that make even his teammates argue the point. It’s that they believe he is a better player now.
"Look at the tape," Julius Randle said after Rose’s season-high 23 points off the bench spurred a comeback from a 21-point deficit to beat the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks Friday. "It’s not really vintage. Look at the tape. who he was as MVP and who he is now. I would say he’s a much more complete better player than he was then. It’s nothing really vintage about it. It’s evolved and [he’s] become a much better player — understanding of the game, clear mindset, He’s extremely wise, so it’s not really vintage. He’s evolving."
Rose may resist the label and deservedly so because he has added to his game over the years. Consider that he had 16 three-point field goals in 81 games as a rookie and already has 15 in nine games this season. But he also has displayed the bursts of speed to the rim that marked the early part of his career.
"Yeah, I mean, what’s vintage about it?" Rose said. "I wasn’t pulling up for shots like I am now, but if you want to say it, you can say it, though. It’s whatever."
That is about as emotional as Rose will get over it, or maybe anything. He hasn’t just matured as a player, but as a person, after years of ups and downs battling injuries. His first, brief tenure in New York nearly ended his career as he went MIA one day, returning home to Chicago and considering retirement.
But reunited with his long-time coach Tom Thibodeau and on a winning team with a cast that supports him, removes the pressure of MVP performances every night.
"I think this is the clearest — I’m playing with joy. I’ll say that," Rose said. "It ain’t happiness. It’s joy, you know. I’ve been through a lot. I’m in a great place. And I’m on a team, a very talented team. I don’t have to score. It’s not on me every night to score 30 points, so I don’t have a burden on me like that. I can go out there and play the game and try to affect the game by passing or just pushing the ball. So, I’m in a great place."
The happiness may have come once, but the joy is evident now.
"I feel like happiness is temporary," Rose added. "And joyfulness is everlasting."