PHILADELPHIA — Derrick Rose’s job description changed in early December, from on-court contributor to mentor, and it appears it will continue that way after the Knicks held onto the veteran point guard beyond Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
Starting on Dec. 4, when coach Tom Thibodeau cut his rotation down to nine and replaced Rose with second-year guard Miles McBride, the former MVP has appeared in just five games, once in Chicago as a homecoming cameo and four other times when the Knicks were shorthanded due to injury. But they believe his presence alone provides value for the team’s many young players.
“Hey, look, I always want what’s best for him. And I know he’s made a lot of sacrifices for the team,” Thibodeau said after practice at Temple University, a few hours before the deadline came and went. “But I think it’s great for us to have him — and not just with our point guards. He’s been a great mentor to Jalen [Brunson], but also to [McBride] and [Immanuel Quickley]. But I think all the young players on our team — he’s just such a great teammate and he’s been through so many things, has a great understanding of the NBA. … So, I’m hopeful that he’s here. I like to have him around me because he has a very positive impact on our group.”
In December, the 34-year-old Rose said he wanted to remain a Knick even if he wasn’t contributing on the court, in part because he liked to be part of winning, and the Knicks are 20-13 since he went to the bench. He has a club option worth $15.6 million for next year, which the Knicks could use this offseason if they make a trade to match salaries.
Rose was one of three Knicks, along with Obi Toppin and Evan Fournier, who remained despite limited or infrequent playing time. Cam Reddish, benched like the others the past few months, was included in the Josh Hart trade with Portland.
Toppin, the first draft pick (eighth overall) of the Leon Rose era and a fan favorite, has yet to live up to his lottery billing. The 6-foot-9 forward has improved his 3-point shooting, up to a career-best 36.5 percent, but he has regressed in other areas after a step forward a year ago and is averaging just 15.1 minutes per game as Julius Randle’s backup. He is eligible for a contract extension this summer, after the Knicks held onto him despite reported trade discussions with multiple teams. Without an extension, Toppin would become a free agent in 2024.
Then there is Fournier, who scored a season-high 17 points in a recent win over the 76ers but has been out of the regular rotation since Nov. 13. After that performance, the sharpshooting but defensively challenged wing expressed the natural desire to play more, preferably with the Knicks or somewhere else, but stopped well short of publicly asking to be traded. His contract isn’t an easy one to move, since he is owed $18.9 million next year, and the team has been said to be unwilling to attach assets to find a taker for the Frenchman.