The Cavaliers don't have many options, so they turned to a diminishing former MVP.
The Cleveland Cavaliers signed guard Derrick Rose to a one-year deal Monday, according to multiple reports. Hamstrung by massive salary commitments, the Cavs’ signing of Rose is the latest in what can charitably be described as a difficult off-season for the defending Eastern Conference champs.
At this point in his career, Rose is best served coming off the bench and playing brief stretches against other backups. Rose had a mildly resurgent year with the Knicks last season, but he still struggles to shoot from outside, he doesn’t really scare people in the paint, his defense is a minus and he’s not enough of a natural playmaker to justify putting the ball in his hands. Simply put, everything about Rose’s game wouldn’t seem to mesh well with LeBron James’s.
The Cavs are at their best when LeBron is surrounded by shooters, preferably ones who can also guard their own position. Rose is neither at this point in his career. Sure, he’s probably a slight upgrade over Deron Williams, though that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. Rose, who will turn 29 by the start of the season, was also reportedly looking for a max contract before hitting free agency, which isn’t a promising sign as to how highly he values his own diminishing game.
Rose can offer some value as a microwavey scorer, provided Cleveland is willing to let him hijack the offense and launch midrange shots. Asking Rose to defend top point guards in pick-and-rolls will quickly become a problem however, which is no small issue for a Cavs team that was a sieve on the defensive end for much of last season. Rose isn’t quite useless, but it’s hard to imagine a proud, former MVP on the minus-side of 30 accepting the role he probably deserves.
The elephant in the room, of course, is Kyrie Irving’s status in Cleveland. If Irving is moved and Rose takes over as the starter, the Cavs will feel the effects immediately. Rose is nowhere near the offensive threat Irving is in 2017, and his lack of shooting will cramp the floor while Cleveland will also miss Irving’s creative finishes at the rim. The Cavs would likely still be contenders to make the Finals in the event of a Rose-for-Irving swap. That says more about the East and LeBron’s greatness than anything else.
So why would the Cavs sign Rose? Cleveland doesn’t have many options. They are capped out and extremely old. The Cavs can offer players the tax-payer mid-level exception, but that’s either not enough for an impact player, or too precious of a bullet to waste on someone who won’t be a sure thing. Otherwise, Cleveland is stuck handing out minimum contracts to creaky vets who can hopefully recapture some of their previous glory by orbiting around LeBron.
For now, the Rose signing is neither an awful move or a particularly impactful one. But if Rose is asked to fill Kyrie Irving’s shoes—the Cavs’ opening day point guards are Rose and Jose Calderon—LeBron’s Finals streak could be in serious trouble for the first time in years.