MINNEAPOLIS -- Derrick Rose's words were jarring in their honesty. After years of playing the role of superstar, the former MVP has no illusions about his current standing in the league after dealing with a slew of various injuries.
After years of serving as the most talented player on his team, the 29-year-old point guard now finds himself in a backup role playing behind the same person who used to serve as a reserve behind him during the pair's time with the Chicago Bulls -- Jimmy Butler.
"It's not weird," Rose said recently. "We're in two different stages of our career. He's a superstar right now and I'm a guy that's trying to find my way back into the league. Right now, that's where it's at, and we all know what it is. Jimmy's a hell of a player, so whenever I'm on the floor with him, I'm of course trying to impress him, letting him know that I still have it."
If ever there was a time for Rose to show Butler and the rest of the basketball world that was the case, now would be it, as the Minnesota Timberwolves head into a playoff series with the Houston Rockets as a heavy underdog. Rose, who signed with the Timberwolves last month, knows he must make the most of his opportunity on this stage after missing the playoffs the past three years and dealing with inconsistency on the floor.
After watching Rose provide a much needed 13 points and three assists off the bench in Monday's win over the Memphis Grizzlies, Butler sung his teammate's praises. Butler, who was drafted by the Bulls the year after Rose's MVP season in 2010-2011, believes his old partner still has the talent to change games when needed.
"Derrick don't got to show me s---," Butler told ESPN. "I know what his heart holds and how he goes about the game and what he's thinking. He goes out there, he plays hard, he plays basketball the right way. We want him to be him. By all means, do what you're capable of doing. And I'll find a way to fit in the way I'm supposed to fit in. I'm good at this game, he's good at this game. He don't got to prove anything to anybody. As he said earlier in the year, he knows what he's capable of. I know what he's capable of. He wants to win. I love having him on my team. He plays basketball the right way. He's smiling. I'm good with that."
As Rose and Butler get set to enter another playoff journey together, the irony is that they have completely changed roles from where they used to be.
Over his first two seasons in the league, Butler couldn't find consistent minutes in Tom Thibodeau's rotation with the Bulls, playing sporadically as he improved his jump shot and grew his reputation as a defensive stopper. Rose, who became the youngest MVP in league history during the 2010-11 season, struggled to stay on the floor during Butler's 2011-2012 rookie year because of a litany of injuries and missed the entire 2012-13 season because of an ACL tear in his left knee. The pair never found much consistency together over the next few years as Butler ascended toward stardom and Rose's body wouldn't allow him to remain on the floor for long periods of time.
In the pair's last season together in Chicago in 2015-16, Rose still believed he could produce at a superstar level, but it was Butler who grew into his own on and off the floor while carrying the Bulls at times the way Rose had done in the past. He wanted to be treated like the star Rose had been and made his voice heard louder than ever within the locker room -- a character change that caused a rift throughout the organization between Butler and both players and management. Despite Rose and Butler playing more than 65 games each, the pair lacked chemistry together as the Bulls' locker room unity fell apart. Despite speculation from both media and fans, the pair's relationship never soured to the point of no return, but the role reversal between two proud players was already well underway.
"We're in two different stages of our career. He's a superstar right now and I'm a guy that's trying to find my way back into the league."Derrick Rose on Jimmy Butler
Three years later, both men have found their way back to current Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Thibodeau, pushing their new franchise into the postseason for the first time in 14 years. After being criticized for his decision to sign Rose as a free agent after the All-Star break, Thibodeau reiterated why he felt it was important to sign the veteran guard when he did. And in the process, made it clear that he will continue to ride Rose down the stretch if he plays well.
"Experience," Thibodeau said. "He's got great instincts. You're just seeing the tip of it. This year has been basically a lost year [for him]. But he's super talented and that's why we picked him up and he's played very well for us."
After years of hearing Thibodeau bark orders up and down the floor, Rose clearly appreciated his coach's sentiment.
"It's crazy to hear him say that," Rose said. "That shows that -- I believe in myself, I know that because I know how much I put into everything. But to hear him say that -- this is the same guy I didn't get no compliment from til after I won MVP my third year. So to hear him say that means a lot. It's something that I'm going to cherish, because I know what type of person he is and individual he is. He's a tough guy and I'm thankful and happy to be here."
Many around the league wondered if Thibodeau was the only coach left who was willing to give Rose a chance to show he still belonged. Now, Rose has a chance to pay that trust off by helping his old coach's team when they need it most. With Rose and Butler sharing the playoff platform together for the first time since 2015, it also serves as a reminder of Rose's last major highlight in a Bulls uniform -- a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer which earned a victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
While the Timberwolves are hoping Rose can create a few new moments off the bench now, Butler watches with a renewed appreciation for what Rose has endured to get back to this moment. The fact that Butler and Rose have changed places in their own basketball hierarchy isn't lost on the 28-year-old All-Star swingman. He saw first-hand what Rose dealt with in rehab and is going through it right now as he continues to recover from a meniscus injury of his own.
But with their playoff lives hanging in the balance, Butler is happy to once again have Rose on his side, because he believes his old running mate still has some magic in the tank.
"It's hard for him," Butler told ESPN, while discussing the highs and lows Rose has endured. "Me knowing what he's been through since 2011. But the resiliency that he has, the fight, how he's not giving up. How he's doing what he's always been doing, taking care of his body better than ever. I'm glad that he's in my corner. I don't want to go up against that guy. But he's here; I think he's in this league to stay. He's going to turn some heads right now."