But what Rose would really like to be is a topflight point guard. That has been his goal since he entered the league with Denver in 1994. After struggling at the point and resisting a change of position, Rose was a study in untapped potential before breaking out last season for the Pacers...at small forward.
After an encouraging talk with coach Larry Bird at the end of last season about making the transition to full-time team quarterback, Rose spent much of his summer (and the entire lockout) prepping himself. The plan was to use Rose at the point when veteran Mark Jackson needed a breather and move last year's backup point, Travis Best, to the shooting guard spot alongside Rose. Bird implemented that strategy in the first week of the season, but both Rose and Best struggled in their new roles, and Bird, realizing that practice time was limited in this shortened season, scrapped the experiment and went back to his old rotation. "I think he just figured we didn't really need any big changes right now," says Rose. "As a competitor, I'm disappointed. I know I can do it But I can't really worry too much about it."
Rose is not hard up for minutes. He plays small forward, gets significant time at shooting guard and does spot duty at the point, where he has played well over the last month. "I'm not afraid to put him out there," Bird says. "We'll make sure he gets his minutes running the team. Jalen is a better player when he's interested. It's always better when Jalen has to guard a guy he thinks is a great player. When he thinks he's better man the player he's on, it sometimes makes for a long night."
Therein lies Rose's biggest flaw: lack of focus. "That's the only thing holding him back," says Walsh.
The Nuggets also felt that Rose lacked maturity. "When Jalen came into the league, he thought he was the second coming of Magic Johnson," says Dan Issel, president and general manager of the Nuggets, the team that drafted Rose with the 13th pick. "So there was no way he was going to consider playing any position but point guard."
Last season, with Bird allowing him more freedom on the floor than any of his previous coaches had, Rose provided the kind of energy and moxie that has made him indispensable to the Indiana rotation this season.
Now all the Pacers have to do is keep him under contract. Citing a change in the collective bargaining agreement that negates a restricted free agency clause in his contract, Rose believes he should be a free agent next summer; the Pacers think otherwise but have petitioned the league to allow them to redo Rose's contract The matter is headed for arbitration, but Rose says he doesn't want to leave, and the Pacers want to keep him, so Walsh is optimistic about the outcome.
"We want Jalen settled and happy," says Walsh.
The Fine Line
Allen Iverson, Sixers
In a matchup of the NBA's two top scorers last Friday, league leader Allen Iverson outscored Shaquille O'Neal 41 to 23, had 10 assists to O'Neal's two and had three turnovers to O'Neal's five. Although 13 inches shorter and 150 pounds lighter than O'Neal, Iverson also outrebounded the Lakers center five to four. The Sixers won 105-90.