An intriguing question as the Bulls’ season begins is what would the players’ relationship with Tom Thibodeau become if they struggled without Derrick Rose.
This is the head coach’s third season here and not much has gone wrong until the playoffs. The Bulls had the NBA’s best record during each of his first two regular seasons.
Season 3 opened Wednesday night with a 93-87 victory over Sacramento, meaning Thibodeau still hasn’t been under .500 since his fifth Bulls game two years ago this week.
The Bulls started 2-3 back then and have rolled upward and onward for the next 144 games now.
Players are less likely to question any coach’s methods — or in Thibodeau’s case, the method to his madness — when the team is winning like that.
Thibodeau is so good but so dictatorial and so successful but so demanding. This style of coaching can wear on players but is tolerable in good times. Bad times not so much, as players who play for Scott Skiles and Doug Collins can tell you.
The Bulls won the past two seasons with Rose, the superstar point guard who currently is out indefinitely while recovering from knee surgery last spring.
So, without Rose the Bulls’ opener in the United Center was the first page of what is a major mystery of a season.
What changes without him? Nobody knows for sure except that one thing is certain: It won’t be Tom Thibodeau unless it’s that he becomes more dictatorial and demanding in his uncompromising pursuit of perfection.
“Whether Derrick is here or not,” Thibodeau said, “we don’t want to change anything.”
That was the coach’s consistent theme.
“We want to get the most out of what we have,” Thibodeau said. “That’s why we don’t want to change … I don’t want anything to change.”
Thibodeau also hit upon another of his major messages: “Do … your … job.” He said, “Each guy has a role. Know your job. You have to do your job. I expect you to get your job done.”
Players comprising the Bulls’ core have heard it all before, responded and won.
But how would the players handle losing for the first time under Thibodeau? Better yet, how would he handle losing for the first time in his career as an NBA head coach? Best of all, how would the players handle how their coach handles losing for the first time?
The best of all Bulls’ worlds would be that players recognize that Thibodeau is such a good coach that he makes them better individually and as a team no matter what the record.
“Do the right things,” Thibodeau said, “and good things will happen.”
The words are the same but circumstances are considerably different with Rose missing and a gaggle of new players on the roster.
This subject is moot if the Bulls keep winning without Rose and players have reason to keep viewing Thibodeau’s intensity as helpful instead of insufferable.
The Bulls’ schedule is favorable with six of the first seven games at home before they embark on a five-game road trip. Too bad in a perverse way because it would be interesting to see how the players reacted to losing under Thibodeau.
“Every year you’re faced with new and different challenges,” the Bulls’ coach said.
His approach remains the same, however, and if the Bulls are fortunate so would the players’ approach to the approach.
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