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updated: 3/4/2013 6:14 PM

Best of Bulls' Thibodeau also the worst

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  • Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, left, reacts to a call during the second half of his team's victory against Brooklyn in Chicago on Saturday, March 2, 2013.

      Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, left, reacts to a call during the second half of his team's victory against Brooklyn in Chicago on Saturday, March 2, 2013.
    Associated Press

 
 

The greatest attribute Tom Thibodeau has as a coach is how hard he forces his players to work every single night in a league where effort is often unexpected.

And the worst attribute Tom Thibodeau has as a coach is how hard he forces his players to work every single night in a league where effort is often unexpected.

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That is the eternal paradox of a man who should be Coach of the Year every year, one who operates in a black-and-white world where each possession is NBA life and death.

The Bulls expend tremendous energy every season to get themselves in a great playoff position, and Thibodeau somehow makes it happen regardless of injury, no matter how short-handed.

And then come playoff time, the Bulls are on fumes and Thibodeau is baffled by their exhaustion.

He does not believe in rest or injury, and if a player can dress for a game, he is not hurt.

In a black-and-white world he can't see that Joakim Noah plays because the man won't sit out if he can draw breath and put one foot in front of the other.

Vinny Del Negro was skewered for playing Noah too much with the same foot injury three years ago, causing GM John Paxson to physically go after the head coach.

Thibodeau has been largely protected from such criticism the last year or two, but now even some of his most ardent supporters are starting to wonder if Thibodeau is completely sane when it comes to the subject of minutes.

After playing Noah 45 minutes in a game against Philly last week, Thibodeau said, "I'm more from the Nolan Ryan School. If you have young guys and they can handle the minutes, you play them."

Of course, Ryan -- a complete freak of nature -- was never hurt and averaged 33 starts a season from age 25 to 45. Noah has missed a lot of time with injuries the last four years.

"This has gone on in the NBA for a long time," Thibodeau continued. "You have a guy that is in his prime -- a primary player -- then he is going to play. That's the way it is.

"All this stuff about minutes, I understand that. I understand if a guy is in his 30s you manage his minutes. (If) a guy is young, (he) can handle it."

And it doesn't matter to Thibodeau that Noah is playing hurt, or that you might also have in mind the finish line, hoping Derrick Rose returns and you can make a run in the playoffs.

After 45 minutes Thursday, Thibodeau had Noah play more than 41 minutes Saturday, even with a game in Indiana scheduled for Sunday night. And, oh yeah, the Bulls were up 19 Saturday when Thibodeau brought Noah back in the game with 6:30 left to play.

"I saw the way the game was going," Thibodeau said. "You're jogging back, they've got a lot of 3-point shooting on the floor, (and) a 10-point lead can dissipate in a minute."

Noah, according to reporters, was his usual fatigued self after the game.

"What do you want me to say?" Noah asked the press. "Yeah, I'm tired, pretty tired. Working on (a foot injury) every day, massages, lots of treatments, doing everything possible to keep it under control. It's not really right after the game. It's the next morning that's the roughest."

Noah then smiled and said, "We've got a great coach, but he doesn't understand the whole rest thing yet, I don't think. But it's all good. We all want to win. It's good."

It was said with a grin and perhaps it was a not-so-subtle attempt to beg for some relief. He played 32 minutes in a barnburner against the Pacers on Sunday night, after averaging 39 minutes the previous 20 games, with only five under 38 minutes.

"Last year we had Omer (Asik), so they shared the position more," Thibodeau told reporters in Indiana before the game Sunday. "I think (Noah has) grown. I also think the added minutes have really turned him from being an average player into an all-star."

That's probably all reality, but so is Noah's injury and fatigue, and this is the Thibodeau conundrum.

The only finish line he can see is at the end of this possession, this moment, not even the end of this quarter or game, let alone the season or playoffs.

He can't fathom resting a player, even if he's hurt, or even if he's the MVP, and a playoff game has already been decided, thus risking injury and the future of the franchise.

At the same time, Thibodeau should be Coach of the Year yet again for making something out of almost nothing, putting the Bulls in a playoff position when they probably should have been a lottery team.

The best part of Thibodeau is also the worst, and as confusing as that sounds, you might as well accept it.

He's not going to change -- and he's going to be here a long time.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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