Last in a series
As long as Lionel Hollins remains in limbo with Memphis, a dozen NBA head coaches — 40 percent — have been let go since the regular season ended.
Coaching seems to be the least of the Bulls’ concerns.
After leading them to the NBA’s best record during his first two years with the team, Tom Thibodeau earned some plugs as a miracle worker last season by getting the Bulls into the second round of the playoffs without Derrick Rose.
After some rough negotiations last summer, Thibodeau agreed to a four-year contract extension, so he’s signed through 2017.
No one would question Thibodeau’s work ethic or strategy. In concert with assistants Ron Adams, Andy Greer, Adrian Griffin, Ed Pinckney and Mike Wilhelm, Thibodeau is a master at developing and executing successful game plans.
Few coaches in the league are better at teaching defense. One of Thibodeau’s underappreciated talents is his knack for getting the most out of his players offensively. Just look at how Jimmy Butler, Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson performed last season.
The dynamic will change when Rose comes back. The Bulls will have a single dominant player instead of the cast of contributors, but it shouldn’t be much of a concern. They’ve done it well before, with Rose winning the NBA’s MVP award during Thibodeau’s first season.
The biggest unknown about Thibodeau is his staying power. He’s a demanding coach, no doubt. Will his players stop listening at some point, or can he last the length of his star’s career like Gregg Popovich has in San Antonio?
There was a point last year when the Bulls lost a disappointing home game and a bench-side observer predicted that the players had tuned out Thibodeau’s constant sideline complaining. Maybe they had at the time, but a couple days later, everyone pulled together for an impressive victory.
At the end of three seasons with the same basic nucleus of players, the Bulls will joke about Thibodeau, but they are also quick to praise him. Rose’s return will bring some enthusiasm, so for now, everything seems to be fine when it comes to coach-player relations.
The other nagging question is whether Thibodeau can keep the Bulls in a healthy state. The past two seasons have been filled with injuries and it’s easy to wonder whether high minute counts are a cause. Thibodeau addressed that question the day after the playoff elimination.
“You have to look at, ‘OK, what are the injuries?’” he said. “Kirk (Hinrich), kicked in the calf; Luol (Deng), spinal tap. Derrick (Rose), ACL. Some of those things, I don’t know if you can avoid them. But you’re always looking to improve.”
Thibodeau’s not to blame for Deng’s bad reaction to a spinal tap, but there were some high-minute games that could have contributed to Hinrich’s and Rose’s injury problems.
But that’s virtually impossible to prove.
Thibodeau did make a point of limiting the minutes of veterans Carlos Boozer and Richard Hamilton last season. Posting the league’s best record twice didn’t land the Bulls in the NBA Finals, so backing off the minutes is something to consider.
The only thing Thibodeau hasn’t accomplished yet in three years with the Bulls is taking that next step into the Finals. It won’t be easy with Miami’s Power Trio in the way, but Thibodeau has figured out most everything else during his long career as an NBA coach.
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