Tom Thibodeau finished third in Coach of the Year voting this season. He came in second in 2012 and won it in 2011. That usually wins you some space from criticism. The way the Bulls exited the playoffs, however, has the celebrated coach feeling some heat.
I’m not saying Thibodeau is on the hot seat. Far from it. The media and fans are starting to ask more questions now, though.
Yes, he has been handcuffed without one of the stars of the NBA, Derrick Rose. Losing him was a big blow that finally caught up to the team during these playoffs. There are similarities with how the Bulls have exited that are too familiar, and it includes Rose.
The Bulls have been excellent during the regular season. They are the hardest working team in the league. Night in and night out, the Bulls play hard. That works during the regular season when you play inferior teams and teams that just don’t play as hard. When it comes to the playoffs, every team plays hard all the time and every team is pretty good.
The way Thibodeau works his team could be a problem. Working as hard against the Philadelphia 76ers as you would against the Miami Heat could take a toll after 82 games. After awhile, one needs some rest or at some point the body just won’t respond anymore.
In the last four seasons, the team has sputtered during the playoffs, struggling to score. Even in Thibodeau’s first season when the Bulls went to the Eastern Conference Finals, scoring was a chore for them, and their defense was not as tight as it had been during the regular season. They have also struggled with injuries during the playoffs that could have been caused by body fatigue.
After this season’s exit, the questions are starting to be asked and Thibodeau’s frustration grows. After the loss in Game 2, Thibodeau was asked about the rotation. The normally unemotional coach snapped, showing his frustration. “The group that’s in there, Taj is playing well,” Thibodeau said. “Whenever you say, put someone else in, you’re taking someone else out. Who you taking out? Joakim? Who you taking out? Taj? Everyone has a job to do. Just do your job.”
While he was called consistent about his ways, people are calling him stubborn. He kept the same rotation even with the late-game futilities. In his defense, Gibson did play well, and trusting Carlos Boozer can be scary, but desperate times call for desperate action. Try something different.
I know that the front office has to take some responsibility for this. Everyone has known since Thibodeau came to Chicago that they need another scorer to go with Rose, yet nothing has really been done in earnest. This offseason is critical for the advancement of the team. Carmelo Anthony will hit the market. There is a stacked draft. Nikola Mirotic can be brought over from Europe. Boozer needs to be amnestied. John Paxson and Gar Forman need to add that scorer some way somehow to make the Bulls a true championship contender.
Thibodeau also has to look within and change. Not a lot, just a little. Look at Gregg Popovich. He will give his starters a rest. In fact, he’ll send them home to make sure he doesn’t use them. Look at the Heat. They don’t play all out all the time. Coach Spoelstra will also rest his players. They want their players rested for the playoff run rather than have the number one seed.
Until both the front office and Thibodeau come to terms with their own shortcomings, Bulls fans will continue to experience great regular seasons with agonizing playoff runs.