Listen to Chicago Bulls management praise culture and identity, how collectively this high character team will recover from Derrick Rose’s second devastating knee injury, and know Tom Thibodeau makes all this bravado possible. No coach emulates his unique style, none command a locker room quite the way he does. Thibodeau berates his players, chews them up, and leaves them absorbing his yells as if he’s a hardheaded, unconditional guardian.
For everyone pointing toward the demise of his relationship with the Bulls, Thibodeau doesn’t worry about the next job, but rather what lies for his team on a daily basis. He makes this culture of constant focus obvious with his words – and unmistakably clear to players with his restless habits.
Derrick Rose had passed on his endorsement of Thibodeau during their first season together in 2010, and everyone else on these Bulls follows. Aside from Rose, Thibodeau has been the best thing that happened to this management core, a wise and franchise-altering hire three years ago, and now they shouldn’t let his future in Chicago spin and swerve and jeopardize in front of the NBA.
Near a quiet corner of the locker room the other night, Thibodeau let out a smile when the topic of his future arose. The former Coach of the Year says all the right things, claiming he doesn’t even pay attention to people speculating about his job status. In many ways, the Bulls should do whatever they can to repair damaged bridges, end the drama.
“I got a great job here, I got a team that I love, and all I think about is our team,” Thibodeau told RealGM. “I look forward to this challenge.”
As scolding as Thibodeau can be on the sideline, players understand his loyalty. Rarely will he call out anyone in a public sound bite, earning their respect this way. For Thibodeau, leaving the Bulls shouldn’t appeal, either. As long as Rose continues to rehabilitate through injury, Thibodeau has a generational star for whom coaches dream.
In his conversations with Rose, Thibodeau has taken from him an elevated level of confidence and a toughened mindset on overcoming season-ending knee surgery. The Bulls have mapped out Rose’s recovery from the torn meniscus, expect a full recovery for next season, and most of all: they’ve preached patience.
Rose must be patient, Thibodeau says, and the coach believes the 25-year-old learned control and discipline out of rehabilitating his left ACL over a full year.
“He handled the ACL rehab beautifully, and we saw the one good thing in enough games in training camp: his ACL leg is great. It’s explosive,” Thibodeau told RealGM. “As a team, this is the third straight year that we’ve had to go through this. Injuries are such a big part of this league.
“We’ve been through it, and we have a great understanding of what we have to do now.”
Between now and Rose’s return, Thibodeau promises to keep the Bulls charging hard, with purpose, and he’s already engraved into them how fearless they’ll have to play without Rose. We have more than enough to win with, he’d always say, and yet that mantra has been replaced: Yes, we’re shorthanded. That simply means more urgency, more determination. Better execution, better emotional and mental stability.
“We have to understand how hard we have to play being shorthanded,” Thibodeau said. “We have to do it all the time. That’s what gives us our chance.”
The early season losses of Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng proved too much for even Thibodeau, and he admits those are missed games that allow increased vulnerability against teams on top of Rose’s injury. For these Bulls, Joakim Noah’s fervor will go a long way in the Bulls’ ability to regroup and push toward contention in a top heavy Eastern Conference.
Noah has dealt with thigh and knee injuries and was hurt by his close friend Rose succumbing to the knee ailment that Nov. 22 night in Portland. Yet, the Bulls – from the coaches to the players – need him to resemble the tenacious All-Star a season ago. Noah had a draining procedure done last week, and he’s posted 43 points, 31 rebounds, 13 assists and eight blocks in three games ever since.
“If he had practiced the entire training camp, played in all eight [preseason] games, he would have been like this at the start of the season,” Thibodeau said. “Really, this is his first month, so now you see, Joakim.”
Really, this has been Thibodeau’s first month to spread a message he’s able to maintain for the next four-plus months. Everything changed without Rose; offense and continuity become difficult, basketball turns sloppy for extended stretches and unresolved issues rise to the forefront.
As far as assets go, Tom Thibodeau defines one for the Bulls. There had been all the back and forth in preseason about his standing with Chicago management – when someone there could have stated their version of what Thibodeau did at his extension press conference last October, that he wanted to be with the organization forever.
Tom Thibodeau pushes his players, sometimes a bit over the top, extracting every last ounce out of his team. This is why he’s one of the best. This is why no realistic trade – available draft compensation or cash – would be fair value in a trade scenario for a franchise changing coach, a deliverer of culture and environment that the Bulls’ front office boasts as an attraction.