Where to begin? We'll start here:
We had a young, raw draft pick a few years back. A big man who wasn't ready for minutes. He didn't have much offensive ability and couldn't hold his own on defense. But he was a big body that showed some promise. The coaching staff developed him slowly, giving him some minutes, but not a ton. He was a very emotional player by all accounts. Last year, the team got him to work with a personal coach on fitness, and he started to develop. As he played better, his minutes were increased, but he wasn't benched in favor of worse players throughout his career. He's now playing very well, and while his only offense is really garbage baskets, he's starting to show signs of a bit of an offensive game. And while he's not the most dominant center defensively, and is regularly dominated by other centers, he does grab rebounds and he's more than just a big body (Gray) or lazy defender (Miller). This player is Joakim Noah.
Which brings me to Tyrus.
Tyrus was a gamble type pick. A very young, immature player that showed tons of upside. There are two things clear to me about Tyrus Thomas:
1) He has not filled the upside nor promise that he showed. He still takes bad shots, he doesn't always hustle, and his head isn't always in the game.
2) He hasn't been given the same set of rules that other young talents (Rose and Noah mostly) received as young developing players. I'm not talking about minutes. Tyrus has had enough minutes to live up to his promise. He hasn't. In that department he has clearly failed, he is not the player you expect to receive with a top five draft pick. However, he has clearly improved and is actually a decent power forward. He doesn't take as many bad jumpers as he did last year, or the year before. He's more in control around the rim with the ball, though he still has work to do. But he's good at garbage buckets, he has an idea of what to do with his physical traits when he's near the rim (strong dunks that draw contact or force the ball in the hole). He's also a fairly solid defensive player.
Why is Tyrus handled so differently?
While I share in the frustrations of Tyrus not living up to his potential, he is clearly our best power forward. Noah is our best Center as such he clearly warrants 35+ minutes a night when healthy. But why isn't Tyrus getting at least 25 minutes a night? Our rookie PF isn't the best offensive player. He has a lot of holes on defense. He gets frustrated at times, misses assignments, settles for the wrong shot, yet we stick with him and actually increase his minutes.
It can't just be an attitude problem. Noah yells and screams at nobody in particular all the time. Miller harasses the refs on just about every call that doesn't go his way. Hinrich takes out his anger on the opposing team. Rose bottles up his anger it seems. But we work with, we tolerate, we accommodate all of those player's particular negative emotions. Tyrus seems to get angier at the coach when he shows frustration. How many times have we seen Miller or Noah get a technical or slam the ball in anger and frustration? We stick with those guys, and rightfully so. When they play, they are given the minutes the deserve on this team, it warrants their talent. But Tyrus is treated differently, he is benched when he doesn't hustle (Miller regularly will dog it). He's benched when he shows frustration on the court (the previously mentioned players are not to that extent). So what's the deal?
The coaching failures
A lot of the blame has to fall on Vinny Del Negro. Not all of it (we'll get to that part), but much of the current blame. Remember when he started benching Rose last year at the end of games? John Paxson had to publicly assure the media that Rose would be playing at the end of games. This is the rookie of the year we're talking about. Benched by the coach at the end of games in what was clearly a development year. The only thing that really prevented this was the general manager intervening.
There is no such intervention in the case of Tyrus Thomas. The coach is left to do what he feels is best, and that is clearly to play the 2nd best PF on our team for more minutes than he should. Tyrus is left to get inconsistent minutes, which will stifle any more progression and further alienate the player. If a player is benched and truly should be benched, it won't matter if he gets upset, he can go home. It won't have an impact on the team if he deserved to not have any minutes in the first place, since any value he had would've been utilized by giving him minutes in the first place, thus not causing the player to cause a fuss. No doubt Tyrus should not handle things this way, but how often do we see players get emotional? We're talking about players that go from being broke to millionaires in their late teens to early twenties, put on a stage in front of 20,000 people a night, not to mention many multiples more that watch the game. These are players that are often getting their egos stroked, and Tyrus' reaction to receiving less than adequate minutes is similar to dozens of players in the last few years. It's a poor reaction, no doubt, but it is a reaction. And in this case, he is reacting to a larger failure. Two wrongs do not make a right, I want to make that clear. Tyrus is not excused, but his problems are nowhere near the scope of the other problems this franchise has.
How do other teams handle these situations?
Andre Miller recently went off on his coach at practice. He tore into him for a solid 30 minutes by all reports, with things said that could not be printed. What happened in that situation? Did he get benched? Fined? Blamed?
None of the above. The general manager came out and said that this was normal. That frustrations build and it is normal to release these in a private situation, rather than on the court during a game. The coach and the player found common ground. They spoke privately and you know what? They realized that they were both very competitive, emotional and stubborn people. And they have thrived ever since. This is how you handle a situation with two MEN not being on the same page.
But there is no such handling of this situation by our general managers. No such handling of the situation by our coach. And that is where this situation is truly unfortunate, and truly fails the team and the fans.
So where do we go from here?
When your team underperforms for a year, you can blame the players for a lot of it. When it happens for multiple years, you can start to really put the blame on the coach's head. When it happens for about 5 years, the general manager is clearly at fault. But when it happens for over a decade? The blame goes higher, to the owner, to Jerry Reinsdorf. You can't tolerate nor accept this situation Jerry. Most teams struggle as a result of things such as a small market, little profit available to the team and an unattractive city that big time players don't want to live in. We're ahead of the game in EVERY one of these areas. The most profitable team, third largest city, very attractive and often filled stadium and very little competition in surrounding markets.
I don't want to be sitting around in 30 years explaining to my kids or grandkids why the Bulls stink. Why people from other cities say "sorry" or "my team's problems are minuscule compared to what you go through" every time they talk basketball. I don't want to be the Chicago Cubs, talking about what happened over 50 years ago. I don't want to have to say "yea, back 50 years ago when I was younger, we had this guy named Jordan, oh you had to see him to believe it." That's not exciting, that's history. It was exciting, but it already happened. We need realistic hope, we need people doing the right thing. And the right thing is not being done.
Yet we're still in an incredible position with a very profitable team, a few young talents, high attendance and a lot of expiring contracts that are more valuable than usual, thanks to a tough economy. The only thing I ask the management, is to think through your decision. Don't make the same mistake teams make when signing players such as Dampier, Turkolu, Dalembert, Maggette, Baron Davis, Stephon Marbaury or Peja to ridiculous contracts. You have an opportunity that other franchises can only dream of having, don't continue to waste it.
And start holding your management accountable for the way they handle this team. If you can't publicly deny that you're talking to other coaches or that you have your coach's back, fire him. If you can't develop talent, get somebody who can. If you can't make the right free agent signings (Hello Ben Wallace), get somebody in there that can. This team hasn't failed us because the players don't listen, it's the people who run the team that have failed us.
I don't want to be a Cubs Fan, please stop turning this franchise into the equivalent of the Chicago Cubs, and learn to deal with players properly.
A final plea to the readers
It paints me to see people tearing each other up over the Tyrus Thomas situation. It's clear that Thomas has underperformed as a player. But it's also clear that management has turned what should be an underperforming player, contributing at his current skill level, to a joke of a circus. If you don't want to resign your player, don't resign him. But as long as you're paying him, play him relative to his value. If you don't want Tyrus taking long jumpers, say so. But Vinny is the first one to tell the media how he encourages Tyrus to take shots. He told us that all last year, as we put our faces into our palms every time he took an 18 footer. Deng does the same thing, and now Rose is being encouraged to do similar things. Look at their stats, they have some of the worst mid range stats in the league. A good coach would discourage players from settling for those shots. A good GM would make sure that the coach did. A good owner makes sure that the chain of command works that way. We have failures on multiple levels.
So blog a bull readers. Please don't harass each other. Please don't argue about Tyrus. Place the blame where it belongs. Tyrus is nothing more than a player that did not live up to his draft status. He's not useless, nor is he a star. He would probably play 15-20 minutes a game on most teams, with more competent management in place. On our team, with the only other option being a rookie who is clearly a back of the rotation player (which is fine, he's a 26th draft pick for goodness sakes! He's doing well for where he was selected, I like Taj), Tyrus clearly warrants at least 25 minutes on a consistent basis. He's not as good as Noah is, relative to his position and our other options, but he probably isn't going to whine like a baby or privately bash his coach if he's getting the type of playing time that he deserves.
I was reading what is currently the most popular Tyrus post just a minute ago. The consensus is that Tyrus probably won't play for the Bulls another minute, that that relationship is beyond repair. I can agree with that. But let me ask you this: Can the management, the way they are currently set up (with VDN as coach) handle Andre Miller? Can they handle Josh Smith? Could they even handle Kobe Bryant? Or Pau Gasol complaining (rightfully so) about a lack of touches? I'm not so sure that they could, and that's the real problem here. There are always players that require a different sort of attention. With the rest of the roster, they are more or less handled decently, at least in a way that they can get on the court. With Tyrus, the management has failed. They've failed him and they've failed us, and frankly that is a damn shame.