A few weeks ago we had the 'Why can't Rose be MVP?' momentum. That has stopped, likely for good, with Rose's recent injury. But the flipside of that injury, in the wake of all these Bulls victories (and I feel the need to repeat this especially before this post: the wins are great), is that Tom Thibodeau may be in line for an unprecedented back-to-back coach of the year award. Thibs wasn't mentioned much early in the season likely due to that precedent, but with some early surprise teams fading a bit (including early frontrunner Doug Collins's Sixers) and the Bulls still hanging on to that #1 overall seed while accumulating games missed up and down the roster, it may not be just a possibility, but a lock.
And I see no problem with that, he's earned it and has been fantastic this season. But is one of Thibs's few suggested faults at least a caveat here?
In what is admittedly the definition of nitpicking, this blog has questioned Thibodeau since very early in the season for his minutes management in blowouts, as early as January 4th in a victory over Detroit. There were varied reactions, all along the spectrum of real worry to don't worry. I was probably more towards the former end, but tried to recognize perspective:
It's not like if Rose and Deng are tiring by the playoffs, and someone on the frontcourt is hurt again, that we'll all be happy to say 'I told you so' when referencing this strategy.
Later that month, after a blowout over the Nets when Rose returned from turf-toe:
This is Thibsball, and why you both get a full roster of guys playing their hearts out for a single goal, but also some unnecessary over-extending of minutes. And, in a word, that's what it is: 'unnecessary'. Hamilton, Rose, and Noah are all coming back from injury, and even if there's something to be said for game-time together, against the Nets second unit while owning a double-digit lead isn't exactly meaningful time.
And then on 2/6 after Deng's wrist ligament tear had been diagnosed but he still played 40+ minutes, and Rose first had his back stiffness:
I'll try not to consistently say it's dumb and will potentially harm the Bulls since Thibs and Luol are cool with it, and Pax isn't choking anyone yet, so it's not going to change. Thibs is a great coach, but he's wrong here, hope it doesn't come back to haunt them (and you couldn't prove causality if it did), and that's that.
During and since then, it was wishing for the best but preparing for the worst. And here we are now, pretty close to 'the worst': Luol Deng looks like a shell of himself as he drags one arm around the court nightly, and Derrick Rose is out with his 3rd separate injury of the season. It's looking more and more likely neither will be 100% for the playoffs.
And Thibodeau ironically may have cemented his award due to that misfortune.
I'm still calling it 'misfortune', anyway. Like I said earlier in the year, unless there was some kind of obvious garbage-time leg-break there was no way to prove that Thibs-ball was a contributing factor to these injuries. But the correlation is there, right? We were worried Deng and Rose would get hurt, and they got hurt.
Those two were the focus of concern, due to their importance and minutes load, but the culture of 'win the next game' may have contributed to minor injuries as well. Rip's an old man so it's hard to blame anything but that, but he's admitted to have rushed back from his groin strain earlier this season. And CJ Watson's current ankle injury came in a game he returned later to play in, and even now is going through rigorous treatment instead of getting rest.
These injuries may have been unavoidable, and the compressed schedule has been rough on every team this season. And to be clear: Thibs-ball has positives that still far outweigh the negatives. As stated when this originally was a concern, I knew it'd be crazy for a Bulls fan to be happy to say "I told you so", especially with little chance of proof ever happening, so there was little point to fret too often.
But it is sort of bizarre, if ultimately correct, that for all the original blowback to the idea that Thibodeau was overworking his team, his group is now the walking wounded and it's only getting him more praise.