We were wall-to-wall 'minutes watch' on Thursday following the Bulls TripleOT win over the Magic. Jimmy Butler played a Bulls franchise record 60 minutes in that contest, putting Tom Thibodeau's minutes philosophy back in the spotlight. Ricky wondered here whether Thibs overusing players ultimately does more harm than the good he provides the franchise as an extreme win-now taskmaster.
I don't think it's quite there, yet, but have been saying for a while that it's an issue that needs to be addressed between Thibs, the training staff, and the front office. It seems even beyond Thibodeau's perhaps-extreme concepts of what an NBA player can handle, the Org. lacks the vision and literal organization to save the head coach from himself, and frankly from a job that belongs to the trainers and not him.
It sure seems like something needs to be imparted onto Thibs, because listening to him after a day of rest (heh) didn't produce any concessions.
Alternately playful and passionate, coach Tom Thibodeau strongly defended his minutes methods in a lively session with reporters.
"If you look at any box score in a triple overtime game, there are going to be guys who play minutes," Thibodeau said. "You can’t not play guys."
"If you look at total minutes, it wasn’t even close. Overall, our minutes are way below what normal starters do. And if you guys study the history of the league, which I’m sure you do, the great Bulls teams you’d see that (Michael) Jordan and (Scottie) Pippen well into their 30s were playing huge minutes. So I’m trying to be like Phil (Jackson)....And (Gregg) Popovich was the same way with (Tim) Duncan early on in his career. Pop and Phil are two of the best, maybe the greatest of all-time, both of them.
"I think how you pace your team is important. It’s easy to look at a box score and say, ‘Oh, that’s too much.’ But what you don’t see is the days off in practice. You don’t see what you have a guy do in practice. You may not have contact in practice. You may do shooting. You may do film. There’s a lot of things that go into it. I think I have a pretty good understanding after 24 years how to pace a team."
These have long been the arguments used by Thibodeau, the front office (publicly), and even some reporters/observers (Sam Smith does it a bunch):
- There's more to player use/abuse than minutes in a game
- Michael Jordan did it, so there
I'll counter Thibs's inference that any criticism is a mere reading of a box score: It's not even so much the total minutes per game for a guy in a season (as KC points out, the Bulls have not really had such a player this year) as it is singular game-to-game decisions to play players coming off of injuries a certain amount (and to a lesser extent: players in blowout games a certain amount).
It's clear Thibodeau won't back down from this, and if season after season of everyone getting hurt doesn't change the stubbornness (hey, can't prove that one effects the other!) I suppose nothing will on that end.
But the more important context is if Thibs's bosses think this is a problem. Again, publicly Gar Paxdorf have been nothing but supportive of Thibs's minutes management. They also have a high opinion of their own medical and training staff, though during this past offseason they looked to address bolstering that front.
And also during that summer, at the height of Ron Adams hysteria, there were numerous reports that the front office had issues with Thibs's in-game coaching decisions, and one did surface saying that overplaying guys was a specific point of contention.
Again, it still seems to me that there's an organizational failure if the team has this great coach who has a blind spot towards player use that can't be effectively managed. However, if this is something that they've been actively trying to manage and Thibs is stubbornly ignoring it, it's just more smoke from an eventual firing.