Former Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is in Las Vegas in an assistant role for USA Basketball, and commented a bit on his Bulls tenure. Not taking the bait in being asked about the way he was fired, it was instead pretty much just bland stuff ('no regrets', etc.) about the team still paying the remainder of his salary this season, in the city he still plans on living in for now.
But, yes, minutes came up:
The numbers say exactly what it is. Facts are facts. If you look at it statistically, you see that Jimmy [Butler] played the same amount of minutes that LeBron [James] played. He played the same amount of minutes that [Kevin] Durant played, Nicolas Batum, Carmelo Anthony, all those guys, so that's all I'm saying. Nobody's going to be perfect. You don't get every decision right [that] you make. Some are wrong, but I thought I was very proud of what the team did.
Thibs also noted that the Bulls used to be a deeper (and better) team when he first arrived.
Hey, no real use arguing about it any more, I guess. It was never exclusively about the 'facts' of minute totals, nor just about Jimmy Butler (and Luol Deng before him) leading the league in that.
Kelly Dwyer took a swipe at the notion this week in a roundtable about Eastern Conference non-Cleveland contenders:
It turns out that Derrick Rose was rushed through injury too often during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, and that Joakim Noah's career might be effectively over at age 30. No amount of minutes restrictions or back-to-back mindfulness can re-spend what has already been spent.
There are new player combinations to be explored here, because despite the team's typical injury woes the rotation and sets that were in place as Halloween approached last season were also in place mid-May. For worse. Not for better or worse. For worse.
Thibodeau never seemed to understand that a bit of a loss (or even, shock horror, an actual loss!) in December might pay off in spring, something even the notoriously stubborn Phil Jackson recognized during his time running the Bulls, and that philosophy not only caught up to the Bulls but to Thibodeau's reputation.
I think that the charge of complete inflexibility is a bit harsh, but the assessment is fair overall. Some more experimentation and, yes, rest should've been employed by Thibodeau during the season. And you could argue it wouldn't even cost wins in situations where there were clear blowouts (either for the Bulls or their opponent) where Thibs was routinely first-guessed on his playing time allocations.
But Thibs also has a good point that he didn't have as good of a roster, either. And the real underlying issues is that instead of the theory that Thibs was holding the roster back, the more likely scenario was that his relentlessness drove a precision and persistence that elevated the team in the regular season to look better than they actually were.
Besides, minutes restrictions were pretty much adhered to last year and the team was healthy in the playoffs. Though as Dwyer points out, maybe the damage has already been done. If new coach Fred Hoiberg employs flexibility in a way that's just playing worse players more, we might not like the results. It's undoubtedly more complicated than that though, which is kind of why a discussion entirely around minutes has gotten so tiresome. Thibs's role in that conversation certainly is done with, and he's probably happy about that.