Sometimes Tom Thibodeau makes his job a whole lot harder than it has to be. He stays up into the hours of three and four in the morning, constantly watching tape, continuously looking for ways to improve his Chicago Bulls team.
Every Bulls fan by now probably has heard all the Thibs jokes about how he never takes time off to relax and is always searching for ways to get better. No one embodies what a “NBA lifer” is more than him. A month into the 2014-15 season, he might just have the toughest job in the NBA.
Will he or won’t he play? How many minutes will he play? How is your relationship with the front office over the usage of his play night in and night out? Does the team have his back?
He, is Derrick Rose. Quite possibly the most polarizing NBA player so far this season. It’s just another night when he plays, pours in 21 points, dishes out 8 assists and everyone goes home happy with a win.
But he is the lead story of every SportCenter segment, headlines newspapers and trends on Twitter nearly every time he winces, he limps or signals to his coach come out. A former MVP with 2 major knee-surgeries and long list of ailments in the past three years is subject to this sort of scrutiny.
Rose may be known for being humble, kind and caring, but he has also been described as “soft” and “fragile” in recent times. He is more difficult to reach for media personnel than most star players, the Chicago Bulls organization likes to protect their superstar at all costs, shield him from all the criticism that he is already aware of and works tirelessly in private to prove it wrong.
But there is one man who is always around to answer the avalanche of questions from all media outlets. That’s right, it’s Mr. Thibodeau.
For nearly three years, Thibs has answered the same questions over, and over, and over again. You probably know the script by now. For a man that could probably go on and on about help side rotation and defensive schemes more so than anyone else in the world, he is stuck giving the same answer to the same question.
Yet this is only a slice of pie of what his job entails. For the past three years Tom Thibodeau has coached a team that knows they cannot accomplish their goal without Rose on the floor. The team has played with an unmatched intensity and hustle compared to their far superior opponents. No game may embody more of the Thibodeau spirit than the night of March 28th, 2013.
The Miami Heat are at the peak of their powers, riding a 27-game winning streak mainly because they felt like. On the other hand, Thibs is coaching a team without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, undoubtedly Chicago’s two leaders and best players of last decade. You know how it goes, The Bulls scratch and claw, out-hustle the Heat on their home floor and beat them 101-97, ending the Heat’s historic winning streak.
More than two years later in 2014, the Bulls have just concluded their annual “Circus trip” where they played 7 games in 13 days stretching from the West Coast and back to Brooklyn, ending in a respectable 4-3 record. Thibodeau’s team depth is far better than what he has had for the past three and a half years. He finally has shooters that can stretch the floor for the offense that has needed them more than any other team in the Association. He has a front court superior to any other, and finally, Derrick Rose.
The aches and pains are nothing any medical professional would be surprised about when an athlete such as Rose is returning from his lower body surgeries. But Bulls and NBA fans alike are growing ever so impatient with Rose’s day-to-day status. (Rose just started and completed two consecutive games for the first time all season a day ago) The question that the coach cannot avoid. Sometimes he says things that question whether he his fed up with the front office’s minutes limitations on Rose, or Rose himself.
The majority of times although, he is there to support him in every fashion, defends him when his verbally attacked, stands in the way of all his critics. All the while he coaches a team that he demands a premium effort from each night and a defensive intensity that cannot be matched throughout the league. No coach has done more with less over the past years. He has turned players career’s around (D.J. Augustin, C.J. Watson, Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli) and has also gotten every ounce of potential out players like Luol Deng.
This season, what I call the “Thibodeau Effect” can be seen in a multitude of players on this year’s roster. He has helped Pau Gasol and Aaron Brooks reinvent the way they play, bringing new life to their veteran careers. He has turned Taj Gibson (6th man of the year candidate) and Jimmy Butler (9th in the NBA at 21.9 PPG.) into top-tier NBA starters (even if Taj comes off the bench) as they become nationally recognized for taking their talents to the next level. In just a month, Rookie Nikola Mitoric has shown he can be an offensive-minded stretch four, but can also hold his own defensively.
Tom Thibodeau gets the most out his players and drives them into being better than what their potential may be perceived. And he has been doing it ever since he took over the Bulls four years ago. Sure, he gets criticized for riding his starters 40+ minutes a night, but Bulls fans need to look past his stubborn ways (at times) and realize that this man is a major reason why this season is the Bulls best chance to win a title since the Dynasty era.
He is among one of the hardest working coaches in the league, even if his team is one of the best, he is up late at night finding ways to eventually stop LeBron James and the Cleveland offense that will eventually become a juggernaut come May. He looks for new ways to motivate his players for a game in the middle of January, convincing them it is a must win when otherwise deemed meaningless. He challenges his team in practice, knowing that the extra effort will pay off in crunch time.
All of these things make who Tom Thibodeau is. He embraces the grind of the game, if not enjoys it. This his job, this is his life.
But first, before he can do what he does best, he has to go to a press conference to answer that same question and defend his superstar once again.
It’s all clockwork for the league’s hardest working, most relentless coach.