COMMENTARY | Well that didn't take long.
Yet another Chicago Bulls starter was put back into a game after suffering an injury that will cause him to miss an extended amount of playing time.
Most recently, is was shooting guard Jimmy Butler who sprained his right toe midway through the third quarter of the team's 86-81 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats only to return a short time later. After an MRI, it was revealed that he suffered a sprained toe, and the injury will keep him off the court for an indefinite period of time, according to the Chicago Sun Times.
The situation begs a question. Why does head coach Tom Thibodeau continue to put his players in harm's way?
Make no mistake, this is not the first time that he has put a starter back into a game after they got hurt only to see the situation get worse.
Against the Philadelphia 76ers in December 2012, for example, Rip Hamilton hurt his foot and had to leave the game. After the two-guard assured Thibodeau that he was fine, he was allowed to go back in. The rest was providence.
"I was able to put a little weight on it, so I could go back in the game," Hamilton said afterwards, according to Sam Smith from Bulls.com. "It wasn't 100 percent or anything like that, but I felt I could help the team. When I jumped up, as soon as I came up I felt something pop in the bottom of my foot." He ended up missing 15 games with a torn plantar fascia in his left foot.
To be sure, Hamilton talked his way back into the game, but the situation is indicative of a larger problem. Thibodeau's attitude is archaic.
"The thing is, injury is part of the game," Thibodeau said after Noah was injured in Game 3 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, via ESPN.com's Nick Friedell. "You have to have a mental toughness to get past all of that. We've had injuries all year and you just deal with it," he continued.
No, coach, that is not correct.
Injuries are not just dealt with. They need to be addressed with rest and treatment. But unfortunately, keeping injured players off the court simply doesn't happen often enough because the head coach believes that "you need guys that have great will to win, and no matter what the circumstances are will find a way to win."
When that is the mindset of the man in charge, it becomes the mindset of his players -- often to their own detriment.
Yes. Thibodeau is doing a better job managing minutes. Luol Deng, for example, is only playing 36.2 minutes per contest as opposed to the 38.7 he averaged last year. Center Joakim Noah is in a similar position. He logged 36.8 per game in 2012-13, but is only at 29.8 through this season first nine games. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the decision to sit Derrick Rose for the game against the Toronto Raptors was a wise one.
Better does not mean good, however. Look no further than the 32-plus minutes oft-injured Kirk Hinrich played against the Indiana Pacers during what ended up being a 110-94 Bulls victory. There is no way to justify playing Hinrich that long.
When the Bulls were 1-3, they called for patience, noting that it's a long season. That is very true, but if they plan on preaching perspective, then they should practice it. K.C. Johnson from the Chicago Tribune tweeted that Thibs said Butler was cleared to play by trainer Fred Tedeschi. That's the easy way out. The Bulls are your team, coach. You make the call...not the trainer.
When a player is injured this early in the season, don't tempt fate. Let the rush of adrenaline that accompanies playing in an NBA game subside and evaluate the situation -- and the player -- the next day.
That may be too much to ask, though, because the problem is systemic.
We're talking about the Bulls who once called on Deng "to challenge himself physically" when he was slow to recover from a lower-leg injury. He couldn't, of course, because his leg was broken.
Just like Thibodeau's mindset.
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- Tom Thibodeau
- Chicago Bulls
- Jimmy Butler