When Bulls guard Rip Hamilton suffered a torn plantar fascia in his left foot, coach Tom Thibodeau had a variety of choices for replacing him in the starting lineup. He chose to go with long-range shooter Marco Belinelli, but told reporters Tuesday the new lineup "is not etched in stone."
This was big news, not because second-year swingman Jimmy Butler seems to have more upside than Belinelli, or that the idea of moving Kirk Hinrich to the "2'' and playing Nate Robinson at point would seem to be better offensively, but because Thibodeau said the move was "not etched in stone." For Thibodeau, everything seems to be etched in stone.
Thibodeau is an excellent defensive coach, and seems to do a good job motivating his players. But flexible he is not, or at least, he has not been.
When told he was playing forward Luol Deng too many minutes, he staunchly refused to change his player rotation to buy Deng time. When asked time and again to look either back a few days or forward a few days for perspective, he stands by his belief that the only game that matters is the one directly ahead of him.
So to hear that the decision to play Belinelli may not stand the test of time (in this case, perhaps as many as three weeks for Hamilton to recover), the media took note.
The decision, according to Thibodeau, was to keep the second unit intact, at least through the first three players. Butler, Taj Gibson and Robinson are the meat of the bench, and Gibson and Butler are so strong defensively that Thibodeau did not want to tinker with that strength.
"That group has played really well together and they are starting to build some chemistry,'' Thibodeau said. "That was a big part of it."
Butler buys Thibodeau's theory and endorses it.
"I like being that spark off the bench,'' Butler told the Chicago Tribune Tuesday. "That gives me energy. Running out there with Taj and seeing the hustle plays he makes, I want to do that."
With the new lineup, the Bulls faced the Indiana Pacers Tuesday and lost 80-76 in a taffy-pull of a game. Belinelli played 24 minutes and scored six points, but only had one turnover in his time. Butler played 30 minutes-plus, scored four points but added nine rebounds and only one turnover.
If Thibodeau changes the starting lineup any time soon, it will be big news. It probably won't change the team's fortunes much (only Derrick Rose's return will do that), but it will make headlines.
Kent McDill has covered the Bulls for three different companies: for United Press International from 1985-88, for the Daily Herald newspaper in Arlington Heights, Ill., from 1988-99 and currently for NBA.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title "100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die'' published by Triumph Books.