In two years as head coach of the Chicago Bulls, Tom Thibodeau has racked up a .757 winning percentage, winning one Coach of the Year award and just missing another. Accolades have rained down from his counterparts, his players, analysts and experts, Chicago fans and pretty much everyone else associated with the NBA.
But now the going gets tough.
Team leader Derrick Rose won't be around to run the show, provide leadership, and share his contagious desire and determination. There'll be no Bench Mob to count on when depth is needed, and the Bulls will be weak at the one in a league dominated by point guards. And already offensively inept, the Bulls will sorely lack scoring regardless of how they fill out the roster.
It's going to be a challenge.
But perhaps the most significant hurdle Thibs will face this season is familiarizing himself with his new players, whoever they may be. While I can only assume that he's been at least somewhat involved in personnel decisions (see the notes section), Thibs will still have to figure out who to play in what situations and, more importantly, who to trust.
Here are some questions to ponder as the Bulls fill out their roster:
Will new players buy into the system? One of the reasons the Bulls were so successful the past two seasons is that everyone bought into the system from day one. There were lots of stories after Thibs arrived and training camp began about how everyone was "buying in." Finding players who will buy in is crucial, as Thibs has little use for those who won't (ala James Johnson, who rode the pine in Chicago before becoming a starter in Toronto).
What about team chemistry? Another thing that separated the Bulls from other teams was exceptional team chemistry. Team members hung out together and actually liked one another; they developed a camaraderie, a unity and oneness of mission that can't be forced. Again, that's where management comes in - it's their job to find players who will buy into the system and contribute to positive team chemistry, and to weed out those who might not fit.
Will new players be able to handle Thibs' intensity? Scott Skiles became interim coach late in the 2003-04 season and helped turn the Bulls around after some pretty lean years. The Bulls were winning and back in the playoffs, and everyone loved Skiles…until he burned his players out with his hard-ass ways, that is, and had to be fired. Thibs is just as intense, maybe more, and there has always been an underlying concern that he's too hard on players. And there are plenty of players out there who simply would not be able to handle Thibs' intensity. Again, choosing the right players will be critical.
How will Thibs react to losing? I haven't given up on the Bulls yet, but let's face it: They're not going to win three of every four games this season, like they have the past two, and they're not going to compete for a title. That's going to be a hard pill to swallow, as everyone - players, fans, coaches - have gotten pretty used to winning. Will Thibs be able to handle not competing for division and conference titles, with actually losing a few games? We are, after all, talking about a man who's lost back-to-back games just five times in two years. Would he, for example, be able to handle playing .500 ball?
There are still a lot of questions to be answered about the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls, and one seldom mentioned but nonetheless valid is how Thibodeau will mesh with his new players.
Notes: Here's a hilarious tweet from Thursday exchanged between Adrian Wojnarowski, NBA writer for Yahoo! Sports, and Doug Thonus, who pens the popular Chicago Bulls Confidential blog..…Wojnarowski: Management kept going through roster scenarios w/ Tom Thibodeau and asking: Who do you want to keep? His answer, basically: "All of them."…..Thonus: Then they laughed and said No, really.
YCN featured sports contributor Steve Merritt is - for better or worse - a lifelong Chicago Bulls, Bears and Cubs fan. He's followed the Bulls since 1969, when he tuned in after bedtime on a cheap dime store radio tucked under his pillow.
Other Chicago Bulls articles by Steve:
- Sports & Recreation
- Chicago Bulls
- Tom Thibodeau