January 07, 2011
The Chicago Bulls would like you to know that the mini-feud between coach Tom Thibodeau and forward Carlos Boozer(notes) is over. Boozer's obvious frustration at having been benched for the entire fourth quarter of Chicago's loss to the Nets on Wednesday has passed, as coach Thibs has ably explained that the benching had nothing to do with Boozer's terrible defense through the first three quarters of that game.
K.C. Johnson has the quote from the rookie head coach:
"It wasn't necessarily Carlos," Thibodeau said. "It was our whole team. We were low energy going into the fourth quarter, down 13 points. We were looking to get more energy into the game. The second unit went in, they were playing well. They made up the 13 very quickly. I just decided to ride that group because they were playing well."
It wasn't necessarily Carlos, but it was unnecessarily Carlos. The guy played terrible defense against the Nets. Absolutely awful rotations, and poor recognition as the Nets tried lob after lob while Boozer looked elsewhere. But this doesn't mean Thibodeau handled this correctly. He had to find some way to sneak his highest-paid player back into the game in the fourth quarter, in order to keep his spirits up, and he screwed up.
We all know why.
It's Thibodeau's first season as a head coach. He's had a couple of decades' worth of suggestions that he's had to keep to himself as an assistant, and now that he's in charge, he's going to run himself hoarse trying to shout them out. It's a tough gig, things happen so quickly, and complexity behind the job grows when you realize just how potent a basketball brain that Thibs possesses.
But you have to dink and dump. Carlos Boozer, to these eyes, was the biggest reason why the Bulls were performing so poorly defensively in this game. Thibodeau apparently saw the same thing. You still have to try and work him into the fourth quarter. Even for a quick in and out. Just to engage him, to get him excited as you toss him in for offense but talk up a small defensive lineup after Avery Johnson calls a timeout. That's your responsibility, to be considering the feelings of 12 different men, at once, while the front office and the fans and the media and your assistants shout in your ear. It isn't easy.
But you can't make things so blatant. You have to find a way to bring types like Boozer, even when the Bulls are on their way back, into the fold. If only for a short spell.
It needs to be said that Boozer's absence was not the reason Chicago lost the game. His defense may have contributed greatly to the initial decline, but Chicago blew transition opportunities, missed free throws, and screwed up several chances to take over late. To say nothing of the first three quarters. Yes, Derrick Rose's(notes) offense may have been the thing that brought Chicago back late in the fourth quarter, but it was his defensive play that allowed Devin Harris(notes) to take over in the middle part of that quarter. Plenty of blame to go around.
The worry here is that nobody is coming out of this smelling good. Boozer's play was bench-worthy, but Thibodeau shouldn't have benched him so blatantly. And they're both being dishonest when they tell us that either everything is OK and understood, and that it wasn't Carlos' defense that kept him out of the comeback lineup in that fourth quarter. These aren't true things. These aren't good things.
What is promising is the talent inherent in each player. Boozer can really, really play. He boards like a freak and scores in a number of ways without dominating the ball, while acting a superb teammate throughout. And Thibodeau is clearly respected to no end by this team, on top of being the clear Coach of the Year candidate to people looking in from the outside.
This can either be a blip, a chance for both sides to stay needlessly resentful for months, or something to learn from. There's no point in adding anything else beyond that.