In Greek myth there is the well known story of Icarus. Daedalus constructs wings made of wax and instructs Icarus to be careful and not fly too close to the sun. Icarus ignores the warning and falls to his death after the wax melts in the warmth of the sun and the wings disintegrate. The Bulls could have used Daedalus yesterday, instead they have Tom “Icarus” Thibodeau.
You see “Thibs” as he is called (to avoid spelling his name) lacks self restraint and he has demonstrated this on repeated occasions in his brief tenure as head coach of the Bulls. One look no further than his voice where night after night he screams himself hoarse unable to control himself and let his team play without his constant instruction from the sidelines. He’s free to do that, he’s only damaging his own vocal cords, but last night it was Derrick Rose crumpled on the floor like Icarus because, again, Thibodeau asked too much.
Rewind to the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals. The Miami Heat finally get the Bulls’ number when they put LeBron James on Rose at the end game. Why not the whole game? Clearly James could not keep up with him for the whole game for certain but also because Rose is worn down by then. Rose is severely limited in the series and looks, quite frankly, exhausted. The rumbles of criticism had already been seeded all season that Thibodeau is unable to take his foot off the gas and get his stars, particularly Rose, enough rest despite the deepest bench in the NBA.
So after the lockout this year and the resulting compressed schedule one would think Thibodeau would be ready for this development and have a plan to rest his players. No such luck. In February Thibodeau was quoted: “If a guy is injured, he shouldn’t play. But if he can play, he should play.” Not surprising from a man who can’t take his foot off the throttle, even to spend the holidays with his family. This may be a sharp point to make but if you connect the dots you see the Type A maniac that resides within the shell of Tom Thibodeau. After his quote about being injured or not he went on to say: “Somehow there’s this notion of guys sitting out games. Pretty soon we’ll be at the point where a guy sits out the whole season and just plays in the playoffs — if he can get there. I don’t get that.”
Do you get it now Tom? The worse part of it, he is passing this ethic on to his players. Just a few days ago he stated how he wouldn’t get his players rest for the playoffs. “When you look at what the starters have done, our guys up front, really no one’s playing starter’s minutes,” Thibodeau said. “And they haven’t all season. And then when you look at the backcourt guys, I think Derrick played 1,300 minutes this year.” Thibodeau went on to mention other players but Rose was at the top of the list. The other players circled to support the philosophy, voiced by Taj Gibson, “I know Thibs isn’t a fan of resting guys. We don’t want rest. It’s the time of the season where you can’t really rest. You have to go into the playoffs ready and have a good spark.”
The problem is these statements are completely ignorant of this year’s compressed schedule. They are played 16 less games so of course minutes were down from normal. It is also ignorant of the concept of recovery time that is needed in a sport like basketball. Given the heavy level of exertion and endurance demanded of NBA players they need time to recover to avoid exhaustion and injury. This year every team played three games in three nights, some played five games in six night and despite only losing 16 games two months were lopped off the front end of the schedule. This has been a recipe for disaster for team trainers with many teams, including the Bulls, suffering the injury bug. This isn’t an outside fringe theory, this is fact and this was predicted by many including former NBA head coach and ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy.
With these facts in the back of my mind I sat stunned watching the Bulls’ franchise player crumpled on the court. I had gone to my computer with the win secured thinking he had been removed from the game. When the call of him being hurt was made I turned in dismay and before even seeing it I thought “what was he doing in there?” I’m even more dismayed by the likes of Sam Smith who will readily give Thibodeau a pass and wax romantic about how the Bulls could still do something in the playoffs and how “there’s no blame there” for him. Michael Wilbon rightfully blames the NBA as part of the problem with this ridiculous schedule but also gives Thibodeau the pass.
I’m not buying it. Thibodeau and the apologists are free to claim “The score was going the other way” yet when injury made the substitution Thibodeau should have the Bulls still won the game by the exact same margin. The Bulls also do not play baseball where once a player is removed he can’t go back in. Say in the La-La land Thibodeau and the apologists exist the Sixers put up a quick six, why at that point you can put Rose right back out there can’t you? There were seventy-two seconds left in the game.
What crumpled Rose to the court on Saturday was surely a freak thing. Is there any surprise the knee that suffered the injury is the same leg where he suffered his big toe? The knee has been compensating for the injured toe all season. If you ask any physician or any competent trainer they will tell you of the dangers of overexertion. The fact the injury was suffered from a collision, accident or coming down wrong is further proof it is from overexertion. Rose was driven to overexertion by Thibodeau. He has been driven to try to come back and play too early all year. This isn’t an otherwise healthy player who suddenly had a freak injury, this is a player who has been hampered by injuries all season.
It’s pretty clear that all concerned are willing to give a pass to Thibodeau on this, his fantastic record has earned him that pass. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the future though. Every ACL recovery is different and while I certainly hope Rose will return with that same explosiveness he had that is no guarantee. That’s an awful big gamble for seventy-two seconds in the first game of the first round with a double-digit lead. I think Thibodeau’s vocal cords are on my side at least.