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Luol Deng and the cruel tutelage of Tom Thibodeau

Feb 5, 2012, 2:26 PM EST

Chicago Bulls v Boston Celtics Getty Images

Bulls fans have been perplexed by Tom Thibodeau’s management of minutes. For the reigning Coach of the Year, a man who has transformed the Bulls into a defensive juggernaut, the East’s best regular season team and a Conference Finalist, it’s really one of the handful of criticisms you can make against Thibs. He routinely plays his starters in blowouts, logging huge minutes in needless situations. Luol Deng, especially.

The Bulls are routinely involved in blowouts of 20-plus points, comfortable leads, and yet Deng has averaged 38.4 minutes per game, down just slightly from last season when Deng logged 39.1 minutes per contest. Deng was fourth in minutes per game last season, and has moved up to 2nd this year. While most teams are limiting minutes in this crazy schedule, Thibodeau has kept pace with Deng, his best defender and the pivotal player on Chicago’s defense. But with Deng suffering a torn ligament in his wrist and still contemplating surgery, surely Thibodeau would be more careful when and if he decided to bring him back. Nope. Here’s what Thibodeau told NBA.com earlier this week.

Thibodeau says that Deng is “getting close” to being ready to play again. “He’s doing more and more each day,” the coach said before Thursday’s game. But Thibodeau wouldn’t entertain the notion that this stretch is allowing him to get more comfortable with having Deng on the bench.

“I’m comfortable with the minutes he plays,” Thibodeau said. “There’s a reason why he plays those minutes. I’m confident in our bench. We have a bench that’s more than capable. I think that if you studied the teams in the league over the years, there’s players that have averaged those minutes, and it’s fine. So that’s the way we’ll go.”

via Thibodeau Won’t Stop Leaning On Deng « NBA.com | Hang Time Blog.

And true to his word…

Deng returned Saturday night in a blowout win over the Bucks. The Bulls were up 20-plus for most of the second half. So Thibodeau eased Deng back in…

By playing him over 41 minutes.

That’s the sound of a Coach of the Year, trolling everyone.

Now, it’s not like Deng wouldn’t want to play those minutes. If asked, he’ll play. He wanted to come back, to prove he’s tough after so many years of questions regarding his toughness. He’ll play every single minute Thibodeau asks him to, as will most of the Bulls. But it’s just stunning to see that kind of a decision about such a crucial player, playing with such a serious injury, even though doctors have confirmed Deng cannot damage the injury anymore by playing on it. His first game back, and he goes 41 minutes.

Tom Thibodeau enjoys pain. Inflicting it on opponents. Teaching his players through it. This is some Pai Mei stuff going on.

And the Bulls keep winning. By a lot. By hook, by crook, or by devastating exhaustion, Thibodeau keeps his team on a razor’s edge.

  1. pudgalvin - Feb 5, 2012 at 3:06 PM

    That was some onslaught the Bulls put on the Bucks last night. That game was over about 4 minutes in.

  2. jayzus - Feb 5, 2012 at 3:52 PM

    If come playoffs the bulls are dinged up and worn down Thibs will be looking to be coach of the year for another team.

  3. asublimeday - Feb 5, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    Deng has more toughness in his pinky than the effeminate unnamed team in south florida.

    • ibleedaquaorange - Feb 6, 2012 at 12:43 AM

      Ha. Lot of good Deng’s pinky did you last year, bud.

  4. asublimeday - Feb 5, 2012 at 4:05 PM

    Jaysus, you’re high if you think thibbs is in any danger of losing his job. It would take two terrible seasons to even put him on the hot seat.

  5. glink123 - Feb 5, 2012 at 4:15 PM

    I gotta admit, as a Bulls fan, I was swearing at Thibs last night over leaving Deng and Rose in the game, up by 24, with 4 minutes left in the game. It’s an unnecessary risk, and it’s foolish.

  6. brooklynbulls - Feb 5, 2012 at 4:56 PM

    Exactly! And Rose was left in far too long as well. I can deal with all the minutes Thibs plays Deng when he’s needed. But with a blow out in hand and Deng returning from an injury, its plain wreckless. Thibs has been riding Deng like Seabiscuit since he’s been there.

    On the other hand its great to see Deng responding the way he has and playing consistent reliable basketball. I was one of the fans who used to question his toughness back in the day. He’s one of the more committed players in the game, the 2nd best player on this team, and the glue that holds it all together.

    • solomon151 - Feb 6, 2012 at 7:42 AM

      I dont know if you all watched last mondays game against the wizards, but, We was up by 21 at the end of the third with Rose out of the game and the Wizards almost came back and won. We have a nice bench, but, I wouldnt leave them out there longer then a couple of minutes at a time.

  7. antmings - Feb 5, 2012 at 6:04 PM

    I dnt get how u can measure a players toughness….like you have some kind of degree in player toughness or sumthin….all u can ask for is players that play hard…deng has always dne that….I think Tibs is doin it the rite way…that’s y u can have drose and cj Watson both hurt and hav a player like john Lucas step up and we still win gms…if you pay atten. the bulls always have more energy then other teams dwn the stretch..and that’s because of the demanding consistent rotation Tibs plays players like drose and deng.

  8. dallascowboysfan101 - Feb 5, 2012 at 10:46 PM

    Thins is doing the right stuff in the windy city! Go D-Rose and the Bulls!

  9. thescribe56 - Feb 6, 2012 at 12:32 AM

    Not that I’m comparing the two, but tell Vinny Del Negro that you can’t be fired for playing an injured player for too many minutes. I’m sure Paxson has more confidence in Thib’s but I sure hope he’s as concerned about all those minutes as we are.

  10. penwit1 - Feb 6, 2012 at 3:02 AM

    Thanks for writing about the excessive use of Deng,

    I’ve written to the Bulls writers about the excessive use of Deng, but no would listen or
    respond like it was an issue.

    Coach Thibs is in a contract year, and he wants to win every game he can–but, that may
    not put his focus on the playoffs nor will it avoid him playing a player excessively like
    he did Deng. As you may know, Chicago fans and Bulls management are crazy about Rose,
    Deng, and Noah–and I mean crazy. They don’t want them misused or abused by coaches or
    anybody else. Did coach Thibs keep Deng in the game against Charlotte too long–causing
    Deng to work too many minutes at a meaningless point of the game when the Bulls were way
    ahead in the score during the 4th quarter? Would Deng have hurt his wrist by being in a
    game already won by Chicago had coach Thibs taken him out earlier? Wow, does this reminds
    us of the Del Negro event with Bulls GM Paxson–when they almost came to blows over
    excessive use of Noah? Will Paxson and Thibs get into a fighting incident over excessive
    use of Deng to a point where the Bulls investment in Deng is jeopardized.

    After a loss to the Phoenix Suns on March 30, 2010 an irate Paxson walked into the
    coach’s office at the United Center and confronted Del Negro over a narrow breach of a
    management-imposed minutes limit on injured forward Joakim Noah(notes). Sources said
    Paxson first grabbed a hold of Del Negro’s tie and seemingly tried to provoke him with
    two successive jabs into his chest. Paxson was even heard to angrily challenge Del Negro
    to a fight.
    A flap over Noah’s playing time was against the New Jersey Nets that year, and it proved
    costly to the Bulls as they chased the final playoff spot in the East. Del Negro sent
    assistant coach Lindsey Hunter to ask Forman if he could play Noah late in a close game
    with serious playoff implications. Forman contacted Paxson, who green lighted Noah
    exceeding his minutes. But Del Negro didn’t get his answer until the first of two
    overtimes. Meanwhile, the Nets’ Brook Lopez converted an offensive rebound in the final
    seconds of regulation and the Nets won in double overtime. Chicago Bulls executive vice
    president John Paxson shoved coach Vinny Del Negro twice in the chest and had to be
    restrained in a postgame confrontation late last month, multiple sources told Yahoo!
    Sports. John Paxson (right) got into a physical altercation with Bulls coach Vinny Del
    Negro in March, according to sources.

    The question is—Is coach Thibs another Vinna Del Negro or Doug Collins (as during the
    Jordan/Pippen Era) or is he a Phil Jackson type who is focused on winning Championships
    and not just games. No one remembers how many games Phil Jackson has won–we only
    remember the Championships. May I also say as a fan, that we see coach Thibs as a winner
    and

    potentially a great coach–and we wish him success as the Chicago Bulls coach and… A healthy Deng and Rose could be the difference in winning Championships or losing. Black athletes are not super human and Chicago does not have to win every game to get to the playoffs. Our team needs a focus on winning the playoffs–and I’m not saying they should ignore this season. A healthy Deng and Rose in the playoffs and with fresh legs may be the difference in winning and losing while every team is now taking a physical beating just trying to stay healthy to win in the current season.

    If the Chicago Bulls can learn how to play without Deng’s defense and offense–this should make the team stronger when Deng returns. Why can’t the coach give Butler a chance to play against the weaker teams and allow Brewer to start against the real competition while Butler learns to be Deng’s backup. An ailing Deng may be a blessing similiar to what happened when Rose was out those four games –when we discovered his backups were talented and could play during his absence.

    We already lost James Johnson to Toronto–discovering that he just needed playing time to gain confidence–the confidence he did not find while being held to the Chicago Bulls bench. Why should the Bulls jeapardize all the money they have invested in Deng and Hamilton using one, the other or both excessively after injury for only one season??? The other Bulls players must make up for their defense and offense–and realize that no one is irreplaceable. T

    he Bulls can win even without Deng–who really needs an operation ASAP on that wrist–and then the Bulls would acquire an exception they can use to get another player this season. The problem is that a player like Deng is view as almost irreplaceable–but, in reality anyone can be replaced and that’s the reality Deng must face. The Bulls need his services not just for this year and for several years ahead–but why should he be allowed to put his future in jeapardy.

    I am sure the Bulls have insured their players–so they are not losing any money if they are really smart. Hamilton needs more time to heal also–his injury is no fun neither. I had an injury like Hamilton’s while running track and playing baseball–it never seemed to heal at first–until I just stopped playing for a season. And though we wanna win now–this year–but the Bulls can still get better this year with the right deals. The Bulls just need to acquire players to replace Deng and Hamilton for this year–and I know that seems like an impossible task and no one can replace the experience and talent they have–but Butler could use the experience and who knows how good he can be with some playing time. There’s another 2 guard out there that the Bulls can acquire with a injured player exception. Training them to play with the current team may be the best route for the team. While retired, 3 years ago I worked at the Kansas City Airport as a TA and often I would seat Manute Bol in first class, even though he bought tickets to sit elsewhere on airplanes. I got repremanded for putting him in first class all the time, and one day he and I talked about Deng’s progress. While talking with him I discovered his hand was deformed and he couldn’t afford an operation while taking on the responsibility of helping members of his tribe. Most of Bols money was spent helping his tribe and Deng may be doing the same for his people. Seeing Bol like that now inspires me to write to everybody influential enough to plea to Deng to have an operation on that hand now. When Deng plays basketball, where-ever he plays–For the Bulls or for his native country–he carries his whole tribe on his back–caring for his tribe and his family. I would encourage Pax to force and demand Deng to have the operation on his wrist now–show him that we care–for the burden maybe Deng carries is heavier than anyone may realize. Our focus should be on winning Championships and not just games for haste makes a waste–have we all forgotten that? Even though we wanna win now–this year–but the Bulls can still get better this year with the right deals just like Dallas did last year when Butler was hurt and out for the season.
    Thank you, C Edward Miller, Author

  11. gmsingh - Feb 6, 2012 at 7:12 AM

    Thibs knows what he’s doing. One of the things the Bulls need the most work on is managing and maintaining a lead. You can’t do that by leaving your starters on the bench for most of the game.

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