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MEMPHIS -- Tom Thibodeau sat Derrick Rose on Monday afternoon because his toe injury was still bothering him. The Bulls' loss, of course, was largely due to Rose's not playing.
Fans may not like the move -- but it was the right one.
Since re-aggravating his turf toe injury -- Thibodeau said it was a toe sprain, Rose says turf toe is the same as a sprain -- Rose hasn't looked hobbled on the floor. But he hasn't looked like himself off of it. After the injury was sustained Tuesday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Rose has had a noticeable limp after games. He has been hobbling around in a walking boot before and after each contest for the past week. He played a combined 80 minutes in a back-to-back wins against Boston and Toronto.
Obviously, the Bulls look completely different without Rose. He's the reigning NBA MVP and the man the Bulls' entire offense is built around. But the safe play and the smart play for Thibodeau and the Bulls, is to continue to sit Rose for a little while longer so that the toe can continue to heal. Sure, the Bulls looked terrible at times on Monday against the Memphis Grizzlies without Rose, but there is no reason Thibodeau's bunch can't knock off the Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers and Charlotte Bobcats without their star. Those are the three teams the Bulls face the rest of the week.
C.J. Watson was back in the lineup in Monday's loss, and John Lucas III can spot Watson when he needs some rest. The problem for Thibodeau is that Rose will say he wants to play. He'll tell the veteran coach that he's fine and he wants to be on the floor to help his teammates. After all, Rose just earned the Eastern Conference player of the week award, even with the toe injury. He can play through the pain, but Thibodeau should recognize the bigger picture. Rose's whole game is based on speed and explosion towards the rim. If he can't use his toe to gain that explosion, that advantage, becomes moot.
The Bulls want to win every game they can, but in the grand scheme of the 66-game condensed season, regular-season games don't mean as much. The Bulls know they can beat pretty much every team in the league. They know they must prepare themselves for a probable rematch of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat. In order to be as ready as they can be, why risk playing Rose in games where he clearly isn't at 100 percent? Thibodeau has said repeatedly early this season that he and the team won't put Rose in long-term jeopardy in order for short-term gain. He proved that on Monday by sitting his star in a game that Rose badly wanted to play in. Thibodeau needs to continue to show his leadership and sit Rose until the young point guard's toe shows significant improvement.
The short-term sting from a loss or two without Rose in January is far less important than the gain that could come from a healthy Rose several months from now. Thibodeau knows this and that's why the decision on what to do with Rose and his minutes may very well be Thibodeau's most important of the season.