Chicago Bulls: Tom Thibodeau
CHICAGO -- For four years under Tom Thibodeau, the Chicago Bulls have exuded trust on the defensive end. They know where each other is going to be on the floor and they play hard together. They know that if one player makes a mistake, another player will be there to pick them up and cover for them.
Twenty games into this season, though, that trust was lacking, according to two of their defensive stalwarts.
"I think our trust has to be better," Joakim Noah said after Saturday's loss to the Golden State Warriors. "We're not where we need to be and that's on every area of the defensive end. We all have to do a better job and that goes for everybody. I take the blame for some of it, but we all have to be on the same page, and right now we're not where we need to be."
But the Bulls coach doesn't see it as an issue of trust. When asked Wednesday about what it would take to rebuild trust, Thibodeau said: "That's garbage. That's garbage. Trust, it's work. It's work. That's how you build trust. You got to know what you're doing, you got to be tied together. You got to work at it. It's a cop out."
For a coach who has built his entire career on outworking his opponents, the idea that Thibodeau's players don't trust each other on defense flies in the face of what he has taught them over the past five years.
"Where you get trust is from the work," Thibodeau said. "The magic is in the work. It's working together, it's timing. It's being tied together. One guy being off is going to hurt you. So you need everyone working together. It doesn't end. You're not going to have it figured out in three days. You're trying to do something great. Nothing great was ever achieved without great work and great effort. It's really that simple."
Instead of demurring and and agreeing with Thibodeau's assessment, Gibson fired back in his own way before Wednesday's game. Thibodeau is entitled to his opinion, but that doesn't mean Gibson agrees with it.
"That was just me and Jo's opinion," Gibson said. "We're on the court."
Gibson followed up on the point he and Noah made on Saturday.
"It's just new guys," Gibson said. "That's all it is. Most of the guys are coming from teams, they're not really defensive-minded teams first. So of course it's going to happen, but that's just my opinion. That's what I see on the court. I've been here for a while. I know what I'm talking about. Joakim knows what he's talking about, he was the defensive player of the year, of course he's going to know what he's talking about. We're on the court, though."
On the surface, this appears to be more of a media-driven story. A player says one thing, a coach disagrees, and then a player is asked for his opinion of the coach's new thoughts.
The difference here is the players and coach involved.
Gibson and Noah are two of the most respected Bulls. They are proud players who wouldn't rock the boat for any reason.
In that regard, Thibodeau is similar. But the fact that Gibson didn't back down in his belief is telling and shows a shift in how he and Noah are handling Thibodeau's demanding style. Gibson didn't call out his coach, but he stood up for his opinion and made it clear that he didn't agree with Thibodeau.
The Bulls responded in the hours following Gibson's pregame comments with a dominant performance against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night. It was arguably their best defensive performance of the season, holding the Nets to just 33 percent shooting in a 105-80 romp.
After the game, Gibson acknowledged that the trust that had been missing in previous games was there against the Nets.
"It's something that you see," Gibson said. "It's something that you really got to drill in your head. You got to really be in practice, you really have to watch film. You have to really drill [it] in your head. And trust that the guy next to you is going to have your back. And tonight, in the second half, I felt like it was kind of like that tonight.
"The bigs were calling off the defensive coverages, the guards were responding. Guys were just switching, talking, and that was real big. That's what teams that go deep in the playoffs really capitalize on. Just talking and believing in each other and no letups on defense."
The natural follow-up, when it comes to Thibodeau and his players, then is the same one that has been whispered about for several years both in and out of the organization: Will the players start to tune out Thibodeau?
The answer, at least up to this point, remains no. The Bulls are still winning and there is a genuine belief from within that they can win a championship this season if Derrick Rose & Co. stay healthy. But the grumbling, in regards to Thibodeau's abrasive style, might be growing a little louder than usual behind the scenes.
The first sign of that came before the season when the front office made it clear to Thibodeau that Noah and Rose would be on a minutes restriction to start the season. While it appears to be a prudent decision given both players' recent history with knee injuries, Thibodeau understandably did not like it. Like most coaches, he wants to be in control and he doesn't want to be told what to do by anyone. The difference with Thibodeau is in his attention to detail. He wants to know about everything basketball-related going on within the organization and wants to have the power to make decisions on the floor.
That doesn't make him that much different than his peers. But the difference is in the rigidness. Gibson noted that Thibodeau put the Bulls through two tough practices after Saturday's loss, a fact reaffirmed by veteran Pau Gasol, who half-jokingly said: "I'd rather play back-to-backs."
“The key with Thibodeau is the consistency. His message is the same and it has been since he was hired in the summer of 2010. He demands order, effort and accountability on the floor.
Most of the guys are coming from teams, they're not really defensive-minded teams first. So of course it's going to happen, but that's just my opinion. That's what I see on the court. I've been here for a while. I know what I'm talking about. Joakim knows what he's talking about, he was the defensive player of the year, of course he's going to know what he's talking about. We're on the court, though.” -- Taj Gibson
"He's Thibs," Gibson said. "He's Thibs 100 percent every day of the week. He's not going to change. But eventually guys are going to take in and listen to what he says. He may yell at you 100 times but you're going to eventually do what he says."
Thibodeau has become one of the best coaches in basketball because of his ability to stick to those principles no matter the situation. It just seems like more than at any other point during his tenure, his players are getting tired with how that message is being delivered.
That happens to every coach over time. That's why there's always so much turnover in professional sports. But Gibson's comments illustrate one of the rare times during Thibodeau's tenure when his words were challenged, even slightly.
Does that mean that Gibson, Noah and the rest of the Bulls are suddenly going to stop playing as hard for Thibodeau at some point this season?
No. The players still respect Thibodeau a great deal for the way he prepares for each game, a fact that Gibson referenced after Wednesday's win in saying Thibodeau was "a guru when it comes to the game plan."
"He's on your case for a reason," Gibson said. "He only wants to get you better. He's on you every day. He yells at everybody from top to bottom, Derrick, everybody, even the guys that's on the bench. He doesn't sugarcoat anything. He just wants you to get better. You see how everyone's been rewarded over the years. Guys have to follow suit and nothing's going to change."
They also don’t get much more diverse. It's the long-range shooting of the Warriors’ Steph Curry and Klay Thompson against the inside-out play of Derrick Rose and the tough defense/blossoming offense of Jimmy Butler.
“They’re definitely talented; they can really shoot and score the ball,” Butler said Friday. “They get up quick in transition. But I think our job is just to make them work for every look that they get. Make everything difficult and challenge every shot. That’s the best way to guard those guys.”
The Bulls are coming off a win at Charlotte on Wednesday, while the Warriors are arguably the hottest team in the NBA with an 11-game winning streak that matches a franchise best. The Warriors lead the NBA in field goal percentage and assists.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau prides himself on defense and there might not be a more unique defensive challenge than the Warriors.
“If you overcommit to [the backcourt], they have other guys who can hurt you,” Thibodeau said. “What’s probably overlooked is how unselfish they all are. They were a high-assist team last year and they’re a higher-assist team this year. It tells you they play for each other.
“[Andrew] Bogut is under the radar. He’s very clever. He can handle the ball, pass, score around the basket. And he has a great defensive presence about him, He’s one of those guys who makes the team function extremely well. He’s a great screener. You can tell they have a team of guys who have fully embraced their roles. And their record reflects that.”
Thibodeau witnessed the challenge ahead with Curry and Thompson this past summer, as an assistant coach of USA Basketball.
As far as gleaning some kind of advantage heading into Saturday’s matchup? The Bulls coach scoffed.
“You have a pretty good idea of what they are,” Thibodeau said. “You also base it on what your team has done against them. I didn't need to be there to know how hard to be guarded. That part, I had a pretty good understanding of that.”
With Rose still working his way back from a myriad of injuries and Butler seemingly getting better by the game, is this the chance for the Bulls backcourt to show what it is made of?
“I don’t think our backcourt really cares (about that), whether it’s me or Derrick or Kirk [Hinrich] that’s in there; we just play,” Butler said. “We don’t worry about getting into the media and saying who is better than who. I think we’re all really good players, and whenever we go up against each other, I think each other’s games will speak.”
While Butler is the only one of the four backcourt starters not to have played in Spain this summer, he brings with him his own bona fides, most notably the Eastern Conference player of the month award for Novemeber. But he's aware of the perception of his place in the matchup.
“I guess at the end of the day [Thompson] is supposed to be better than I am anyways, like everybody else in this league, so I just continue to play the game hard, play the game the right way,” Butler said. “I think it will take care of itself.”
They know if they can somehow manage to stay healthy -- especially the starting unit of Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol -- they can be very dangerous.
"I think [the ceiling is] pretty high," Rose acknowledged before Saturday's practice.
The problem for the Bulls is that coming into Sunday's game against the Brooklyn Nets, that group has played together only four times in the regular season. Rose has missed the most time because of ankle and hamstring injuries, but Butler (thumb), Gasol (strained calf) and Noah (knee/eye/illness) have also missed time as well. A month into a season filled with championship expectations, the Bulls are hoping Friday's win over the Boston Celtics, in which all the starters played solid minutes, is the start of a new chapter of the season.
"It's kind of frustrating a little bit because we know how good we can be," Rose said. "And we know that it's a long season. And we're just trying to stay consistent with everything that we're doing knowing that we have a pretty, pretty good team. Right now defensively, we're not where we want to be."
While Rose and coach Tom Thibodeau are not happy with the defense right now, it's clear that when that group of five is on the floor together, it clicks very well on the offensive end.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, that group is averaging 111.2 points per 48 minutes. It has played 79 total minutes together this season. The players and coaches know if they can keep that group intact it is going to get better.
"We're going to be tough," Butler said. "I think it starts with just getting used to each other out here in practice and then applying it in a game. But we have so many weapons, and guys are doing so many things well in that starting five that it's going to be fun."
The interesting wrinkle to the research is that while the starting group is functioning very well, it's not even the Bulls' most productive group yet from a statistical perspective. That would be the five of Butler, Gasol, Dunleavy, Aaron Brooks and Taj Gibson. That group is averaging 130.5 points per 48 minutes but has played just 21 minutes together.
With Noah and Rose back in the fold, Thibodeau is optimistic they'll finally be able to string some games together. But in order to get better, Thibodeau knows it will be important for that group to start practicing more together.
"It's important," Thibodeau said of the starting group. "I think they have to play together, they have to practice together and that's the only way you can build chemistry. You got to work together. You got to build the right habits. You can't skip that. And so it's a move in the right direction for us."
Butler agreed with his coach's assessment regarding practice.
"I think practices are really important because that's where you get your rhythm going," he said. "We can step into a game at any point in time and make shots, but practicing with each other and getting in a rhythm and knowing what each and every guy likes to do that's in that group is very important."
While the Bulls try to find ways to stay healthy, the unit remains cautiously optimistic, led by Rose. They've seen a glimpse of how good they can be. They know they have the talent to accomplish what they want to later in the season. Now, they just have to prove it.
"I would say that everybody's just anxious to play together," Rose said. "I wouldn't say it's a relief. I think all the guys are, we want to play together but injuries and people being banged up has kind of messed that up. But I think guys are really anxious to get out there and put some games together."
CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler wants to stay in Chicago. The Bulls want Butler to stay in Chicago. So why did Friday night's deadline pass without an extension being reached on both sides?
While neither party wanted to come out and say it, it sounds like one of the biggest reasons was because of the new $24 billion dollar television deal the league signed earlier this month with ESPN and Turner.
Butler, and his agent, Happy Walters, believe he is worth more than the Bulls were offering. The interesting part of the negotiations is that even as the deadline was set to expire both parties made it seem like, in the end, Butler wouldn't be going anywhere.
"I think everybody knows ... this is home for me," Butler told reporters before Friday's game.
While it's unclear exactly how much Butler and his representatives were seeking, it sounds like $12 million a year was at least the starting point, similar to the deal Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker signed earlier this week, agreeing to a four-year, $48 million pact.
The new TV deal has left many agents believing a lot of players are going to get a whole lot more money once the new salary cap is worked out. The issue for both Butler and the Bulls is that nobody knows what those numbers will be.
"Obviously it was talked about a lot (in the negotiations)," Bulls GM Gar Forman said Friday on ESPN 1000's "Waddle and Silvy Show."
"The new TV deal, there's going to be more money in the system and salaries are going to go up and that was part of the conversations. The problem is at this early stage, you don't know how and when it's going to go up."
That was the problem for all involved. While Butler may not be thought of around the league as a $12 million dollar a year player, he is likely to still get that from some team in the near future because of all the new money flooding into the league.
Now Butler is banking on himself and his ability to improve offensively throughout this season. He will become a restricted free agent after the year, but the Bulls will have the right to match any offer sheet. What will be intriguing to watch is how the lack of a new deal might affect Butler's play.
"I think he'll be just fine," Bulls center Joakim Noah said after the game.
That seemed to be Tom Thibodeau's position as well.
"Jimmy's in a great position," Thibodeau said before the game. "He's done a heck of a job for us. It will work itself out. This is all part of the process. He's earned the right, he's put himself in a great position. In the end, it will work out."
But will it work out for Butler longterm in Chicago?
That question will linger over everything Butler does over the next eight months. The good news for both sides is that there seems to be optimism on both sides that Butler will be a Bull long into the future. But as Butler plays out his current deal, it's also worth keeping an eye on second-year man Tony Snell's progression.
Snall played crunch time minutes in Friday's loss against the Cleveland Cavaliers, defended LeBron James well and didn't shy away from the moment. In many ways, he looked like the type of player Butler was before he was given his first real opportunity to crack the rotation two years ago.
If the price gets too high for Butler this summer, will the Bulls look to Snell as a viable replacement? Only time will tell, but right now, Forman and Butler are still focused on finding a way to make this marriage last.
"The conversations have been terrific," Forman said. "How we look at it -- and I know how (Butler's representatives) look at it -- this isn't free agency, it's an extension.
"It's still a process that we control, we're very comfortable with it. We love Jimmy, I know that Jimmy loves being here and if we don't get it done tonight, we're optimistic we'll get it done in the future."
After a full collection of practice games when Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah were on minutes restrictions, and Jimmy Butler sat out the tail end with a thumb injury, the Bulls never did get to put together a finished product in advance of Wednesday’s season opener at New York against the Knicks.
Butler was putting his thumb injury to the test with jump shots after practice Sunday, but head coach Tom Thibodeau said the guard ultimately could be a game-time decision for the first game of the season.
It leaves the defense in flux, but Thibodeau refuses to hinge the team’s success without the ball on one person. It did seem clear, though, that opposing offenses had an easier time of it in the final two preseason games that Butler missed.
“Well, (Butler) is important, they’re all important,” Thibodeau said. “In this league, you can’t guard individually. It’s very difficult. You guard collectively. We need him, and we need everybody. We can’t rely on Jimmy to do everything for everybody. We can’t rely on Jo, we can’t rely on Taj (Gibson). It’s got to be everybody tied together, and so we can’t leave it to chance.”
In the final preseason game Friday against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Bulls’ defensive weaknesses were exposed.
“There were a lot of good things offensively in the Minnesota game, a lot of bad things defensively, and so that needs to be corrected,” Thibodeau said. “When you look at the numbers from the preseason, you know, we played like a .500 team. So if we want more than that we have to put more into it.’’
That 4-4 preseason record gets thrown out the window now as the regular season begins this week.
“I feel we have done some pretty good things on both sides of the floor, we just have to be more consistent with it and sustain those good efforts for a longer period of time,” big man Pau Gasol said. “But we’re about to open things up and understand that we have a tough schedule to start off with -- seven games in 10 days, if I’m not mistaken. There are a lot of back-to-backs, and a lot of games on the road next month so it should be challenging, but it will tell us exactly where we’re at and it will force us to be on top of our game.”
Gasol might have as much to prove to Thibodeau as anybody since he only has had eight preseasons games to show what he can do defensively, as well as daily practices. Gasol said earlier in training camp that he wants to be on the floor at the end of games, but that will happen only if his defense measures up.
“Well, more or less he told us that he is going to try and get a feel for the game,” Gasol said of Thibodeau. “We have three really good interior players that he feels comfortable that can finish off games. He said he’s going to put the guys out there he feels more confident and comfortable to win that particular game. We have to trust his abilities and judgment, and work hard to deserve to be out there.”
That’s a far cry from earlier in camp when Gasol said that if he isn’t seeing playing time late in games then he doesn’t have the trust of his coach.
“Nah, I don’t pay any attention to that stuff,” Thibodeau said. “I’m always going to do what’s best for the team. It’s going to be based on performance, so that’s the way it is here.’’
Butler and the Bulls have until Oct. 31, the deadline for first-round picks heading into their fourth season, to come to terms. He will become a restricted free agent after the season if a deal cannot be agreed upon before the deadline.
“I think we’re going to figure it out,” Butler said prior to the Bulls' game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. “My main focus is now of all time is to get healthy. If you’re healthy, you’ll get paid anyway. That’s all I’m worried about it."
Has Butler ever wavered about wanting to be with the Bulls?
“No, no, no, no.This is definitely the city, the team I want to be on," Butler said. "At the end of the day, at the beginning of the day, I want to be a Chicago Bull for as long as possible.”
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau commended Butler on how he’s dealt with the contract discussion.
“I think Jimmy’s handled it well,” Thibodeau said. “He’s allowing his agent to take care of the business side for him so we can lock into the basketball part of it. Jimmy has done a good job with that. I want him to continue on that path.”
Butler’s focus is getting back on the court. He sprained ligaments in his left thumb against the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday and will miss his second consecutive game Friday because of the injury. He is scheduled to be re-evaluated next week and is uncertain for Wednesday's season opener.
“I don’t know,” Butler said regarding whether he’ll be ready for the season opener. “I really don’t. I wish I could tell you yes or no. I don’t want to lie. If I can, I definitely will. That’s for sure.”
For Rose and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, their final preseason game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday represents another chance for Rose to work toward regaining his form.
“Just keep making progress,” Thibodeau said after the team’s shootaround at the Scottrade Center. “The conditioning is a big thing. He just needs to continue to work at that. I like where he is. He’s gotten better each game.”
Rose made significant strides in the Bulls’ last two games. He played a preseason-high 28 minutes against the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday and scored a preseason-high 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday.
Rose’s focus Friday continued to be his timing. He has averaged 15 points on 47.2 percent shooting, 3.7 rebound, 2.6 assists and 20.6 minutes in seven preseason games.
“Just, of course, working on my timing,” Rose said. “Just know that we can get better every day. We had a great shootaround. Hopefully, when we come back later on tonight we have the right concentration for a good game.
“It’s always a positive. You always get a positive out of the preseason no matter [what] because it’s early. Like, who cares? You can always improve. That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re on the road to improving. Take every day seriously and get the most out of every day.”
Butler suffered the injury during the first quarter of Sunday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets. An MRI revealed he sprained ligaments in his left thumb. He will miss his second consecutive game when the Bulls play the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.
“He’ll be reevaluated next week,” Thibodeau said after the team’s shootaround at the Scottrade Center. “The swelling is down. That’s a good thing. But it would be premature at this point [to say anything] other than I know the doctors are going to look at him again at the beginning of next week.”
Thibodeau was preparing both ways for Butler to be in and out of the lineup when the Bulls open their regular-season schedule against the New York Knicks on Wednesday.
“Whatever it is, it is,” Butler said. “If they tell me he can go, great. If they tell me he can’t go, next guy get in there, get the job done.”
Butler was having a strong preseason prior to the injury. He averaged 15.8 points with a 58.8 shooting percentage, 8.6 rebounds and 26 minutes in six preseason games. He scored 29 points against the Atlanta Hawks on Oct. 16.
Red flags have been raised with the team’s rebounding as the Bulls have been beaten on the glass 314-312 in seven preseason games. Opponents also have 81 offensive rebounds to the Bulls’ 74.
It wasn’t expected to be this way, not with the 7-foot Pau Gasol joining the 6-foot-11 Joakim Noah in the frontcourt this season.
“Obviously, you’re always concerned about that,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Your defense and rebounding and keeping your turnovers down are three things you have to do to put yourself in position to win. You eliminate the ways you beat yourself first. Those are areas we locked into.”
While Thibodeau has yet to spell out what his chief concerns have been during training camp, no doubt the rebounding remains one of the biggest issues yet to be resolved.
“The turnovers have gone way down, the challenge of the shot has been there, the contact has been there,” Thibodeau said. “But then the fight for the ball hasn’t been there. You have to do all those things. That’s all part of establishing a multiple effort mentality. Part of that is your toughness and conditioning and discipline. Those are things we still have to work on.
Gasol leads the Bulls with 8.3 rebounds per game in the preseason. Noah has averaged 6.8 rebounds in the six preseason games he has played, well off his career mark of 11 rebounds per game, but he is also playing reduced minutes in the preseason.
“I think it will get better,” Noah said after practice Thursday. “Obviously, it’s been a concern right now of ours, but I think it’s going to be better and better.”
Noah, who is coming off offseason knee surgery, wouldn’t blame his minutes for his low rebounding totals. “I would never make excuses for rebounding,” he said.
So what is the answer?
“The answer is, it will get better,” he said.
If there is one chief focus heading into Friday’s preseason finale against the Minnesota Timberwolves at St. Louis, getting after rebounds figures to be it.
“That’s what Thibs does, make sure that we’re ready for every second we’re together, whether it’s a meeting, watching film, whether it’s practice, a preseason game, staying in the moment,” Noah said. “We need this [last game]. We need this as a team.”
In a poll at NBA.com, the league’s general managers were asked about a wide-range of topics, including who will win this year’s title (San Antonio), who will be named MVP (LeBron James) and who made the best offseason moves (Cleveland).
While the Cavaliers are considered the most likely team to face off with the Spurs in the NBA Finals, the Bulls were the second choice to win the Eastern Conference, holding 25.9 percent of the vote. The Cavaliers got 70.4 percent.
Joakim Noah was not only selected as the league’s best defensive player, with 35.7 percent of the vote, he was also voted the league’s third best overall center behind Dwight Howard and Marc Gasol.
As for coaching, Tom Thibodeau was easily voted the coach with the best defensive schemes, earning 92.9 percent of the vote. The Bulls were obviously selected the league’s top defensive team, getting 85.7 percent of the vote.
So if there is court time available and another NBA team sitting at the bench on the opposite side of the arena, you can bet that Thibodeau will take advantage of it.
With the Bulls’ final preseason game approaching Friday against the Minnesota Timberwolves at St. Louis, Thibodeau isn’t looking at it as an opportunity to take it easy on his starters and see what his bench can give him for 30-plus minutes.
“In general, you don’t want to skip any steps; this is your final test,” Thibodeau said after practice Thursday. “You can use it, and as you do with every game, analyze the things you’re doing well, the areas you need to lock into to improve and clean up.
“I don’t want us to get wrapped up in 'This is the last preseason game' or 'The start of the season.' Just concentrate on exactly what is in front of you, what are we trying to get accomplished today and lock into that. If we do the right things and put the right amount of work in, things will take care of themselves.”
Asked about the vote to not change the current lottery system, which some point to as encouraging teams to tank games to improve their draft odds, Thibodeau started to answer and then stopped.
"The thing that I don't like about it is," Thibodeau said before pausing. "It just seems like I think it’s bad when "
Thibodeau then wrinkled his face.
"No, I don't know," he said. "I guess it's fine. I'll try to save my money."
That money Thibodeau was trying to save was a potential fine for being critical. So he gathered himself and started all over again.
"Nah, I want what's best for the game," Thibodeau said. "I guess there's always flaws in any system you use. But I think the intent of trying to do your best is important for the game. When there's so-called incentives to lose, I don't think that does anyone any good.
"I think we have a great game. It's in a great place. We have to keep striving to keep it there and to improve it. I do like the fact they're looking at those type of things. I have a lot of confidence in [commissioner] Adam [Silver]. I think he's going to be terrific, so whatever he decides, I'm good with."
Now there's a lesson on turning a negative into a positive.
The Bulls haven't been in the draft lottery since 2008, when they ended up with the No. 1 overall pick despite a 1.7 percent chance to nab the top spot. They used the pick on Derrick Rose.
Yet, with Derrick Rose returning from essentially a 2½-year absence and Joakim Noah coming off knee surgery this offseason, Thibodeau will be forced to take a road lesser traveled for him: Keeping playing time to a reasonable level.
“We’ll just see how it goes,” Thibodeau said. “We’ve got some guys where it’s a situation where they need to work, they need to play. But they also need to do what they can handle. It all plays into it.”
With the Oct. 29 season opener at New York fast approaching, Thibodeau no longer seems as high-strung about the preparation process as he did earlier in camp when he didn’t feel the team was coming together fast enough.
“We’re not there, but we’re moving in the right direction,” Thibodeau said Wednesday. “We all have to do more. It’ll be here before you know it. Every game reveals something to you. I think we learned a lot from the Cleveland game (Monday). It was good for us.
“There was a lot that happened: back-to-back, an injury (playing without Jimmy Butler), minutes restrictions. That tells you everyone has to be ready. And you have to find a way. That’s why it’s so important for everyone to know what they have to do when they get out here.”
Noah continues to insist that his knee continues to get better and was asked if he experiencing any pain.
“Nope; none at all,” he said. “In the beginning, I was a little bit more uncomfortable, I was a little limited. I still have to get my strength back; I have to get the strength back in my leg. I’m just trying to manage practicing, playing. But overall I’m happy with where it’s at.”
He also knows he doesn’t figure to be ready to go from tip off to final buzzer by next week.
“There’s a plan,” Noah said. “We’ll just take it day by day and see how it feels, see if there are any setbacks.”
Thibodeau might like to get the most out of his players physically, but he isn’t blind to Noah’s situation. One major hurdle cleared was having Noah play in games both Sunday and Monday.
“He’s a work in progress,” Thibodeau said. “I think he’s starting to feel better. You can see his timing is coming around. For him, that was his first back-to-back. That was good. He has to work at it.”
Butler injured his left thumb in the first quarter of Sunday’s preseason game against the Charlotte Hornets. An MRI on Tuesday confirmed that he has sprained ligaments in the thumb on his non-shooting hand.
If Butler remains on his one-week timetable, he would be ready to play in the Oct. 29 season opener at New York against the Knicks. Thibodeau will believe it when he sees it, though.
“Obviously, I’d prefer to have him, but if we don’t, we don’t,” Thibodeau said after practice Wednesday. “We have more than enough. Next guy step up, get in there, get the job done. That’s why you have 14 guys. You prepare for everything.
“An injury can happen at any time. That’s why it’s so important for everyone to be ready. Even though you may not start off in the rotation, when that time comes you have to be ready. I think we have the type of guys that will be ready.”
Thibodeau would know. Although he had some success against James during his time as an assistant with the Boston Celtics, Thibodeau is just 2-8 in the playoffs against James as a head coach. He knows James has the rare ability to make a play even when the defense can be drawn up perfectly.
"He's a great player," Thibodeau said. "[There's] not many things he hasn't seen. Sometimes you could do it perfectly, and he still can hurt you. The idea is you want to make him work for what he gets, but you can't do it at the expense of leaving everyone else open. The challenge when you're guarding somebody like that is you're helping with him, but you're also getting back to the other guys. It requires multiple efforts and challenging shots and finishing your defense. When you're dealing with a star that passes the ball like that, what it does is it makes everyone else a lot better. He tests you in every different way."
James' test is one Thibodeau knows the Bulls must be prepared for this season. Although he does not like seeing him on the opposite end of the floor, Thibodeau appreciates how good James has become. He knows that in order to be the best, the Bulls are eventually going to have to get through the best player in the league.
"If you're a competitor, I think that's what you want," Thibodeau said. "When you're facing great teams and great coaches, that's what makes it challenging. We know it's not about one guy -- it's about the team. Same for us. When you're facing a great team, it requires you to make sure that you're committed to playing as a team. If we stray off and try to do it individually, we'll be in trouble."
In listening to Thibodeau speak about James, it's also clear the domineering head coach is appreciative of how James goes about his business. Thibodeau likes that James thinks for himself and does what he believes is right. That's why he never seemed shocked James came back to Cleveland for the second time earlier this summer.
"The one thing about LeBron is he stays true to himself," Thibodeau said. "I don't think he gets wrapped up in criticism or praise. He does what he thinks is right. He made a bold decision to leave. He made a bold decision to come back. But ultimately, he did what he felt was best for him and his family. I've got great respect for him as a competitor."