Thibodeau defends division of labor

Updated: January 18, 2014, 1:17 AM ET
By Nick Friedell | ESPNChicago.com

WASHINGTON -- Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau on Friday defended how he divvied up playing time in Wednesday night's triple-overtime win over the Orlando Magic, specifically the fact that Jimmy Butler played a franchise-record 60 minutes, 20 seconds.

"Any time you have a triple-overtime game, if you look at any box score in a triple-overtime game, there's going to be guys that play minutes," Thibodeau said after Friday morning's shootaround. "You can't not play guys."

Thibodeau has been criticized in years past for overplaying All-Star Luol Deng and, before his string of injuries, former league MVP Derrick Rose.

Now he has come under fire for his use of Butler, even though none of his players lead the league in minutes played.

[+] EnlargeTom Thibodeau
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesTom Thibodeau pointed out Friday that Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen "were playing huge minutes" well into their 30s.

"I think you guys watch that," he said. "I think when you look at that, you have to compare apples to apples. If you look at the top small forwards in the league, and you look at where their minutes are, they all average 37, 38 minutes. So if you want to say Lu played 20 seconds a game more than he should have, so be it. If you look at total minutes, he wasn't even close. But overall, our minutes are way below what normal starters do."

Thibodeau referenced the championship Bulls, and the way Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson doled out minutes, in his defense.

"And if you guys study the history of the league, which I'm sure you do, and the great Bulls teams, you'd see that Jordan, Pippen well into their 30s were playing huge minutes," he said. "So I'm trying to be like Phil."

Having spent almost 20 years in the NBA as an assistant before getting his first head-coaching chance with the Bulls, it's clear Thibodeau learned a lot from watching Jackson.

"I sat on that other bench," he said. "And I was always sitting there saying, 'When's he going to take them out? When's he going to take them out?' And he never did. And you know what? That was great coaching.

"And [Gregg] Popovich was the same way with Duncan early on in his career. I think Pop, he and Phil are two of the best, maybe the greatest of all time."

For his part, Butler played 39 minutes in Chicago's 96-93 loss to the Washington Wizards on Friday night after spending much of Thursday getting treatment for his aching body.

"I'm good," Butler said before the game, noting that he got a lot of sleep. "I did a lot of recovery stuff so I'm good to go ... some ice, some massage, sleep and eat. I think those are the key things to recovery. ... I'll be ready to go."

Butler said he appreciates the fact that Thibodeau trusts him enough to be on the floor for long stretches.

"I just feel like I've been working on my game," he said on Thursday's "Waddle and Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "It's good to have somebody trusting you like Thibs, and from my teammates for that matter. I think they definitely like to have me out there on the floor, and it feels good to be wanted. That's all I wanted to do was be wanted on a great basketball team and just try to win games."

The Marquette alum said he has always been a guy coaches have leaned on to play heavy minutes.

"I always want to help win," Butler said. "I always want to be on the floor. I guess you got to be careful for what you ask for, because since I was a rookie I told [Thibodeau] I wanted to play." 

That's music to Thibodeau's ears. The coach listens to players, and he's confident he knows what he is doing after so much time in the league.

"I think how you pace your team is important," Thibodeau said. "It's easy to look at a box score and say, 'Oh, that's too much.' But what you don't see is, you don't see the days off in practice. You don't see what you have a guy do in practice. You may not have contact in practice. He may do shooting, he may do film. There's a lot of things that go into it. I think I have a pretty good understanding after 24 years how to pace a team."

Nick Friedell | email

Chicago Bulls beat reporter
Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.


MORE NBA HEADLINES