Bulls’ Thibs should rest stars

By Bob Kreider

I think it’s safe to say most Chicago Bulls fans have been pleasantly surprised with the 30-22 record the Bulls currently have coming out of the All-Star break, especially without former MVP Derrick Rose.

The Bulls are second in the central division and are only a game and a half behind the Indiana Pacers. What isn’t surprising is the fact that Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau still puts too much stock in regular season victories.

Of course the goal in sports is to win every game. But in an 82-game regular season, minutes add up. By the end of the season, the physical toll starts to rear its ugly face and nagging injuries can hurt teams going into the playoffs. Luol Deng is leading the league in minutes per game for the second straight year. Last year he averaged 39.4 minutes per game and in 2010 Deng was fourth overall with 39.1 minutes per game. At the halfway point of the season, Deng currently averages 39.6 minutes. Keep in mind that although Deng is only 27 years old, he is playing in his ninth NBA season. Come on, Thibs. The regular season is important, but as we all know the playoffs are what matter most.

Joakim Noah is a perfect example or the wear and tear that NBA players’ bodies endure throughout the rigorous season. Already having struggled with plantar fasciitis (a chronic condition in the foot usually caused by overexertion) in 2010, Noah is seventh in the NBA in overall minutes at 38.3 per game. The most recent flare-up with Noah’s plantar fasciitis should be sufficient evidence that maybe it’s time to consider the importance of players’ health, even if it means losing a game or two.

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has been revered as the best coach in the league for years now. He is known for resting key players throughout the regular season in order to ensure they are not completely run down come the playoffs. Earlier this year, Popovich sat Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in a road game against the Miami Heat. The Spurs played almost all backup players, narrowly losing to the Heat 100-105. This isn’t the first time Popovich has done this and we can be certain it won’t be the last. Sorry, David Stern. Win or lose, Popovich recognizes getting to the playoffs is of the utmost importance–not having the best record at the end of the season.

Thibodeau is one of the top coaches in the league. He knows more about basketball than I could ever learn in a lifetime. But one thing Thobideau has to work on is managing players’ minutes throughout the regular season. Deng and Noah were all-star selections this year and the Bulls, with or without Rose, will need them to be as close to 100 percent as possible if they hope to do anything in the post season. As unlikely as a Bulls championship may be this year, there’s always next season. A healthy Rose and the Bulls could be right back in contention in the East. Take away an all-star center in Noah and/or Deng and the Bulls will find themselves in a similar situation.

If the 2010-11 season taught us anything, it’s that having the best regular season does nothing for you in the playoffs. It’s time for Thibodeau to consider the future of the franchise and the reality of players’ physical limitations.