By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Here’s what you have to know:
It’s not Tom Thibodeau’s fault. Not even a little bit.
The Bulls find themselves down 3-1 and teetering on the brink of extinction. The No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference is about to go down to the No. 8 seed Philadelphia 76ers. Many Bulls fans are pointing their fingers at a coach who may be the best in basketball and saying he is the reason the Bulls are about to see their dreams for the 2011-12 season crushed like a wasted cigarette butt.
When you lose the defending MVP in Derrick Rose, who is by far the best player on the team, your chances of advancing are not good. But when you also lose Joakim Noah, who can be a rebounding machine and can raise the battle level of everyone on the court when he is at his hustling best, you are fighting a losing battle. Throw in the fact that Luol Deng, a deserving All-Star this season, is playing with an injured left wrist and is at most about 60 percent effective, and it’s a lost cause.
To hear many fans explain it, Thibodeau caused the majority of these problems by overworking his team during the regular season and they have nothing left for the playoffs. That’s ridiculous. If anything, Thibodeau’s propensity for getting the most out of his team on an every-night basis should be praised. If the Bulls were playing with a full complement right now, they would be running roughshod over the 76ers. They would either be ready to put away Philadelphia in five games or the series would have been over in a 4-game sweep.
Rose’s season was marred by injuries from start to finish. He had back, foot, groin and ankle problems prior to the devastating ACL tear in Game 1 of the playoffs. Criticizing Thibodeau for keeping Rose on the court in the final moments of Game 1 is ridiculous. All Thibodeau did was respect the game by playing it out and not expecting the 76ers to fall apart in the game’s final minutes. By keeping Rose on the floor, he was trying to make sure Philadelphia could not mount a comeback.
Once Rose’s season ended, the Bulls had no chance of competing for the title. Top NBA teams don’t win titles when their best player is finished. The Lakers could not make a run in the playoffs without Kobe Bryant. The old Lakers couldn’t have won without Magic Johnson running Showtime. Larry Bird had a bad back during the Celtics’ championship runs in the 1980s, but he was on the floor making big shots and throwing blind passes. Don’t even start on the Bulls during the Michael Jordan era. Jordan was a physical specimen who did not have to contend with major injuries after suffering a broken foot in his second year.
Asking the Bulls to make a run during the playoffs in their current short-handed state would take some kind of modern-day miracle that they are not prepared to accomplish. Perhaps they could be making a somewhat better showing against the 76ers, but it’s ludicrous to blame the coach for not having some magical formula that robs his team of the majority of its firepower.
Panicky fans are questioning Thibodeau’s worth. They think the team would be better off without him. That would be a mistake of epic proportions. The Bulls lost in the Eastern Conference Finals last year and are ready to say goodbye in the first round this year. That doesn’t mean that Thibodeau’s coaching won’t bring them a championship next year or the year after. He won the coach of the year award last year and he could have won it again this year. He’s one of the best at his job in the league. He needs a raise and the support of Bulls management if the team is going to get anywhere in the years to come.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.