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MORRISSEY: Sorry, Thibs; even with Rose, Bulls not title contenders

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau directs offense from sidelines first quarter Chicago Bulls-Dallas Mavericks NBA game Wednesday November 28 2012

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau directs the offense from the sidelines in the first quarter of the Chicago Bulls-Dallas Mavericks NBA game Wednesday November 28, 2012 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 30, 2012 4:03PM



Tom Thibodeau returned to his stock phrase the other day, insisting the Bulls have “more than enough to win.’’ Believe that if it makes you feel better but know he would have said the same thing had he been coaching ’em up at the Alamo.

The Bulls don’t have more than enough talent or players or bribe money to win, and if we were able to get Thibs to chug some truth serum, I bet he’d agree.

They won’t have enough to win an NBA title when Derrick Rose comes back from his knee injury, be that in January, March or next year. They look to be at least two seasons away from being a legitimate contender, and that’s only if the front office does a good job of building around Rose again.

Given the way management has struggled to put together a bench to replace the dearly departed Bench Mob, that’s not a given.

This has come to a head because Thibodeau has been running his starters ragged. He has been known to do that on occasion, “occasion’’ being every other game of his head-coaching career. Luol Deng is playing a lot, as usual, but now Joakim Noah is putting in crazy minutes. If, at 34, Richard Hamilton continues to play about 30 minutes a night, he’ll end up looking like Humpty Dumpty, post fall.

This is where the problem lies for the Bulls. No matter how good a coach Thibodeau is, he’s not going to win when his bench doesn’t include more than Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler. The rest too often look like holdovers from the post-Michael Jordan rosters of the early 2000s, though Nate Robinson & Co. played better in a 101-78 victory Wednesday over Dallas.

Two nights before, Thibodeau hardly played his bench in the embarrassing, come-from-ahead loss to the Bucks. Why? Maybe it’s as simple as he wanted his starters in the game. Or maybe he doesn’t really think he has “more than enough to win.’’ It’d be hard to blame the guy if he wanted to let the front office know what he thinks of the talent it brought in.

He said that he’d never go to management and say, “Come to think of it, I don’t have enough.’’

Even though he most certainly doesn’t.

“My job is to coach the guys that are here,’’ he said. “… I just have to coach this team. That’s all I worry about.’’

The window on a Bulls title was already closing when Rose got hurt last season in the playoffs. The truth is that even if he had stayed healthy, they weren’t going to win a championship in 2011-12. You need only compare their roster with Miami’s and Oklahoma City’s to know that.

Now it’s going to take major roster surgery before another window can open. New league financial rules made it impossible for the Bulls to keep much of the Bench Mob.

The core of the team going forward will be Rose, Noah, Gibson and Deng, if he hasn’t been 40-minutes-a-nighted into rubble. And everybody in that group besides Rose could be trade bait.

The Bulls will pray that another team picks up part of Carlos Boozer’s contract. If it happens, what’s the emoticon for delirious happiness?

There’s debate about whether it would be wiser to let Rose sit out the season, even if he were healthy, rather than risk a setback to his surgically repaired knee. It’s a silly debate. When he’s ready to play, he should play. Players play. He can shake off the rust, work out the kinks and whatever other trite description you want to use. The more he plays this season, the more ready he’ll be for next season.

Do you think Adidas, which has been spending millions of dollars on an ad campaign centered on Rose’s rehab, disapproves of “The Return’’ this season? Of course it doesn’t.

But that’s for later. For now, Thibodeau has to try to squeeze as many victories as he can out of this roster.

“I have the belief that we can get it done,’’ he said. “I do. When you go back and look at all the games this season, we’ve been in position to win. With the exception of the Clippers game [a 101-80 loss], every game has been there to be had.’’

Thibs has a duty to say the Bulls have enough to win. He might even sincerely believe it. But it doesn’t make him right.



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