Grind rewind not likely for this season’s Bulls
BY JOE COWLEY Staff Reporter December 20, 2013 9:42PM
The facts: 7 p.m., Ch. 9, 1000-AM.
Updated: January 22, 2014 6:11AM
NBA players have ugly feet. Call it an occupational hazard.
But not like Taj Gibson had at the end of last season. Gibson joked about it this past training camp. Some joke.
It looked like a small rodent had spent the last six months gnawing on his toes. That’s commitment. At least the type of commitment Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau asks of his players.
After a Game 5 playoff loss to the Heat last season, Gibson’s knee was in a brace, his body was completely worn down and his feet looked like he had marched hundreds of miles in old shoes. And all he had to show for it was a second-round dismissal from the postseason.
And, of course, the approval of his coach.
Seven months later, the Bulls once again have to ask themselves, “Will I follow?’’
“Well, to me, they’re pros,’’ Thibodeau said when asked if he could push his team, which is in a 3-13 slide, even harder. “The challenge for us is not to accept what’s going on, but to keep fighting and to believe that, ‘Hey, we’re going to be getting these [injured] guys back at some point.’ So we have to keep grinding, finding ways.’’
It’s something Thibodeau will do because that’s all he knows.
It’s something he did last season, taking a Derrick Rose-less team into the postseason. Then without Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich, as well as Rose, Thibodeau guided the Bulls past the Nets in the first round of the playoffs before hitting the wall against the Heat.
But it takes an unbelievable mental and physical commitment from his players to do it again.
It means long practices, close-out drills that most NBA teams don’t do beyond training camp. It means hours and hours of film. It means the Bahama Room at some five-star hotel turned into the key of a basketball court with masking tape so the players can get some extra work in on the road.
It means pushing themselves beyond what most NBA players do.
That’s the Thibodeau way.
And at least one member of the organization doesn’t know if this group completely has that in them this season.
“It’s hard to ask them to grind like that again,’’ the source said.
It’s especially hard when they know Rose (right knee surgery) has no chance of returning this season. Last season, Rose was the carrot. He wouldn’t rule out returning late in the season from his torn anterior cruciate ligament, and his teammates played with that mentality: Just get to the playoffs, and D-Rose will save us.
That red cape isn’t swooping in any time soon.
Then there’s Deng. He’s Thibodeau’s favorite player, but Deng is also a businessman.
He’s facing free agency, so is it realistic to expect a 10-year veteran looking for one more big pay day to lay it all on the line for an organization that broke off contract talks in the summer? And from a talent standpoint, the Bulls don’t have enough to get past the Heat and Pacers in the East anyway.
Yes, Deng is a pro, but he’s not stupid.
In April, the members of Thibodeau’s flock — Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Gibson — will do what’s asked of them. They’ll push beyond the limits. That’s what they do.
But the entire team again? No, not this time.
The only light at the end of this tunnel is the one in Thibodeau’s office.
It stays on late most nights anyway.