PHILADELPHIA — Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has a point.
Even dating back to the team’s undefeated preseason, he consistently harped upon the fact that his entire roster hadn’t had practiced, let alone played together as a full unit. Now, after the Bulls’ disappointing 1-2 start to the regular season, the chickens are coming home to roost, so to speak, as the squad indeed doesn’t look totally cohesive on the court, most recently evidenced in Saturday night’s 107-104 loss to the 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center, in which their vaunted defense was nonexistent and a 20-point lead was surrendered down the stretch.
“Just in every aspect,” Thibodeau said, when asked to identify the source of the Bulls’ problems. “We’re giving up a lot of points. We’re turning the ball over. I liked the initial thrust of the offense. But we have to do it for 48 minutes. You can’t let your guard down. In this league, no lead is safe. I know you get tired of hearing that but in one minute, a team can make up 10 points very quickly. Jog back, one guy breaks down, you can’t play like that. You can’t be successful in this league like that.
"You have to play the game with an edge. The way you get an edge is you get into the gym, you work, you study, you prepare.”
Let’s be frank: Derrick Rose has admittedly had an awful start to the regular season, All-Star teammate Joakim Noah hasn’t had any type of consistency and aside from Taj Gibson, there hasn’t been much to write home about from the Bulls’ second unit, which was expected to at least be solid. But Thibodeau attributes the foundation of those issues to training camp, much of which Noah missed while nursing a strained groin suffered in the first week of practice, leading to him playing in only one preseason game, and Kirk Hinrich missed much of the tail end in the wake of suffering a concussion and shoulder injury.
“You can’t miss an entire training camp. You can’t miss 10 days of training camp. You can’t do that. You can’t. The games are coming. They’re coming fast. We have to change quickly and get it right,” said Thibodeau, who didn’t identify the two players by name. “We need to practice together. That’s the issue right now.”
When asked if he believed Thibodeau’s assertion was correct, however, Rose disagreed.
“You could say that, but I don’t think so, man,” Rose said. “If it was up to me, I’d blame tonight on me. Turnovers, missed shots, miscommunication on defense. I just can’t wait to get in my groove. But I can’t hang my head. I know I work too hard for that, so it’s going to come.
“Of course you’re disappointed because you’re [not] winning games, but at the same time, we can only control what we can control, and that’s working hard every day and just trying to become a better team,” he went on to explain. “It’s early in the season. It’s only three games. But like I said, we’re totally disappointed in us losing the two games. But the only thing we can do from it is learn from it and keep working hard."
Depending on how the Bulls are currently faring, it’s easy to come up with simple reasoning like Thibodeau pushes them too hard, Rose’s struggles have a deeper meaning beneath the surface or the team isn’t worthy of their high expectations. It’s just as easy to make rationalizations such as citing how early it is in the regular-season schedule, the former league MVP needs to shake off the rust before returning to his previous form and it’s good to get the kinks out early so that the Bulls peak at the right time this season.
In reality, this sample size of three games means a lot and a little simultaneously, with the Bulls’ response to the present adversity holding more significance than anything else. With so much experience playing together, the team is extremely likely eventually to jell sooner than later and banking against Rose getting back to an elite level, based on having no adverse effects — athletically and in terms of altering his aggressive style of play — puts the Bulls in position to achieve at the level many observers, this writer included, predicted.
But along with their collective health, it’s the squad’s mental approach that will define their season and whether it’s execution on the floor or more repetitions in practice, only when the Bulls are completely clicking on all cylinders will they be able to reach their full potential, let alone get out of their current malaise.
Noah, whose sidelined presence during the preseason seemed to most irk Thibodeau, said it even more concisely: “When the [expletive] hits the fan, I think we’ll be ready.”