Always consumed with winning, as much as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is determined to ensure that an injury-riddled Team USA wins the FIBA World Cup in Spain, the USA Basketball assistant also has an eye toward the upcoming NBA regular season, displaying mid-season form in answering a benign question about the Bulls’ schedule after the national team’s practice in Chicago.
“We’re excited. Whenever they tell us to play, we’ve got to be ready. So we know how good everyone is. There’s no off nights in the NBA. That’s the one thing. Even being here, when you see all the great talent that we have in our league, if you take someone lightly, you’re making a big mistake and we can’t just talk about it. We’ve got to put the work into it because there’s a lot of work and commitment that goes into winning,” Thibodeau said. “To say that we’re going to win because we feel we’re talented—doesn’t work that way. There’s a lot of talent in this league. It’s the teams that are willing to make that commitment and endure throughout during the course of the season, to work hard all summer, to work hard in training camp, to work hard throughout the season, to commit to playing for each other, those are the teams that build winning habits and that’s what we have to do. We have to build winning habits throughout the course of the year.”
Obviously much of the Bulls’ success depends on not only the health, but a return to an elite level for superstar point guard Derrick Rose, who has drawn rave reviews since USA Basketball’s training camp in Las Vegas late last month.
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“I think it’s ideal for him to come back and I know the experience in 2010 for him was very, very positive and I felt that it was the springboard to his MVP season. They won the gold in that World [Championships] and he hit the ground running that season, and he had an incredible season. So I thought it was very, very positive for him and I like the idea of him coming back in this setting because the quality of depth is so strong. We’re asking all these guys to sacrifice playing time and sacrifice some shots, and to play for the team. So he doesn’t have the burden of having to score 25 points and play a lot of minutes. Just go out there and do your job, and that’s what he did in 2010. In the end, no one really cares about how many points you scored or how many rebounds you had. They just want to know, ‘Did you win?’ So it’s a great setting for him and the way it’s played out, we’re in Vegas, then he had an opportunity to rest for a week and work on his conditioning. He had a great day today, so each day there’s been great improvement. Just take it day by day, don’t force things, find the rhythm of the game and I think that’s what he’s doing. I think that’s what he learned from the comeback last season, is to be a little more patient. I like the way he’s playing on both ends of the floor,” the coach explained. “He puts a lot of pressure on himself and I think that’s something that he learned from the last comeback—he’s got a great pace to his game right now. He’s shooting when he should shoot, he’s passing when he should pass, he’s not forcing things, playing very well defensively and that’s what we want him to do. Find the rhythm of the game. I think that he’s comfortable. I think he’s confident. He knows he prepared himself well. Just take it day by day, continue to grow, concentrate on his improvement.
“Well, I think he’s grown. The one thing about Derrick, I think with each experience, he learns and so, he’s a different player because I think he has different things that he’s added to his game,” Thibodeau continued, referencing USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s notion that Rose is a better player than he was prior to his MVP campaign. “And just like I thought that experience in 2010 helped prepare him for the season, I think going through that season, he learned a lot and not only what he did individually for our team, but what he did for our team to win at the level that we won at. And also, he’s had a tough go at it. But he hasn’t gotten down, he keeps plugging away and we’re hoping for the best.”
Thibodeau feigned displeasure when informed that Rose told the media that he’s witnessed a different side of the coach.
“He didn’t say that. I’ll tell him to keep that between us,” Thibodeau joked. “Derrick’s terrific. You guys have been around him. You’re not going to find a better guy. Obviously a superstar talent, but he’s a great guy on top of that. He’s a great teammate and we’re very fortunate to have him here in Chicago. He plays to win, he plays for the team. It’s been very unfortunate to have the injuries, but I think in the end, those injuries are going to make him a lot stronger. I think he’s grown through that adversity. I think he’s prepared himself well for the upcoming season.
“I think it’s important and I think, as a leader of the team, we’ve got to sell the vision to our team and so, we’re in constant communication with each other and we want a team of leaders, and he knows he has to help lead the team. Each year, you’re faced with new and different challenges, so we know the competition will be stiff and we’re going to have to be ready.”
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The coach insisted that even in the absence of reigning league MVP Kevin Durant and the injured Paul George, Rose’s won’t have a heavier burden to carry for Team USA.
“Well, I don’t think his role will change. Obviously we were fortunate to pick up Rudy [Gay] and Rudy’s been involved with Team USA in the past, so I think there will be a seamless transition when you’re adding another quality scorer. I think that’s one of the good things about this team. When you look at the talent level of all the guys on the team, we have a lot of guys on the team. Obviously Kevin’s the MVP and a great scorer, but we feel we were very fortunate to pick up Rudy and this is an opportunity for some other guys, too. James Harden is a big-time scorer. Kyrie [Irving] can score. Steph [Curry] can score. We’ve got a lot of guys that score. It’s going to be playing for each other, playing to win, everyone sacrificing their individual games to what’s best for the team.”
When asked whether the aforementioned George’s gruesome compound fracture would have any affect on Rose’s status, Thibodeau responded, “No, not really and you hate to see anyone get hurt. That’s the unfortunate part of the game. Injuries are part of the game, could happen anywhere. But from Derrick’s standpoint, we think there’s a lot of positives from participating.”