AUBURN HILLS, Mich.—Derrick Rose’s season-ending injury might have set up circumstances that feel a lot like last season for the Bulls, but they would argue that it doesn’t feel like déjà vu.
Come again? Yes, the small variations in the timing of Rose’s injury mean it’s not the same as before, or at least that’s the story the Bulls are sticking to.
“Every year is different, every situation is different. I think we didn’t handle it well when Derrick got hurt when we were playing in the playoffs. It’s a mindset. We never thought—it doesn’t cross your mind that something like that can happen and just in one minute, it happens. All of a sudden, you’ve got to switch your mindset, you’ve got to switch everything. But in terms of what our foundation is and what we always do, we’ve got to keep doing the same thing,” All-Star small forward Luol Deng explained.
“I think time will tell. We need to practice more. I think we’ll change a few things offensively, but we’re going to depend on our defense to get us up and running. I don’t think there will be a lot of new stuff, but game plans will change.”
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Predictably, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was more expansive, offering up a litany of reasons why this time isn’t like the last time and conversely, why the team is still equipped to stay afloat in the wake of Rose’s absence.
“Well, in some ways, it’s similar, to the point of, we had the summer to prepare for Derrick not being there. So now we can start our preparations, knowing that, ‘Okay, he’s not going to be back for the rest of the season. That’s fine.’ We know that you don’t replace someone like Derrick. There’s no one that’s going to step in and you say, ‘You’re going to do what Derrick does.’ So for us, the way we did it in the past was we had to do it collectively and there’s certain things you can do that make your team function well, and there’s a way to win,” Thibodeau explained. “We have to figure that out. Our team defense requires everyone to do their job, be tied together. Team offense, everybody, five-man offense. Everybody has to do their part to make it function well and if you do that, you can give yourself a chance to win.
“At some point, you’ve got to move past that and the games are going to keep coming, and we’ve gotten past it before. It’s not like this is the first time this has happened, so three years ago, he was out for a significant amount of time during the season because it was the lockout year. We didn’t know when he was playing, when he wasn’t playing, so this is more similar to that. But we also know that this season, he’s out for the rest of the year. Last year, we thought there was a possibility he could come back at some point. That didn’t happen,” he continued.
“We have to get our determination, our fight. We have to get that back and we’ve got to be a 48-minute team. Look, going into the season, when I was preparing this summer, I was looking at our first month and I knew we’d be tested. We have a heavy road schedule. We’re playing tough people right off the bat, a lot of them on the road and when I look at this trip, there’s games we could have had on this trip, so we’ve got to keep concentrating on improvement, and each and every day, put everything you have into it. Get ready for the next one.
“The point is, the NBA is all about change and it’s how quickly you can adapt to those changes, so injuries are a big part of it. Sometimes it’s foul trouble, whatever it might be and you can’t use that as an excuse. We’ve got to adapt quickly and we’re two months into the season, so guys have had the opportunity to play with each other. We have to understand what the strengths and weaknesses of each guy are, play to their strengths, cover up your weaknesses, play tough and play for each other. That’s the key.”