Thibodeau molded a superstar and a group of veteran role players into the NBA's best team the past two regular seasons. He faces his biggest challenge yet entering his third year as the head coach of the Bulls because it will be the first time he begins the season without his franchise point guard at the helm.
Thibodeau has developed a culture that emphasizes a one-day-at-a-time approach. That atmosphere was apparent with the team's defensive effort in nearly every game the past two campaigns.
Thibodeau's brilliant defensive mind has been one of the keys to Chicago's recent success. The Bulls led the NBA in points allowed last season while finishing second in the same category the year before.
Even without Rose, the Bulls will be competitive in almost every game this season because of their defense. Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson form the core of the defensive unit, and they will have to be better in 2012-13 due to losses of Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer.
The additions of Kirk Hinrich and Nazr Mohammed will help ease the transition of the post-Bench Mob era, and Thibodeau will make sure that these two players help fill the holes on defense. Hinrich is an effective perimeter defender while Mohammed is a big, athletic body in the paint.
Remember, Thibodeau was the mastermind behind the Boston Celtics' defensive game plan against LeBron James during his Cleveland Cavaliers days. In both the Celtics' runs to the 2008 and 2010 NBA Finals, they eliminated Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals with Thibs as an assistant coach.
The Bulls' reserve unit of the past two seasons had tremendous chemistry, and you have to give Thibodeau credit for piecing together each player's strengths to give the Bulls the deepest bench in the league. He even had the faith to keep his role players on the floor at the end of games if it gave his team the best chance to win.
Thibodeau has a fresh new bench to work with in 2012-13, but the task remains the same. How does he figure out a way for each player to fit into the puzzle?
The good news for Thibodeau is that all the tools are there for a solid bench. He has shooters in Marco Bellinelli and Vladimir Radmanovic; an up-and-coming, all-around talent in Jimmy Butler; a point guard who could heat up quickly in Nate Robinson; a defensive stud in Gibson, and an effective backup center in Mohammed.
However, the biggest hurdle for the 2010-11 NBA Coach of the Year is keeping the Bulls in contention without Rose for the majority of the season.
It starts with keeping Deng, Noah, Carlos Boozer and Rip Hamilton healthy. Hamilton missed 38 games last year due to various injuries, while Deng has been hampered by a sore wrist since the second half of last season. Noah missed three postseason contests because of a sprained ankle, and both he and Boozer have had histories of injuries.
Thibodeau has been criticized for pushing his starters too hard during the regular season, but that is the only way he knows how to coach. He wants to win the game at hand, and he will do everything in his power to help the team achieve that goal.
Maybe Thibodeau knew that the core of his team would be tested someday. With Rose out, it is a given that Deng, Noah, Boozer, Gibson and Hamilton will play more minutes per game than they would with their star in the lineup. Deng is the lone exception because he played more minutes than any other player in the NBA, so he is already expected to shoulder his fair share of the load.
Thibodeau could get away with resting the other four players with Rose on the floor with just about anyone. Plus, Thibodeau had the luxury of having one of the best interior defenders in the NBA in Asik, so he had no problem sitting Noah and Boozer for extended minutes.
But without Rose's dynamic playmaking ability, a combination of Chicago lineups involving the core players has to make up for his absence.
With a limited offense and a talented defense, expect the Bulls to play in plenty of close games this season. Chicago also can't afford to rest their starters during the regular season due to an uncertain postseason future.
But because Thibodeau pushed these players in almost every game the past two years, the core unit should be up to the task.
Thibs wouldn't have it any other way. Because of that win-now mentality, his team will thrive in the face of adversity.
Now that's suffocating defense. If you think the Bulls are going to lose that intensity on the defensive end of the floor without Rose, think again. Defense made Chicago successful the past two seasons, and it will be the reason why the Bulls contend for the Central Division title and a top-four seed in the East.
After that, you can thank Thibodeau once again for being the architect for another surprisingly successful season in the Windy City.
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