Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau defended his decision to play 24-year-old swingman Jimmy Butler a franchise-record 60 minutes in Wednesday’s triple-overtime win over the Orlando Magic by saying, “I’m trying to be like Phil [Jackson].”
According to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, Thibodeau said the following with regard to Butler’s huge minutes spike:
I think when you look at that, you have to compare apples to apples. If you look at the top small forwards in the league and you look at where their minutes are, they all averaged 37-38 minutes. So if you want to say Lu [former Bulls forward Luol Deng] played 20 seconds a game more than he should’ve, so be it. If you look at total minutes, it wasn’t even close. Overall, our minutes are way below what normal starters do. And if you guys study the history of the league, which I’m sure you do, the great Bulls teams you’d see that [Michael] Jordan and [Scottie] Pippen well into their 30s were playing huge minutes. So I’m trying to be like Phil [Jackson].
He hammered home his point with a personal anecdote by saying, "I sat on that other bench. I was always sitting there saying, ‘When’s he going to take them out?’ He never did. And you know what? That was great coaching."
Coach Thibs has been criticized for the way he's managed minutes in the past, which likely stemmed from Derrick Rose's ACL injury—which occurred during Game 1 of the 2012 playoffs when Rose had logged 37 minutes of action.
Even Bulls management has tried to intervene, according to a November column by Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News.
"Tom Thibodeau is one of the NBA’s top coaches, but when it comes to managing minutes of his top players, he is going to get some help. Even if he doesn’t want it. The Bulls’ front office has been taking an active role in telling Thibodeau how he’ll dispense minutes to Joakim Noah, among others," Lawrence wrote.
At the end of the day, however, Thibs is still one of the NBA's best coaches. He's led the shorthanded Bulls to a 4-1 record following the trade that sent All-Star forward Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers, including a win in Wednesday night's marathon.
Thibodeau will likely continue to hear critics chirp about his minutes allotment, much like Mike D'Antoni will hear gripes about his team's defensive prowess in Los Angeles. However, the Bulls coach also explained what critics don't see, per Cowley's article:
It’s easy to look at a box score and say, ‘Oh, that’s too much.’ But what you don’t see is the days off in practice. You don’t see what you have a guy do in practice. You may not have contact in practice. You may do shooting. You may do film. There’s a lot of things that go into it. I think I have a pretty good understanding after 24 years how to pace a team.
No matter what further changes the Bulls roster goes through moving forward, Thibodeau is going to put his team in a position to win games. Criticism is just part of the job.