In this NBA offseason, much has been made of egos. Most notably, there's the one guy who left his team to join his friends in South Beach. There's also been much analysis on whether former NBA stars can come to terms with their fall from grace and accept lesser roles. Money, or a relative lack thereof, has also tested the egos of many of today's players. True, players are the game's main attraction, but it is often the job of a coach to harness those egos.
Let me say that having an ego is not a bad thing, as long as it doesn't interfere with the success of something bigger than yourself.
That's where a guy like Tom Thibodeau comes into play. He's old school. He's not afraid to let guys be themselves, but he demands that they buy into the team concept. In his previous coaching position, he helped some pretty big personalities gel to form one of the most improbable runs in league history.
Known as a defensive guru, Thibodeau got guys excited about doing the things that win titles: Defense and rebounding, in particular.
If "The Big Ticket", "The Truth" and "Big Baby" could agree to reduce themselves to mere mortals for the sake of winning a championship, nothing more could be asked for.
But, in all fairness, that was then. There is a new, exciting opportunity on the horizon for the long-time assistant. The Windy City hasn't had a real tough guy at the helm for quite a while. He brings a no-nonsense, no-excuses culture to an already talented squad.
In Boston, he was able to maximize the defensive abilities of Pierce, Garnett, Allen, etc. With the Bulls, he will implore his young team to take on the identity of a defensive team. And that identity has been in Chicago for a few years already. The difference I see now is that the younger players will be more welcoming of the challenge defensively.
No disrespect to the Celtics, but their legs have been through the tenure of many NBA seasons. They definitely played smarter on defense; not necessarily harder.
It was that very ingenuity that made Tom Thibodeau such a hot commodity coming into this season. The impressive things he was able to do with the Celtics helped to bring them back to NBA relevance. He and coach Doc Rivers sold their team on the idea of sacrifice: the idea that effort on the defensive end would lead to quicker and easier opportunities at the offensive end. That philosophy is the missing link in Chicago.
This offseason has seen the Bulls do everything in their power to take the next step in competing for titles. They signed Kyle Korver and Keith Bogans to shore up their inconsistencies in perimeter shooting. They locked in Carlos Boozer for the next five years. Boozer gives them the elusive post presence and high-percentage shooter they've needed for years. They've added shooting guard Ronnie Brewer to play physical defense and get out on the break. These are all things the Bulls struggled with in previous seasons. They have been a pretty good defensive team over the past four or five years, but they have struggled to get easy baskets and second-chance opportunities.
But the success of the Bulls must start on defense. If they don't have the ability to turn people over, this team won't do much more than it has in the past. Defense wins championships. But it must be contagious, from the star players down to the last guy on the bench.
Again, to be fair, this is easier said than done. But my gut tells me that Tom Thibodeau will not let his guys fail in the effort department. Boozer is no K.G. and Korver may not be Ray Allen, but Coach Thibs got more sound defensive play out of them in Boston than at any other point in their careers. That was the difference in being great and being a champion.
So there's no reason to think that Chicago's youth movement under Thibodeau cannot succeed. There are some similarities in the teams, but how effective the Bulls will be remains to be seen. With that being said, the new coach has to like his chances with a young team playing with a chip on its shoulder. Knock 'em dead, rook.
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