Basketball is back. Finally. But this season will feel much different from a typical NBA season. Fans will get all the basketball they can watch. Players will earn their game checks more than ever. There will be no drawn out free agency period and just a couple preseason games will be played. Instead of the standard 82 games spread out over 7 months, the NBA will play a condensed 66 game season which begins on Christmas Day and ends in April. The Chicago Bulls schedule is as tough as any team they’ll compete against this year. They will play 17 pairs of back-to-back games and one set of back-to-back-to-back games. Their hardest stretch begins in late January when the team begins a 9 game road trip that includes Miami and Boston. Though the roster isn’t finalized, the Bulls will at least have youth on their side. Aged teams like the Celtics won’t fare well playing this many back-to-back games. Out of everyone, coaches may have the biggest challenge of all. The Bulls success in the 2011-2012 season will rely heavily on how coach Thibodeau manages his team through a sprint-of-a-season.
Tom Thibodeau is a tough coach. Last year’s coach of the year award and 62 win season proves his way works. He practiced his team hard last year to instill a sense of disciple that was lacking during the Vinny Del Negro regime. But he can’t play Derrick Rose 37 minutes per game and he definitely can’t play Deng 39 minutes per game again this year. He will have to limit the number of heavy practices this season and find creative ways to rest his starters. Most coaches love the phrase “one game at a time”. Playing each game like a one game season keeps the players focused on the ‘here and now’ instead of looking ahead to a big match up or, even worse, the playoffs. But this season is all about the ‘long game’ for the Bulls. Thibodeau must strike a balance between stacking wins and keeping his team fresh. Winning 40 games (.606), getting the 4th seed in the playoffs and having a well rested team will prove more beneficial than winning 50 games (.758), owning the 1st seed but having Rose, Deng and Noah exhausted for the playoffs.
Even though Tom Thibodeau is known for being the hard-nosed coach who rides his players, he is smart and knows adjustments will be needed this year. His coaching smarts coupled with a deep bench built by Gar Foreman and John Paxon will keep the Bulls well within reach of a top four seed in the playoffs while allowing key players to stay as rested as possible. NBA basketball might not look pretty this year. But the Bulls remain in great position to compete for the championship. With a well built team, a great organizational structure and a superstar in Derrick Rose, we’re in for another fun basketball season. Just a couple months later than we expected.