SALT LAKE CITY -- Tom Thibodeau is never going to let any team of his tank a season.
If there are Chicago Bulls fans out there who don’t believe that, they haven't been paying attention to the way Thibodeau coaches his players, even in the wake of Derrick Rose's latest season-ending knee injury.
They surely weren't paying attention to the way the Bulls played down the stretch against a brutal Utah Jazz team that came into the game with a 1-14 record. The Bulls had every right to pack it in in Monday night, much the same way they did on Sunday afternoon in a 39-point blowout loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Bulls were playing their fourth game in five nights Monday -- and on the same day, they found out that Rose was officially out for the season. Instead of wallowing in their misery, the Bulls came back from a 12-point deficit and even had a chance to win the game before it went into overtime.
The fact that it got to overtime at all is a testament to the fact that Thibodeau, and his players, won't just allow themselves to quit.
The veteran coach simply doesn't believe in mailing anything in. When the topic of the Bulls' front office writing off this season came up before the game, Thibodeau pushed it off the same way he is trying to push away Rose's absence. The 55-year-old coach loves and respects Rose and wants him to get healthy, but he doesn't want his healthy players to cloak themselves in the gloominess that Rose's injury makes fans feel.
"My job is to coach the team," Thibodeau said. "Whoever I have on the roster, that's who I'm coaching. Whether Derrick's here or not, that's what they have to do. [The front office has] to always look at the players that are available. They have to study, which they do. And you go from there.
“I love the team that we have; I love the guys that we have in that locker room. I think we have great character, we've got great fight, we've got determination and we love the challenge."
But what if Bulls general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson come to Thibodeau later in the season and tell him that the plan in place requires the Bulls to sell off many of their valuable assets?
"They've got to do their job," Thibodeau said. "I don't think about that. I think about what we do have. Their job is to always look at what the possibilities are. That's the nature of this league."
That's also the nature of Thibodeau.
His M.O. since coming to Chicago remains the same: He wants his players to play as hard as they can every time they hit the floor.
That's what he expects from himself, so that's what he expects from his team. That's why the Bulls will never tank under the demanding coach and why the front office will be forced to make a major overhaul if they want the Bulls to go in a different direction. Thibodeau's locker room, even without Rose, is full of too many proud players to think their losing ways will continue all season and they will somehow land in the draft lottery.
"I got to snap out of it," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "We're human. I think we're disappointed with the way we're playing, disappointed with everything that's been going on. But the games just keep on coming. Personally, I got to snap out of it and be a better leader."
Noah, along with several of his teammates, admitted that the emotional loss of Rose has played a part in the Bulls' recent four-game losing streak. After all, it's not every day you lose one of the best players in the NBA for the second consecutive season. But like Thibodeau, Noah is too proud to stand idle while the Bulls fade off into the distance.
"It's a tough blow," Noah said. "We lost our best player for the year. But we have lots of guys here who are very capable players, and we just got to play with more fire."
The Bulls could make deals and dilute their own talent base for future assets. But with Thibodeau still calling the shots, he will force that group to continue to fight the good fight.
If the Bulls truly wanted to give up on another lost season, the trading of players would be secondary to the trading out of coaches. As long as Thibodeau is in Chicago, he will find a way to make the best out of a bad situation.
"This is the nature of an NBA season," Thibodeau said. "It's not going to be [easy]. We started slowly; we did that together. We won five in a row; we did that together. So now we're struggling; we got to get out of that together.
"And I'll say this again about the team: I think we have the right guys. And I think there's a lot of toughness in that locker room. And we're going to keep pushing and fighting and grinding. And we'll find a way. We'll find a way."