CLEVELAND -- Tom Thibodeau's team is 14-3, yet the veteran coach is in a precarious position right now.
He has one of the deepest squads in the league; his team has enough to win in the short term without injured point guard Derrick Rose (who missed his third game in a row on Friday night). He admitted as much to the assembled media before the game.
Still, the veteran coach, who never wants to give an inch, doesn't want people thinking that Rose is just going to sit out for a while and re-appear when the team feels like it needs him again. Instead of playing it safe and saying that Rose is going to take a break for an undetermined amount of time, Thibodeau bristles when the mere idea is mentioned.
"No, that's not the way I think," Thibodeau said. "The way I think is this: Only Derrick knows how he feels. So when Derrick feels like he can play, he'll play. If he feels like he can't, he won't. We're very confident that we have more than enough to win with. And somehow there's this notion out there that this team you should beat. Or that [team] ... it doesn't work like that in the NBA. [In] the NBA, every team is capable of beating you. So you've got to be ready every night. And whoever's ready to go, that's who you go with. That's what we're going to continue to do."
The Bulls in the next week will play only one team, the Indiana Pacers, with a winning record. But Thibodeau doesn't care about that. Without Rose, the Bulls managed to give the Cleveland Cavaliers their worst home loss in franchise history, 114-75. But Thibodeau doesn't care about that, either.
He wants Rose to return as soon as the 23-year-old feels he is able to do so.
The interesting thing is that Rose's teammates don't sound as if they feel the same way that their head coach does.
"I think we're playing good basketball without our most valuable player. And we just got to keep it up and make sure he gets healthy," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "He just needs to come back when he's 100 percent. There's no reason for him to be playing hurt right now, because we know in the long run we're going to need Pooh to be 100 percent. We're a confident group. We're playing good basketball and we feel like we can improve. We're playing with a good mindset and we just got to keep it up."
Bulls forward Luol Deng, who has dealt with injury struggles of his own throughout his professional career, echoed Noah's sentiments. He knows how tough it can be to play through pain and he wants to make sure that Rose is pain free before he steps out onto the floor.
"The main thing is having everyone healthy," Deng said. "You want to have everyone out there every night. You got to be smart. I never question anyone on this team when they're hurt. When they're hurt, they're hurt."
The key, as Deng, Noah and even Thibodeau admitted on Friday night is that the Bulls have enough talent to win without Rose for the foreseeable future.
"Everyone knows we're a deep team," Deng continued. "We've got guys that have been doing a good job of stepping up. With Derrick, as important as he is to our team, we got to be smart in making sure that he's 100 percent before he steps out there."
Plus, as any number of Bulls pointed out, Rose's injury actually gives other players a chance to shine, like C.J. Watson. The veteran point guard scored 15 points and dished out seven assists in Rose's absence.
"We are very deep," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said. "And you've got to give CJ a lot of credit. He's coming of an elbow [injury], where he had been sitting for three weeks. Kind of got thrust in the starting lineup and he's playing phenomenal. You've got to give him a lot of credit for stepping in and taking that challenge on. He's doing a great job of scoring the ball for us."
So why not allow him to keep doing that and give Rose more time to rest and heal?
That seems to be the obvious answer and it also seems like that is the one Thibodeau's players are not so subtlety pushing for.
"You never want anyone hurt," Deng said. [But] Derrick should take his time. This is great for the guys that don't play much, to be out there and get a little run."
Thibodeau should heed his players' advice when it comes to this particular topic.
There's no reason to rush Rose back onto the floor unless his toe feels significantly better. After hearing him speak on Friday morning, it sounds like that could still be several days away. But even if Rose says he is feeling better a few days from now, why not give him an extra day or two? The Bulls have enough to get by without him. Even if the Bulls somehow drop a game or two, Thibodeau would still be making the right move. They don't want to lose games either, but they also know that in the grand scheme of this condensed 66-game schedule, these games don't mean nearly as much as the ones in May and June will.
As much as it might kill him, Thibodeau needs to focus more on those games, and stop worrying so much about the ones at the end of January.