<
>

Thibs, Gibson differ on problem with D

CHICAGO -- For four years under Tom Thibodeau, the Chicago Bulls have exuded trust on the defensive end. They know where each other is going to be on the floor and they play hard together. They know that if one player makes a mistake, another player will be there to pick them up and cover for them.

Twenty games into this season, though, that trust was lacking, according to two of their defensive stalwarts.

"I think our trust has to be better," Joakim Noah said after Saturday's loss to the Golden State Warriors. "We're not where we need to be and that's on every area of the defensive end. We all have to do a better job and that goes for everybody. I take the blame for some of it, but we all have to be on the same page, and right now we're not where we need to be."

Going into Wednesday's game, the Bulls were giving up 105.4 points per opponents' 100 possessions, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, the most in the Thibodeau era. That's good for 11th in the league this season. In Thibodeau's first season, 2010-2011, the Bulls were tied for first in the league at 100.3 points allowed per opponents' 100 possessions and have never ranked worse than sixth.

But the Bulls coach doesn't see it as an issue of trust. When asked Wednesday about what it would take to rebuild trust, Thibodeau said: "That's garbage. That's garbage. Trust, it's work. It's work. That's how you build trust. You got to know what you're doing, you got to be tied together. You got to work at it. It's a cop out."

For a coach who has built his entire career on outworking his opponents, the idea that Thibodeau's players don't trust each other on defense flies in the face of what he has taught them over the past five years.

"Where you get trust is from the work," Thibodeau said. "The magic is in the work. It's working together, it's timing. It's being tied together. One guy being off is going to hurt you. So you need everyone working together. It doesn't end. You're not going to have it figured out in three days. You're trying to do something great. Nothing great was ever achieved without great work and great effort. It's really that simple."

Instead of demurring and and agreeing with Thibodeau's assessment, Gibson fired back in his own way before Wednesday's game. Thibodeau is entitled to his opinion, but that doesn't mean Gibson agrees with it.

"That was just me and Jo's opinion," Gibson said. "We're on the court."

Gibson followed up on the point he and Noah made on Saturday.

"It's just new guys," Gibson said. "That's all it is. Most of the guys are coming from teams, they're not really defensive-minded teams first. So of course it's going to happen, but that's just my opinion. That's what I see on the court. I've been here for a while. I know what I'm talking about. Joakim knows what he's talking about, he was the defensive player of the year, of course he's going to know what he's talking about. We're on the court, though."

On the surface, this appears to be more of a media-driven story. A player says one thing, a coach disagrees, and then a player is asked for his opinion of the coach's new thoughts.

The difference here is the players and coach involved.

Gibson and Noah are two of the most respected Bulls. They are proud players who wouldn't rock the boat for any reason.

In that regard, Thibodeau is similar. But the fact that Gibson didn't back down in his belief is telling and shows a shift in how he and Noah are handling Thibodeau's demanding style. Gibson didn't call out his coach, but he stood up for his opinion and made it clear that he didn't agree with Thibodeau.

The Bulls responded in the hours following Gibson's pregame comments with a dominant performance against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night. It was arguably their best defensive performance of the season, holding the Nets to just 33 percent shooting in a 105-80 romp.

After the game, Gibson acknowledged that the trust that had been missing in previous games was there against the Nets.

"It's something that you see," Gibson said. "It's something that you really got to drill in your head. You got to really be in practice, you really have to watch film. You have to really drill [it] in your head. And trust that the guy next to you is going to have your back. And tonight, in the second half, I felt like it was kind of like that tonight.

"The bigs were calling off the defensive coverages, the guards were responding. Guys were just switching, talking, and that was real big. That's what teams that go deep in the playoffs really capitalize on. Just talking and believing in each other and no letups on defense."

The natural follow-up, when it comes to Thibodeau and his players, then is the same one that has been whispered about for several years both in and out of the organization: Will the players start to tune out Thibodeau?

The answer, at least up to this point, remains no. The Bulls are still winning and there is a genuine belief from within that they can win a championship this season if Derrick Rose & Co. stay healthy. But the grumbling, in regards to Thibodeau's abrasive style, might be growing a little louder than usual behind the scenes.

The first sign of that came before the season when the front office made it clear to Thibodeau that Noah and Rose would be on a minutes restriction to start the season. While it appears to be a prudent decision given both players' recent history with knee injuries, Thibodeau understandably did not like it. Like most coaches, he wants to be in control and he doesn't want to be told what to do by anyone. The difference with Thibodeau is in his attention to detail. He wants to know about everything basketball-related going on within the organization and wants to have the power to make decisions on the floor.

That doesn't make him that much different than his peers. But the difference is in the rigidness. Gibson noted that Thibodeau put the Bulls through two tough practices after Saturday's loss, a fact reaffirmed by veteran Pau Gasol, who half-jokingly said: "I'd rather play back-to-backs."

The key with Thibodeau is the consistency. His message is the same and it has been since he was hired in the summer of 2010. He demands order, effort and accountability on the floor.

"He's Thibs," Gibson said. "He's Thibs 100 percent every day of the week. He's not going to change. But eventually guys are going to take in and listen to what he says. He may yell at you 100 times but you're going to eventually do what he says."

Thibodeau has become one of the best coaches in basketball because of his ability to stick to those principles no matter the situation. It just seems like more than at any other point during his tenure, his players are getting tired with how that message is being delivered.

That happens to every coach over time. That's why there's always so much turnover in professional sports. But Gibson's comments illustrate one of the rare times during Thibodeau's tenure when his words were challenged, even slightly.

Does that mean that Gibson, Noah and the rest of the Bulls are suddenly going to stop playing as hard for Thibodeau at some point this season?

No. The players still respect Thibodeau a great deal for the way he prepares for each game, a fact that Gibson referenced after Wednesday's win in saying Thibodeau was "a guru when it comes to the game plan."

"He's on your case for a reason," Gibson said. "He only wants to get you better. He's on you every day. He yells at everybody from top to bottom, Derrick, everybody, even the guys that's on the bench. He doesn't sugarcoat anything. He just wants you to get better. You see how everyone's been rewarded over the years. Guys have to follow suit and nothing's going to change."