Practice not making perfect, as Taj Gibson sends a message

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Taj Gibson gets it. That’s why he has a permanent residence in coach Tom Thibodeau’s ‘‘circle.’’

If your ankle is injured, you sit. If your ankle only hurts, you play. You take part in practices and in games — every drill, every scrimmage, no excuses.

Gibson has done that the last few seasons, perhaps even jeopardizing further injury to his ankles at times. But that’s the price he’s willing to pay to be a champion.

Jimmy Butler is in that circle, too. He takes no nights off unless his body absolutely can’t go. Thibodeau knows Butler will do what’s asked of him without question or complaint. Rings come with some pain.

It’s not easy to earn a spot in Thibodeau’s circle, and the population inside it might be thinning a bit. The Bulls aren’t pointing fingers at each other yet, but they are whispering. And what has become obvious is that not everyone is pulling the rope with the same vigor.

It started with the laid-back mentality of Derrick Rose — ‘‘I’ve got to worry about the big picture’’ — at the beginning of the season, and now there are concerns that it has spread. More specifically, there are worries that Joakim Noah’s seasonlong knee problems have caused him to start questioning the process.

When Gibson was asked what was wrong after the Bulls’ embarrassing 108-94 loss Monday to the Cleveland Cavaliers, there was no hesitation in his response.

‘‘We’ve gotta practice harder, and we can’t be taking days off,’’ Gibson said.

And Gibson didn’t say it only once. In a four-minute interview, he brought up the importance of full participation in practice three times.

‘‘We have the tools, we have the personnel,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘It just comes from within. There’s nothing more you can say. It’s all about how much heart you have and how determined you’re going to be.’’

It’s a message Thibodeau has been harping on for weeks. For a team built on defensive fundamentals, missing practice time is a no-no. And it apparently has caught up with the Bulls, who have lost six of their last eight games and, perhaps, their way.

‘‘To me, this is a totally different team than what we’ve had in the past,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘We’ve got two important pieces who are working through injuries and trying to get back, and both are key players for us. We’re trying to integrate new players. We’re halfway through the season now; we should be past that.

‘‘Somehow there’s the notion that, ‘It’s OK. We’ll be all right.’ No. No. It doesn’t work like that.’’

That’s a message Rose needs to get. When he was asked about the Bulls’ practice habits being less than stellar, he responded: ‘‘I really don’t know. As a coach, [Thibodeau] has a right to say that. But it’s just compete, compete and, when you go out there, compete. It should be fun. Basketball should be fun. .   Competing-wise, it seems like we’re not there.’’

No, it doesn’t. And that might start with the man in the mirror.


Twitter: @suntimes_hoops

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