LOS ANGELES – Tune out all the background noise for a moment.
That means putting the Jeff Van Gundy-John Paxson war of words on mute, ignoring the rumors that Van Gundy and Bulls management continued that war of words in an American Airlines Center bathroom afterwards, and downplaying the conspiracy theories about why certain players have been medically excused from everyday drills.
There is one fundamental great divide between coach Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls front office, and it’s the reason that all signs point to a parting of ways after the season. The rest of the side show? Call it collateral damage.
Thibodeau feels that championship teams are built on push and grind. And that mentality will strengthen the body and mind come playoff time. The front office is from the school of preservation. It’s good for marketing and ticket sales to have stars on the floor come spring time.
Neither is budging.
“The only way you can improve execution and timing is really through repetition,’’ Thibodeau said defiantly, after the upset overtime win in Golden State Tuesday night. “The only way you get repetition is you have to practice. The more you practice, the better you practice, the better you’re going to play. That’s time tested, age old, however else you want to describe it. That’s what you gotta do if you want to win.’’
VP of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman made their mission statement for this season very clear back at the start of training camp, insisting on several occasions that the goal was to be healthy in April, May and June.
Both make good arguments. Unfortunately, only one side is right.
That’s why Forman and Paxson need to do something that’s been difficult for Bulls management to do for years: Stand down and let the man with the whistle have room to work.
Whether it’s been Jerry Krause and Phil Jackson or Paxson and the likes of Scott Skiles, Vinny Del Negro and now Thibodeau, at some point the suits have to learn how to play well with others.
For minutes to be such a concern, especially for Paxson is really mind-blowing. The former Bulls shooting guard coat-tailed three championship rings off two players that had no regard for their body or minutes played in Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan.
The ball doesn’t lie, and neither does history.
Stars play big minutes. Championship teams are hardened through being pushed in games and on the practice court. Thibodeau has been around long enough to know it, and was part of a Boston Celtics staff that saw it play out on their way to the 2008 title.
“There’s the school of thought that less minutes are better,’’ Thibodeau said. “There’s also the school of thought that when you do less you also become deconditioned. And so there’s not any science behind it right now. You look at football, the restrictions they have, and now there’s more injuries. You look at the pitch-count in baseball, there’s more Tommy John surgeries than ever. I think right now what we’re doing is collecting data, but we don’t even know what the data means.’’
The light in this dark tunnel is a deep playoff run will make it almost impossible for the front office to let an elite NBA coach go elsewhere. Then again, these are the Bulls. Anything is possible.