Is the Bulls recent slump mental or physical?
The team denies that the swirling talk about Derrick Rose is not a factor. Is he coming back? Is he sitting out the season? Reading comments by Derrick’s brother opened a big can of worms.
While Rose continues to be silent, what the media gets to see and hear is limited. At practice we watch him shoot, just like he does before games. Coach Tom Thibodeau is repeatedly asked about the former NBA MVP's progress.
No one knows, except Rose and Bulls management, when or if he will be announced in the starting line-up of a game. Reporters are getting tired of asking about it. However, they get orders from their editors to stay on top of the story.
So when ESPN.com gets quotes from Derrick's brother Reggie, it set off a firestorm. Reggie expressed that the team needed to get better players at the trade deadline to surround Derrick and added it may impact his brother's return the Bulls. Players may feel a bit deflated hearing those comments.
Derrick released a very short, supportive press release about the Bulls organization. But the players have to be wondering if there are any smoldering negative feelings being directed to them by the older brother's words.
Since the stinging remarks, this Bulls team has struggled and at times they look lethargic. It was great to see Joakim Noah produce big numbers against the 76ers (23 points, 21 rebounds, 11 blocked shots) last night, but they were a Sixer team that has been very disappointing this year. Some of the Bulls troubles can be attributed to the injuries and the lack of bench depth, but still when you see a loss of energy, it makes you wonder about the mental fatigue that seems to be setting in with eight weeks left to the season.
Now is a big test to see if head coach Tom Thibodeau can cajole and inspire to keep the team on track. The past two years, he had the Bulls steamrolling to the season’s finish line. One of the most obvious reasons was Derrick Rose, but last year Rose was in and out of the line-up due to various ailments. The bench was more galvanized and was stronger in their roles than the present one. Every player on the bench followed their assignments for their designated roles and this year it worked for a while, but some factors are making this a huge challenge.
The lack of depth with big men is starting to hurt the Bulls, now that Taj Gibson is out with a sprained knee. The Bulls forward will be lost for at least a few weeks, unless there are more issues with his injury. With Gibson out, a problem has developed in the rotation of the team's big men. When Thibodeau looks down and sees he has Nazr Mohammed and Vladimir Radmanovic to spell Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, he knows this team has a problem. Mohammed is at the end of his career and has not been much help and Radmanovic has only been used in “mop-up” situations. With Richard Hamilton getting sidelined with back spasms last night, seldom-used Daequan Cook made an appearance. The other big issue has been Kirk Hindrich, when he starts there seems to be calmness and a sense of direction with his job at point guard. He has missed so many games and his recent elbow trouble has impacted the cohesiveness of the starting unit. Both Nate Robinson and rookie Marquis Teague deficiencies are exposed when they play accumulative minutes. Hindrich was signed to keep the team going until Derrick Rose comes back and then he will lead the bench or play some two-guard with Rose.
This has to be a learning experience for Thibodeau. How much should he push? How demanding should he be at this point? He was able to get the most out of the team yesterday with four starters scoring in double digits (basically using just seven players). The Bulls need to figure out if they have enough to hang in there or will stagger down the stretch. If it is mental or physical, whatever may impede them from succeeding, the Bulls must figure it out with or without Derrick Rose