Tom Thibodeau Explains Why He Hasn’t Gone Small with the Bulls’ Lineup While Others Have


While many teams in the NBA have gone to smaller lineups, most notably the Miami Heat, Tom Thibodeau and the Chicago Bulls haven’t — at least not on a regular basis. Thibodeau, whose team enters the week 18-13 despite not having guard Derrick Rose, maintains that flexibility is important while lauding the accomplishments of the Heat. Tom Thibodeau joined 790 The Ticket in Miami with The Dan Lebatard Show with Stugotz and Stan Van Gundy to discuss why it took him so long to get a head-coaching gig, being labeled as a defensive guru, his team’s recent history with the Miami Heat, why he hasn’t gone smaller with his Chicago Bulls lineup and his thoughts about how smaller lineups perform defensively.

Why do you think it took you so long to get a head-coaching job?:

“I don’t know. I think for everyone it’s different. You need a break along the way. And the thing for me was, I never was disappointed because I always felt like I was with great teams and great head coaches, so I always enjoyed that part of it and being a part of a group. I always felt that, somewhere along the line, I would get an opportunity, and I’ve been very fortunate to get this one.”

Do you think the fact that you were labeled as a defensive guru helped or hurt that situation?:

“Probably a little of both. I think today everyone tries to put you in a box — you’re an offensive guy, you’re a defensive guy, you’re too loose, you’re too stringent. In reality, everyone’s looking for the perfect person, and there really isn’t one. But I think when you study coaching, I think if you look at the people that a guy has worked under, I think in order to be a great coach, you have to have worked under great coaches. There are exceptions. Certainly Doc Rivers is a great coach and he got his opportunity a different way.”

What interests you outside of basketball?:

“I used to like to work out a lot, but I’ve sort of gotten away from that. But I do like to read. I like to relax and go out like everyone else, but during the season you don’t have a whole lot of time to do those things. In the offseason, I do.”

Two years ago, you’re up 1-0 on the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Did you think you were going to win that series?:

“I think you go game-to-game. Over the past couple of years, every one of our games against them has been a really hard-fought battle. I give them a lot of credit. They persevered. Each one of those games in that series was extremely close. We had our chances.”

Many teams have chosen to go with smaller lineups, but you haven’t. Why not?:

“The flexibility of our bigs. With Noah and Taj Gibson, Gibson can guard all five positions, so it gives us the opportunity to stay big. I think you can hurt teams that go small, at times, with your rebounding and your defense. With Taj, we do a lot of switching. We sort of did that, at times, in Boston, with Garnett also. I think he can hurt teams on the boards and that’s what we tried to do. But I do think you need the flexibility to do both.”

Do you think the Heat are better than they were last year or are some of the sacrifices they’re making in going small making them worse?:

“I still think they’re great defensively, and that organization has been built that way. When you look at a guy like LeBron, he can guard every position on the floor as well, so he’s unique. When you have somebody like that, it allows you to do things like that. And I think winning the championship, that experience helps them. And with the addition of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, to me, when I watch them play, they look pretty strong.”

But can you be an elite defensive team if you play a lineup that small?:

“If the opponent can make you pay on the board, you’re giving up the rebounding part a little bit, I think. But they’ve shown that they can do it collectively. It’s hard to argue with the results that they got last year.”

Jim Leyland: “I am proud of the fact that we kind of rekindled the fire of Tiger baseball.”

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