Luol Deng and the cruel tutelage of Tom Thibodeau

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Bulls fans have been perplexed by Tom Thibodeau’s management of minutes. For the reigning Coach of the Year, a man who has transformed the Bulls into a defensive juggernaut, the East’s best regular season team and a Conference Finalist, it’s really one of the handful of criticisms you can make against Thibs. He routinely plays his starters in blowouts, logging huge minutes in needless situations. Luol Deng, especially.

The Bulls are routinely involved in blowouts of 20-plus points, comfortable leads, and yet Deng has averaged 38.4 minutes per game, down just slightly from last season when Deng logged 39.1 minutes per contest. Deng was fourth in minutes per game last season, and has moved up to 2nd this year. While most teams are limiting minutes in this crazy schedule, Thibodeau has kept pace with Deng, his best defender and the pivotal player on Chicago’s defense. But with Deng suffering a torn ligament in his wrist and still contemplating surgery, surely Thibodeau would be more careful when and if he decided to bring him back. Nope. Here’s what Thibodeau told NBA.com earlier this week.

Thibodeau says that Deng is “getting close” to being ready to play again. “He’s doing more and more each day,” the coach said before Thursday’s game. But Thibodeau wouldn’t entertain the notion that this stretch is allowing him to get more comfortable with having Deng on the bench.

“I’m comfortable with the minutes he plays,” Thibodeau said. “There’s a reason why he plays those minutes. I’m confident in our bench. We have a bench that’s more than capable. I think that if you studied the teams in the league over the years, there’s players that have averaged those minutes, and it’s fine. So that’s the way we’ll go.”

via Thibodeau Won’t Stop Leaning On Deng « NBA.com | Hang Time Blog.

And true to his word…

Deng returned Saturday night in a blowout win over the Bucks. The Bulls were up 20-plus for most of the second half. So Thibodeau eased Deng back in…

By playing him over 41 minutes.

That’s the sound of a Coach of the Year, trolling everyone.

Now, it’s not like Deng wouldn’t want to play those minutes. If asked, he’ll play. He wanted to come back, to prove he’s tough after so many years of questions regarding his toughness. He’ll play every single minute Thibodeau asks him to, as will most of the Bulls. But it’s just stunning to see that kind of a decision about such a crucial player, playing with such a serious injury, even though doctors have confirmed Deng cannot damage the injury anymore by playing on it. His first game back, and he goes 41 minutes.

Tom Thibodeau enjoys pain. Inflicting it on opponents. Teaching his players through it. This is some Pai Mei stuff going on.

And the Bulls keep winning. By a lot. By hook, by crook, or by devastating exhaustion, Thibodeau keeps his team on a razor’s edge.

J.R. Smith replacing Dwyane Wade as Cavaliers’ starting shooting guard

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The Cavaliers are 2-1, but their starting lineups have been outscored by 19 points in 32 minutes. Dwyane Wade has been so bad as the starting shooting guard, his struggles have overshadowed J.R. Smith‘s miserable play as the backup.

But at least Wade volunteered a solution to this predictable problem.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Dwyane Wade is headed for the Cavaliers’ bench at his own request and J.R. Smith is returning to the starting lineup.

Wade, 35, a 12-time All-Star who struggled in his first three games with Cleveland, asked coach Tyronn Lue to make the change, Lue said. But this wasn’t exactly Wade’s idea, either.

Lue told him when he signed with the Cavs Sept. 27 that the second unit may be the best fit for him.

“I just decided, earlier than later, just to get to the unit where I’d be more comfortable in and can probably better with this team in that lineup,” Wade said. “Why wait? Three games in, why wait? Wanted to get in there with those guys.”

Cleveland’s starting lineup needs more shooting and defense around LeBron James – especially with Derrick Rose starting over an injured Isaiah Thomas (though Rose is out a couple games with his own ankle injury). Smith provides that.

Bench-heavy units need more playmaking. Wade provides that.

This was a tricky situation given Wade’s status as a future Hall of Famer and friendship with LeBron. Whether Wade simply suggested the change or Lue is trying to give Wade public credit after coaxing it behind the scenes, the result is the same.

The Cavs can now use their most logical rotation, and they should be better for it.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough: Eric Bledsoe hair-salon claim about tweet was unbelievable

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Eric Bledsoe reportedly requested a trade from the Suns before the season then tweeted yesterday:

Clear message?

Apparently not.

After sending home Bledsoe today, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough explained his rationale:

The hair salon! What a wonderful excuse.

Is it true? I’m not going to call Bledsoe a liar. It might be.

It’s also probably true that Bledsoe isn’t long for Phoenix.

Report: Suns send Eric Bledsoe home, expect to trade him

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In a shocking twist, the Suns firing Earl Watson did not end the dysfunction in Phoenix.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Bledsoe:

That is a first-rate tweet by Bledsoe. It’s great that he’s having fun with the wild situation, because the rest of us sure are amused peering in.

This was always going to be a long season in Phoenix, but things got out of hand in a hurry. The 0-3 Suns have been outscored by 92 – the worst three-game start in NBA history by 16 points. Now, comes the fallout.

At 27, Bledsoe was getting to be a little too old for a rebuild centered on Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and T.J. Warren. The Suns could have dealt Bledsoe in the offseason. Now, they’re negotiating from a position of weakness.

Bledsoe is a good starting point guard when healthy. He’s earning a reasonable $14.5 million this season and due $15 million in the final year of his contract next season. There should be suitors, and Phoenix can gain long-term assets while stepping up its tank.

But this sure seems like a crisis-control move more than anything else.

Willy Hernangomez ‘mad’ about falling from Knicks rotation

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Knicks president Steve Mills started his second tenure talking about rebuilding and listed Willy Hernangomez as a core piece.

But Hernangomez, coming off an All-Rookie first-team season, barely played in New York’s season-opening loss to the Thunder– drawing scrutiny.

Then, he didn’t play at all in a loss to the Pistons – eliciting a strong reaction from Hernangomez himself.

Hernangomez, via Fred Kerber of the New York Post:

“The same. I’m still mad,” Hernangomez said. “I cannot help the team win if I’m sitting on the bench. Two games in a row. It’s tough. I have to wait my moment. I cannot say nothing more.”

The Knicks are moving in different directions. Management is talking about building for the future. Coach Jeff Hornacek, who was hired by previous president Phil Jackson, is trying to win now.

There’s a fine line between developing Hernangomez through playing time and making him earn his minutes. Enes Kanter and Kyle O'Quinn might be better right now.

But being marginally better this season won’t get the Knicks anywhere meaningful except lower in the lottery. On the other hand, even on rebuilding teams, winning is most important to a coach’s job security. Earl Watson implemented the Suns’ tanking scheme, and look where that got him.

Hornacek is backed into a corner, and now one of the team’s most important young players is publicly expressing his displeasure. It’s the latest troubling sign in a locker room already suspicious of Hornacek.