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.

Report: NBA ‘snitch’ hotline receiving multiple tips

NBA snitch hotline
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When the NBA created a hotline for players to anonymously report violations inside the bubble, numerous questions emerged. How often would it get used? What consequences would told-on players face? Would other players resent how often Chris Paul called?

Some answers are emerging.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kings center Richaun Holmes and Rockets forward Bruno Caboclo are each quarantined after breaking protocols. It’s unclear how their violations were detected.

Yes, there is a culture against snitching. That this report is snitching about snitching is truly something.

But there’s too much at stake – health of hundreds of people and a lot of money – to take these protocols lightly. Everyone at the NBA’s Disney World campus is entrusting their safety (and, for players, whose salaries are tied to revenue, livelihood) to those around them. It’s important everyone involved acts responsibly.

Kings forward Harrison Barnes tests positive for coronavirus

Kings forward Harrison Barnes
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The Kings have been hit especially hard by coronavirus.

Buddy Hield, Jabari Parker and Alex Len all tested positive. Richaun Holmes is quarantined after violating the NBA’s bubble protocols at Disney World.

And now Harrison Barnes reveals he was diagnosed with coronavirus.

Harrison Barnes:

Presumably, Barnes was among the 19 players the NBA announced tested positive for coronavirus in July in home markets.

“Primarily asymptomatic” is a strange assessment. Does Barnes mean he’s mildly symptomatic?

The Kings already faced an uphill climb for making the playoffs. At best, several of their players are falling behind in training. At worst, Sacramento will have its rotation depleted when games begin.

Hopefully, Barnes recovers and joins the team as he hopes. He has a personal stake in it. Even during the lengthy hiatus, Barnes stuck with his pledge not to shave or cut his hair until the Kings reach .500 (or, as he amended it, make the playoffs) or the season ends.

Report: Pacers star Victor Oladipo’s remaining salary in dispute

Pacers star Victor Oladipo
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Among the continuing 22 NBA teams, players not playing in the resumption at Disney World essentially fall into two categories:

Pacers star Victor Oladipo lands in the gray area.

Oladipo, who returned from a year-long absence shortly before the season got suspended in March, said he was sitting out due to elevated risk of injury during a quick buildup. But he also traveled with the team to Orlando and is even practicing so well, Indiana is reportedly becoming increasingly optimistic he’ll play.

Is Oladipo healthy enough to play?

At stake for Oladipo:

  • $2,763,158 if the Pacers get swept in the first round
  • $2,993,421 if they play exactly five playoff games
  • $3,223,684 if they play six or more playoff games

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The union believes Oladipo, who went to Orlando with the Pacers and then cleared quarantine so he could practice, should be paid his remaining salary, sources said.

The league, largely in an effort to set a precedent in case other players who are deemed healthy want to leave Orlando and no longer play, believes Oladipo has opted out and should not be paid, sources said. His public comments about feeling healthy has only solidified the league’s position on the matter, sources said.

The Pacers support Oladipo’s decision and are willing to pay him the salary whether he plays or not, sources said.

Presumably, if Oladipo plays, he’ll get paid like anyone else playing in the resumption. This controversy lingers only if Oladipo doesn’t play.

It’s unsurprising the Pacers don’t want to pick this fight with their star player, especially as he approaches 2021 free agency. Trying to avoid alienating their own players but not necessarily eager to pay for services not rendered, teams collectively want the league to handle these issues.

If teams had ample discretion, the Wizards might have said Davis Bertans – who chose to sit out – had some lingering injury. NBA players are rarely perfectly healthy. There’s always some physical issue to point to. Bertans will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and they want to re-sign him. What an easy way to build goodwill – and maybe even get a discount on Bertans’ next contract.

Obviously, the league doesn’t want those type of shenanigans. That’s why on outside rulings on players’ health can be important.

Oladipo might not be the only borderline case:

Oladipo’s situation might take care of itself if he decides to play. But the league might inquire more deeply into other situations.

Report: Rockets star James Harden ‘feeling fine,’ might travel with Russell Westbrook

Rockets stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook
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When Russell Westbrook revealed he had coronavirus, speculation immediately turned to the Rockets’ other star who also didn’t travel with the team to Disney World.

James Harden is “feeling fine,” working out and might travel with Westbrook to Orlando, according to Shams Charania of Stadium:

Was Harden also diagnosed with coronavirus? Is he just waiting for his friend before entering the restrictive bubble? Is there another issue?

These questions beget even more questions.

If both players have coronavirus, they won’t necessarily recover on the same day. Would the first to get cleared wait for the other? Or is traveling together just an idea in case it works out?

If Harden is fully healthy and just waiting for Westbrook, how do their teammates inside the bubble feel about that? Those already at Disney World are spending more time away from friends and family in less-than-ideal conditions.

If there’s another issue… who knows?

The lack of transparency around the situation only invites rumors and guesses.

At least it’s good news that Harden feels fine.