Open Letter to Tom Thibodeau

Dear Tom,

My name is Hunter, and although my basketball qualifications are relatively minimal—haven’t played in an organized league in high school, although in college I played in a pickup game league and once faced former Iowa safety Tanner Miller; we lost—I do watch copious amounts of the NBA, and I’d like to think my voracious watching appetite, coupled with the fact that a website has decided I am worthwhile enough to compensate me financially for my written skills, entitles me to, if nothing else, a voiced opinion. So here it goes.

I like the way you apparently wear the exact same track suit to every single practice. I wonder how many duplicates you have. I like the way you wear the same tennis shoes, over and over again. I like the way you show gritty persistence on your scalp; despite your increasingly obvious lack of hair, you keep shining up those few strands with pomade (or whatever you use, maybe clay, or gel, or wax…), sweeping the little patch to the side, and walking into the gym. It just doesn’t faze you, and I think that’s really cool. I like the way you aren’t married because you are married to basketball. I like the way you live in a hotel because you can’t live too far away from the United Center. I like the way you watch game film immediately after a game.

But let’s get back to the hair, because I think there’s something deeper there. Yes, the fact that you refuse to relinquish your head to shiny baldness does indeed display an admirable sort of courage—a determination in the face of an otherwise hopeless plight. On the other hand, I do wonder whether that same courage, that same persistence, might sometimes morph into stubbornness. Do you have issues being stubborn, Tom?

Feb. 11, 2013 - Chicago, IL, USA - Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau talks with Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) during the first half of an NBA game against the San Antonio Spurs at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois, Monday, February 11, 2013

For example: you refuse to rest your starters. This is something I have noticed. Sometimes, when your team gets up a whole lot of points (as in game one against the Cavs), you keep your starters in the game because, you reason, it was they who got you there. Jimmy Butler played almost as many minutes as your entire bench combined. Poor Nikola logged two whole minutes. Of course, you won the game in the end. But for a moment there it looked like the Cavs might mount a comeback.

Sometimes, you do the reverse: When your team gets down a whole lot of points (as in game two against the Cavs), you keep your starters in the game because, you reason, they are the only ones who can dig you out of the hole. You play Derrick Rose for 39 minutes even though he finishes 6-20 from the field. You play Rose 39 minutes despite the fact that his track record shows consistently poor performances after a single day’s rest. Why not give Tony, Aaron and Kirk some more minutes? You don’t have to give them total responsibility, but giving them a chance wouldn’t hurt.

Perhaps most perplexing of all is your newfound hatred of Nikola Mirotic. You have given him 9 minutes combined through the first two games of the Cleveland series. This is the same Nikola Mirotic who finished second in the Rookie of the Year race, and who provided a minor threat to Andrew Wiggins. This is the same Nikola Mirotic who played 22.8 minutes per game in the month of April, 30.8 in the month of March. Yes, he’s a rookie, and he’s going to make rookie mistakes. But you can’t use his defense as a legitimate excuse, given the fact that Pau Gasol has probably unseated James Harden as the most embarrassingly terrible defensive player in the history of human beings. When you’re down 20 points, why not give Nikola a go? There were several points in game two when it was clear that, for your team, the situation could not get worse. Yet you chose to ride your starters till the bloody end, and they racked up heavy minutes while Timofey Mozgov logged a restful 18; Kendrick Perkins, for goodness’ sake, played 12 minutes off David Blatt’s bench.

It is one thing to slightly limit the play of rookies and role players during the postseason; it is something else to shun them altogether.

I am not saying that playing your bench will magically win you every single game, or even this series, let alone the title, but, dear Tom, your starters cannot shoulder this burden alone. And look what talent you have on the bench. I entreat you to trust the fellows riding the pine.

Wishing you all the very best in your game tonight,



It might just be time to go bald.

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