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Bernstein: Thibodeau's Bulls Will Be Challenged By Health, Depth

By Dan Bernstein- Senior Columnist

(CBS) Tom Thibodeau apparently turned into Gregg Popovich when we weren't looking.

To hear the Bulls tell every available reporter in no uncertain terms, their coach is now very good at "pacing a team," despite the fact that all available evidence suggests otherwise, and points to the ongoing concern that has resonated in team offices ever since he arrived in 2010.

Thibs is great at pacing a team to do whatever it can to win the next possession, and we love him for that. It's what had defined him for better and worse, driving his teams to both piles of regular-season victories and the aching feet that make their traditional springtime appearance.

But per the new talking points from those both above and below the coach, he has been working some kind of magic that we just can't see. In their parallel universe, Thibodeau seems to make up for the heavy minute-loads on important players by taking it easy when they are not playing. As if any of his NBA counterparts is somehow doing otherwise, routinely grinding veterans through grueling, in-season practices.

"He's good at knowing when we need a day off," Carlos Boozer told the Tribune.

Yes. He figures that out by seeing you on crutches.

The new SportVU cameras installed in league arenas determined that Joakim Noah – he of the chronic plantar fasciitis – led the NBA in total distance run per game last year, at 2.74 miles. Luol Deng averaged the most minutes at 38.9, and his 2.68 miles of floor-pounding per game came in second. Noting this, ESPN's Tom Haberstroh quipped "Something tells me Tom Thibodeau won't be satisfied until the top five consists of all Bulls players."

Noah says he has solved his problem, by hiring Beverly-Hills-based osteopath Fabrice Gaultier. The French-trained guru and his wife claim on their website to provide "a unique holistic (whole body) approach to health care," that aims "to positively affect the body's nervous, circulatory and lymphatic systems and facilitate the recuperative powers of the body."

So that should be all fine now. Which is great, considering Noah's backup is Nazr Mohammed, who joined the league in 1998, drafted in the next spot after the Bulls took Corey Benjamin.

With Derrick Rose finally getting his green-light communiqué from god, the Bulls are setting out to contend for a championship with a curiously-constructed roster that can only offset its lack of useful size by continued reliance on parts that have already endured heavy use.

Deng is a coach's crack cocaine, in that you can't get enough of him and can't stop. He runs the floor, guards multiple positions, rebounds, hits open shots, and knows the plays. When the rest of the first unit comes off, he stays on. He is just 28, but has racked up 26,000 total minutes.

Carlos Boozer keeps lumbering on at age 31, too, having battled through multiple sprains and strains. Taj Gibson is the first big off the bench, and spends parts of every season in a compression boot and/or receiving shockwave therapy.

Mike Dunleavy is a competent player with some positional versatility, but he's not enough to shore up an entire frontcourt and ensure playoff readiness. Barring acute injury, Jimmy Butler will almost assuredly finish the year in the NBA's top five in minutes. Both he and Rose are backed by Kirk Hinrich, for whom something is always physically amiss.

So this Bulls team faces a cruel conflict of nature. They play a style of basketball that punishes both opponents and themselves, winning primarily by the relentless expenditure of energy. Whatever title hopes they have are reliant on a lone, 6'3" star – the only man on the team who can consistently create his own offense – who is just now starting on the uncertain return from knee reconstruction, and whose own personal game has always been high-risk.

And now salary cap and luxury tax constraints will demand even more efficiency and flexibility from players who themselves have already been taxed by arduous responsibilities.

Thibodeau is fond of marching through well-traveled times of attrition by declaring "We have more than enough to win." Often they do, until they don't.

His bosses and his players seem to want to say that their coach will not be his own worst enemy, hoping they're right.

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Dan Bernstein

Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein's columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.

The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM (or you can listen online).
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