With Joakim Noah sidelined by plantar fasciitis, the last thing the Bulls needed was for a player to go rogue and put himself before the team. And yet that’s apparently what Tyrus Thomas did prior to Chicago’s home game against the Miami Heat. And Thomas was suspended for…whatever it was he did.
Said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro: “It’s an internal matter. [Bulls GM] Gar [Forman] and myself will handle it. … It’s unfortunate timing, but in the short run there’s a responsibility. No one player is bigger than the team, and there’s a responsibility to do things right. And I think by handling the situation the right way, which I think we are, I know we are. It’s not one person. It’s a group. And you have to be committed to your teammates, your coaches, the organization. That doesn’t go just for Tyrus. It goes for everybody. The guys know how things run around here. That’s how it’s going to be.”
At least one thing is clear: That’s how “it” is going to be.
As for Thomas, shouldn’t we have seen this coming? After all, Tyrus had sky high hopes for this season. In case you don’t remember, Thomas believed he had a very real chance to become a 20-10 guy this year. This is what he had to say about that possibility last October: “First, I have to figure out my role as far as the offensive end. I have to figure out where I’m going to get my shots. But on the defensive end, definitely 10 (rebounds a game).”
Ty’s current averages: 8.5 PPG and 6.2 RPG. I guess you could say things haven’t quite gone according to plan.
Since that bold prediction, Thomas has fractured the radius bone in his left forearm during a weightlifting session at practice, missed 23 games, lost his starting job to rookie Taj Gibson, endured a constant stream of trade rumors, and watched his minutes slowly dwindle to the point that — even with Noah shut down until some time after the All-Star break — he logged only 16 minutes of PT in a loss to the Hawks in Atlanta.
Make no mistake: Thomas has the physical tools necessary to be an All-Star-caliber player. However, whenever his future is discussed, words like “enigmatic” and “mercurial” always pop up. Tyrus has over halfway through his fourth season as a pro, but the Bulls still have no idea what he’s going to give them on a nightly basis. He might score 20 points and grab 15 boards. He might go 2-for-13 from the field and finish with more turnovers and rebounds.
If it seems as though the coaching staff has lost faith in him, it’s probably because they have. There simply is no other way to explain his sporadic appearances. And whatever he said or did behind the scenes isn’t going to help his standing with his teammates, coaches or management.
Meanwhile, the Bulls — losers of three in a row — had a basketball game to play. And they had to squeeze 20 meaningful minutes out of Chris Richard, whom they waived in October but recently signed to a 10-day contract. Richard, who no doubt can be counted on to bust his butt without complaining about minutes, responded to his big chance with 7 rebounds (including 4 on the offensive end), 2 points, 2 assists, 2 blocked shots and a steal.
Just imagine if Richard had Thomas’ raw talent.
Richard wasn’t the only Chicago player who came up big. Luol Deng earned a game-high 11 free throw attempts and finished with a game-best 25 points. Derrick Rose added 24 points and made some big plays down the stretch. John Salmons came off the bench to score 15 points and dish out a team-high 5 assists. And Brad Miller chipped in with 13 points, 8 boards and a career-best 5 steals.
All this on the second night of back-to-backs after traveling back to Chicago from Atlanta. It was a real gut check. And it turns out the Bulls still have their guts intact.
Said Rose: “Definitely, we needed this one. It gives us more confidence. Our locker room was way more cheerful than it was the past couple of games. Now, we just got to keep it going.”
It won’t be easy. There were signs of trouble in this game, like how Chicago got outrebounded 52-41. However, they did have the edge in second-chance points (19-15), points in the paint (38-30), fastbreak points (20-12), points off turnovers (21-16) and free throw attempts (35-19). Both teams wanted this game…but the Bulls wanted it more.
Too bad Tyrus couldn’t be a part of that.
1st timeout: Deng was fouled before the timeout (1-for-2)
2nd timeout: Bulls forced Miami into a turnover
3rd timeout: Udonis Haslem hit a jumper
4th timeout: Salmons missed a 14-footer
5th timeout: Deng was fouled (2-for-2)
6th timeout: Deng was fouled (2-for-2)
Vinny called one timeout after the Heat had already committed a fouls. He called two timeouts immediately after a Miami timeout when the Heat had possession of the ball. The final timeout was called at a point when Miami was forced the fouls. So the Bulls had only two offensive possessions coming out of a timeout. One resulted in a missed jump shot, the other in two free throws for Deng (thanks to a sweet feed by D-Rose) that put the Bulls up by five points with 37 seconds left.