The morning after Chicago PG Derrick Rose suffered a season-ending (career threatening?) ACL tear late in the 4th quarter of the Bulls’ Game One defeat of Philadelphia, Rose’s head coach, Tom Thibodeau is the subject of an extensive NY Times profile that characterizes the former Celtics assistant as being basketball fixated to the point of obsession (“asked to expand on Thibodeau’s supposed hobbies, Jeff Van Gundy said, “Just because I said he’s multidimensional doesn’t mean I know what those dimensions are,”). Without needing to reference Greg Bishop’s piece, SB Nation’s Mike Prada defends Thibodeau against those aghast that Rose was still on the floor with a 12 point lead and 70 seconds remaining, warning the second-guessers, “as long as passionate players and nervous coaches exist, these things are always in jeopardy of happening.”
Thibodeau is hardly the only coach that never feels secure in the heat of the moment. Later in the day, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra put star Dwyane Wade back into the game in the fourth quarter with the Heat leading by 34 points, as if there was legitimate danger that the Knicks could come back. Wade played five minutes before he was finally exiled to the sidelines with the Heat leading by 32. This was after the Rose injury happened, mind you.
That’s just one example. Lakers fans have been screaming at coach Mike Brown all season for not resting his stars more when they were being blown out in several games. Clippers fans have every reason to freak out about how much Vinny Del Negro played Chris Paul over the course of the season. This goes on and on. Gregg Popovich seems to understand the importance of getting his horses out of the game when they are no longer needed, but he’s the exception, not the rule. Most coaches don’t operate that way.
From afar, it’s easy to say they should. In a sense, leaving a star in the game when it is decided is akin to not putting on your seatbelt. Sure, it won’t matter most of the time, but all it takes is one time for it to cost you. Then, you’re negligent.
The thing is, unless there’s legislation passed that limits hoops analysis to those who are either active or retired coaches, criticism will always come “from afar”. Had Rose been benched in the final two minutes and Elton Brand suddenly morphed into Reggie Miller, Thibodeau would be catching heat today, too. Those complaints would also have emerged, “from afar”, with the possible exception of the coach’s employers, who’ve yet to retain him beyond the 2012-13 season.