"if healthy" seems to be a phrase I use a lot when describing the Bulls chances. It's odd and not so odd at the same time. Odd, because the phrase really describes any team. What are the Heat's championship odds if one of their key pieces tears an ACL this year? Not so good, but I never think to add the phrase "if healthy" for them.
However, the Bulls lost Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah two seasons ago while losing Deng and Hinrich [and still missing Rose] last season. With this team, it's hard to imagine them staying healthy. That's the difference.
Health has been such a concern Tom Thibodeau vowed to lower the minutes the guys played. I'm not sure how much difference that will make. Stan Van Gundy had an interesting thing to note about minutes. To paraphrase, it went something like this:
"Does playing a guy 34 minutes vs 40 minutes a night really matter at the end of the season? Those six minutes add up to eight hours of extra work spread out over six months. These are elite athletes, do you really think eight hours over six months is something the body can even feel?"
I get where Stan is coming from and I agree to an extent. However, there's certainly a different level of intensity to game minutes vs practice minutes. It isn't just "more exercise" or "more work". Players do riskier things in games trying to make a play than they do in practice. There are FAR more injuries in games than in practice or training.
The minutes are inherently more dangerous. If nothing else, if you play 34 minutes instead of 40 it seems safe to say that's going to decrease your risk of injury at least at a linear 15% simply by being off the floor 15% more time.
However, the body is most susceptible to injury when it is fatigued, and since game minutes are the most intense, playing more of them in a shorter time will push your body to its most fatigued state which probably means there is a bit of a non linear bump in there as well (we'll say maybe an extra 5-10%).
My guess is if the Bulls trimmed the guys around 40 minutes to 34 minutes is that they'd see a 20-25% reduction in the chance of injury. Now losing those six minutes of performance from your most important players may also significantly impact your odds of winning.
Depending on the chance of injury that may be well worth the gamble since the odds of having a notable injury in a game are probably only 1% anyway, lowering them to .8% or so might not really be all that noteworthy if it costs you five games in the standings.
Of course spreading that risk out over a whole season and the case for rest makes a bit more sense. It's why you likely take the risk every time in the playoffs, but in the regular season you don't need to risk so much.
That said, Tom Thibodeau vowed to reduce minutes for key players this season. He seems to get that it's an issue and is going to respond. 82 games is a long season, and the Bulls proved they could win a road game seven last season. No need to take extra risks for home court advantage.
While I have no proof, I believe that approach to reduced minutes was likely handed down as marching orders to Thibodeau. However, the minutes play out, the Bulls clearly view health as a problem. They created a new position for Jennifer Swanson as director of Sports Performance to help keep their athletes healthy and in good shape.
Jennifer worked with Derrick on his ACL recovery which could be taken as a positive or negative depending on how cynical you are about Rose's health and refusal to play last year. It could also be a bone they're throwing Derrick if he really liked working with her after firing Ron Adams whom he liked a lot as well.
That said, the most likely scenario is simply that the Bulls front office recognizes that it needs to improve it's preventative care for health. Whether they bring in more massage therapists, do more new age work like the Suns, or figure something else out will likely be up to Jennifer, but they recognize they need someone heading up an area to keep their athletes fresher and healthier.
That realization speaks volumes for how the Bulls as an organization attack all facets of improving their team. After a couple of seasons where injuries derailed them, the Bulls went out and looked to address the problem.
Maybe those injuries were flukes and unpreventable, maybe not. However, I like the fact the Bulls allocated some resources towards trying to help. It's just a small way that shows the Bulls have an internal process to try and improve all areas of the organization.
Maybe it's Michael Reinsdorf's influence or maybe not, but I like the direction the business side of the Bulls is taking to help the basketball side since he's taken over. This move, along with moving the practice facility downtown, are things which the business side can do to improve the basketball side.
It shows the process of change, evolution, and involvement is going on with in the organization. It doesn't guarantee a championship, but along with paying the luxury tax for two seasons, it shows commitment to the team. As a fan, I'm very happy to see that.