The Chicago Bulls are primed to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers. They’d likely be favored against the Washington Wizards or Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals. And the presence of guys like Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, and more means Chicago would have a puncher’s chance against the Western Conference champion with a title on the line.
Anything short of the ultimate success, however, seems unlikely to keep this team whole past spring and early summer. The ego of Chicago’s upper management will apparently supersede on-court success.
In a story on Tom Thibodeau following the Bulls’ win over the Cavs in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski – arguably the most well-connected reporter in league circles – added more fuel to the long-burning fire of the coach’s reportedly imminent departure from Chicago.
Amid the twisted culture of Chicago’s regime – where winning is losing, where success is failure – management can’t wait to rid itself of one Tom Thibodeau.
For everything Chicago management does to undermine the coach, this Bulls locker room has remained something rare in professional sports: unaffected and unrelenting.
“Ahhhh, that’s all noise,” Thibodeau told Yahoo Sports.
Thibodeau has always insisted he’s not bothered by the incessant concern over his job security. And while that’s a honorable, team-first sentiment, it’s also inevitably dishonest. The 2011 Coach of the Year is the most successful coach in franchise history sans Phil Jackson, broadly considered one of basketball’s brightest strategic minds, and would be a sought after commodity on the open market as a result.
He’s better than years of underlying tension with Chicago GM Gar Forman and company, basically. But Thibodeau has two years left on his current contract, and simply isn’t the type of personality to shift the focus away from the task at hand by paying so many whispers public attention. Why would he? With Rose regaining form, Butler starring, and Gasol in tow, these Bulls have as good a chance as any recent iteration to do something special.
Given his group’s always looming health woes in addition to his uncertain job security, Thibodeau understands just how fleeting an opportunity like Chicago’s current one can be, too.
“They sense that you don’t get these opportunities all the time,” Thibodeau told Yahoo Sports late Monday. “You’ve got to make the most of them. These guys are starting to build a chemistry. Whatever our circumstances are, we’ve got to go.
“This is it.”
Championship windows close in the NBA almost as fast as they open.
The Cavaliers are missing a third of their ballyhooed Big Three. The Atlanta Hawks are barely flashing the form that won them 60 games during the regular season. The San Antonio Spurs have already been eliminated, and Chris Paul’s level of effectiveness for the Los Angeles Clippers over the playoffs’ remainder might be mitigated by a hamstring strain.
And considering Rose’s health and Gasol’s age, now could be the only time for the Bulls to take advantage of a weaker championship field than anyone anticipated – irrespective of Thibodeau’s presence going forward. As more details emerge on the relationship between Chicago’s coach and top decision maker, however, it appears increasingly likely this postseason run might be Chicago’s last with Thibodeau at the helm.
Does this seem like an ideal work environment?
When a visiting scout visited the Bulls practice facility in the past year or so, he had the opportunity to watch the awkward, strange interplay between Bulls general manager Gar Forman and Thibodeau. Eventually, the man walked into the office of an assistant coach and asked: “What the hell is the deal here?”
Before answering, the coach turned his fan on full blast. For the visitor, everything was becoming even stranger. He gave the assistant a befuddled look, as though to say, “What are you doing?”
“I’m not taking any chances,” the coach said, refusing to risk the possibility of those walls being bugged.
From an outsider’s perspective, the Bulls’ problem lies with Forman as opposed to Thibodeau. The players are universal and outspoken in support of their coach, and are situated as well as they’ve ever been for an Eastern Conference crowd. And while Chicago is blessed with a level-headed, talented roster, Thibodeau’s impact on his team still can’t go unnoticed.
But not even franchise faces like Rose and Joakim Noah are pulling the strings in Chicago. Thibodeau’s fate is in Forman’s hands, and it’s been written on the wall all season long – and won’t be erased unless the Bulls are the last team standing in June.