The Chicago Bulls and head coach Tom Thibodeau may be parting ways at the end of the season. The well-documented power struggle between Thibodeau and front office duo John Paxson and Gar Forman may have finally reached its breaking point.
Thibodeau came to the Bulls in 2010, when the team finished with a league best 62-20 record but eventually lost to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls’ dominance in the regular season earned him the Coach of the Year award.
The following three seasons were all injury-riddled, and each ended earlier than Thibodeau’s inaugural season in Chicago. During those three years, the 57-year-old coach helped a team of average players maintain respectability through hard work and defensive intensity – perhaps too much intensity at times, depending who you ask.
Two of the people you could ask would be Paxson and Forman, who would probably both agree that Thibodeau pushes his guys too hard. They’ve both stated on numerous occasions that the ultimate goal is to be healthy in April, May and June, something Thibodeau has not been able to achieve with his pedal-to-the-metal style.
This fundamental difference may be the reason that one of the best coaches in basketball will no longer be in Chicago next season.
“The only way you get repetition is you have to practice,” Thibodeau said in a post-game press conference following a win against the Warriors earlier in the season. “The more you practice, the better you practice, the better you’re going to play. That’s time tested, age old, however else you want to describe it. That’s what you gotta do if you want to win.’’
While that may be true, it has also been proven that a more modern approach can work. The San Antonio Spurs have made back-to-back Finals appearances with a more easygoing style in the regular season. Stars like LeBron James and Dwayne Wade often take games off in the middle of the season to preserve themselves. This new train of thought is completely foreign to Thibodeau, so much so that he almost seems incapable of grasping the concept.
But his results really cannot be argued with. Thibodeau won a playoff series as an underdog with Nate Robinson as the team’s starting point guard and leading scorer. He has elevated the games of Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler to an All-Star level. His 238-127 record with the Bulls should speak for itself, and yet, this rift still exists.
It isn’t the first time Paxson has had trouble getting along with his head coach, either. He got in multiple physical altercations with former coach Vinny Del Negro over a minutes restriction on Joakim Noah in 2010.
It would truly be a shame if the stubbornness of a few men drove a huge asset away from Chicago. Coaches like Thibodeau don’t come around often, and losing him would no doubt be a huge setback for the organization.
The Bulls have been streaky throughout the first 50-plus games of the season. They’ve shown the ability to compete with the best, but also look apathetic at times. As with any other organization, success helps everyone be a little more content, so if Thibodeau is to keep his job in Chicago, a deep playoff run may be the only option.