Bulls players well aware of the cold war between coach, front office

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Taj Gibson knows there will come a time when he will have to deal with rumors surrounding coach Tom Thibodeau.

After all, no one speaks as highly of Thibodeau as Gibson, who often begins sentences with “Like Thibs always says … ’’

But being able to recite from “The Book of Thibs’’ doesn’t mean that the injured big man will dwell on his coach’s future. Not with 14 games left in the regular season and so much on the line.

“I can’t think about stuff like that,’’ Gibson said Sunday when asked if he believed a break-up was coming between the coach and front office after the season. “I’ve got to think about things that I can do. By helping the team, play strong defense, help getting us wins, and the rest takes care of itself.’’

That’s the mentality Thibodeau would want his players to have.

But that doesn’t mean the players have been insulated from what has gone on this season. On the contrary. The cold war between Thibodeau and the front office is more than well-documented.

“It would have been nice if things were different, especially with all the expectations this season,’’ a veteran player said last week when the Bulls were in Philadelphia. “It just feels like there isn’t a whole lot of support for [Thibodeau].’’

Gibson was asked if it bothered the players to hear all the rumors.

“There’s a part that is, but you also know this is the NBA,’’ he said. ‘‘Guys in media start different things, start rumors every time. It’s just like trade rumors. It’s all a part of the NBA.’’

At least Thibodeau and general manager Gar Forman have been on speaking terms. Forman has been seen talking with Thibodeau at the Advocate Center and going in and out of his office before games.

But they won’t be having dinner together anytime soon.

While there are more than a handful of issues between the two sides, the biggest continues to be how to pace the team.

The front office has stated since the first day of training camp that the main goal was keeping the players healthy entering the playoffs. That meant minutes restrictions for some, such as Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, while others would be excused from practice drills that were considered hard on the body.

It hasn’t worked out.

The Bulls have been as injured as any team during Thibodeau’s tenure, and because of the handcuffs in practice, the chemistry that Thibodeau’s teams usually develop has yet to appear.

Meanwhile, Thibodeau has played the situation perfectly, adhering to every demand, coloring in the lines and letting the standings and body count in the training room speak for itself.

The hope now is that help is coming soon.

Gibson (left ankle) said he has started playing one-on-one, pushing the ankle, while Jimmy Butler (left elbow) and Derrick Rose (right knee) are on schedule, according to Thibodeau.

“You find yourself asking if you were playing, could you be a difference-maker on at least one or two plays?’’ Gibson said. “So that’s frustrating.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @suntimes_hoops

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