The storyline has rarely budged: Coach Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls’ front office can’t figure out a way to make nice, so, sadly, he’ll be shown the door after the season.
Even though vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman have tried to say all the right things, the behind-the scenes whispering screamed that they want Thibs gone. Someday, presumably soon, one or both sides will say it out loud and on the record.
When that day comes, it will be too bad all the way around.
But let’s look at it from another angle: Why would Thibodeau want to come back to this team?
If you’re of the mind that the Bulls’ future is bright regardless of whether he stays or go, I would suggest that your mind is due for its 250,000-mile maintenance. The championship window has closed on this group, with the Game 6 collapse to the Cavaliers on Thursday serving as a slamming and a shaming.
Let’s take a look at what Thibodeau would have if he were to come back next season.
In their heart of hearts, the Bulls can’t trust that Derrick Rose will stay healthy. Admit it: Every time he drives to the basket, you wonder if you’ll see both of his anterior cruciate ligaments lying on the court after he lands. It might never happen, but the threat of another Rose injury looms over everything with this organization. Three knee surgeries, including one major one, doesn’t do much for the trust quotient. The specter of Aaron Brooks running the show is enough to make any coach want to get out of town.
Joakim Noah is 30, but looking at him sometimes makes me feel 80. He has given everything to this team, and Thibs has used him like a packhorse. We saw the results as he battled a sore knee most of the season.
Pau Gasol’s scoring was exactly what the Bulls needed after struggling on offense the past several seasons, but how long can he hold up? He turns 35 in July.
New Orleans figures to be in hot pursuit of Thibodeau, who will gaze lovingly upon the Pelicans’ roster and see 22-year-old superstar Anthony Davis. Davis is the kind of player around whom championship teams are built. As good as Jimmy Butler is and will be for the Bulls, he is not that kind of player. I love what Nikola Mirotic’s talents promise. And Mike Dunleavy is much better than his pipe-cleaner body suggests.
But there is nothing about this Bulls’ group that says it has any answer for LeBron James. There is only a question: “Would you like to see the dessert menu now, Your Highness?’’ The Bulls couldn’t beat a Cavs team that was without an injured Kevin Love. Their other star, Kyrie Irving, sat out much of Game 6 with an injury, and it didn’t matter a bit. Matthew Dellavedova scored 19 points in Irving’s absence. I’ll admit with no embarrassment that I just had to look up the spelling of “Dellavedova.’’
We still don’t know exactly what’s to blame for the coach-front office rift, whether it be Thibodeau’s orneriness and overuse of players or Gar-Pax’s meddling. But Thibodeau might be able to go to another team that will give him more control over the roster and the organization. And he wouldn’t have to worry about playing well with others. One can’t help but picture Godzilla looming over a skyline.
Don’t rule out of the possibility of Cleveland pushing aside timeout-challenged David Blatt and bringing in Thibodeau to oversee the Cavs’ Big Three. If anyone can handle an average of 48 minutes a game, it’s LeBron.
As I’ve said before, it’s a shame it has to come to this. Thibodeau is a very good coach, and Paxson and Forman have done a nice job of building the roster. Whoever comes in next to coach the Bulls has some big wingtips to fill. There’s certainly a segment of the fan base that believes Thibs lost Game 6. How, I’m not sure. He couldn’t stop the undrafted Dellavedova?
When you wave goodbye to Thibodeau, know that you’re waving to a coach with a 255-139 regular-season record with the Bulls. And say hello to someone like Fred Hoiberg and a draft pick as compensation to the team that wants Thibs.
It’s ridiculous that grown men couldn’t have worked this out. But with the Bulls out of the championship hunt, it makes too much sense for Thibs to want to spread his gospel of defense somewhere else.