With Tom Thibodeau gone, it’s all up to Gar Forman and John Paxson

SHARE With Tom Thibodeau gone, it’s all up to Gar Forman and John Paxson

Goodbye, Thibs!

Hello, uh, somebody else.

It has been a strange five-year run, that’s for sure.

The best Bulls coach since Phil Jackson was just fired by general manager Gar Forman and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson with two years and $9 million left on his contract.

This wasn’t an amicable parting, but more of a nasty divorce, a kind of take-your-money and hit-the-bricks shove out the gym door.

Oh, and here’s your suitcase, flung into the parking lot, loaded with whistles and grumpy pills and “I hate you!’’ notes.

Forman actually gave Tom Thibodeau a faint-praise goodbye, saying the Bulls had “some success’’ during his tenure. In a sense, Thibodeau had great success, going 255-139 in the regular season and finishing first or second in the division every season.

For his part, Thibodeau took the high road, saying in a statement that he was “excited about what’s ahead for me . . . with the next coaching opportunity in the NBA.’’

Wonderful. The Bulls were once an “opportunity.’’

But Thibodeau never got them past the conference finals, and now LeBron James is back in Cleveland, a constant roadblock to success, just as he was with the Heat. Thibodeau is considered a defensive expert and a guy who knows how to slow James, but that’s not enough for the Bulls’ front office.

In fact, nothing would be enough. The same valued qualities — intense focus, humorless drive, single-minded dedication to practice and X’s and O’s without compromise — are what got Thibodeau launched.

Paxson is no easy day at the beach himself. Sometimes known to Bulls employees as “GoodPax/Bad Pax’’ for his mood swings — remember his reported brawl with then-coach and Paxson hire Vinny Del Negro? — he has likely been fed up with Thibodeau for a long time. Such is the way of the flaming romance that goes bad because somebody snores or has bad toilet habits.

It could be that Thibodeau was doomed after that first exciting season in 2010-2011, when the Bulls won 62 games and made it to the Eastern Conference finals against — who else? — James and the Heat.

Thibodeau coached the Bulls to a 103-82 wipeout of the Heat in Game 1, and expectations in Chicago were so high, you needed the Hancock Building to see them. Then the Heat won four in a row before losing in the NBA Finals to the Mavericks. Though we didn’t know it at the time, the zenith was past.

The injuries to Derrick Rose took their toll on Thibodeau’s reign. Half the front-office anger with Thibodeau likely sprang from frustration over the franchise player’s lack of dependability.

You could say Thibodeau was treated shabbily by management, undermined for the last couple of years by lack of support and demands to accept assistant coaches or change his coaching style. And that certainly is true.

But he’ll either get paid a fortune by the Bulls not to coach (impossible to imagine for this hoops nut) or he’ll land somewhere else and drive another team toward defensive success.

In a certain way, Thibodeau might be like Billy Martin, the legendary baseball manager who came in, turned around teams, won fast, then was fired because he’d worn out his welcome.

We don’t know all the reasons Paxson and Forman were so eager to get rid of a coach who won 50 games this season, but those reasons will slowly come out. Rose always publicly supported Thibodeau. But what will he say now? That Thibodeau was too hard on the players? That he didn’t play the right men? That Rose’s knee injuries came from Thibodeau’s relentless style?

Like all divorces, this one has two sides, and it’s unpleasant either way. There’s no doubt the Bulls have a new bride in mind, have had for some time.

Could it be Fred “The Mayor’’ Hoiberg, the former Bull who’s the coach at Iowa State? If it is, let’s hope he does better than the Bulls’ last Iowa State hire, Tim Floyd, who racked up a hilarious 49-190 record after six-time champ Jackson was run out of town.

This is now all on the Bulls’ front office.

This firing is either the move that launches the Bulls past James to stardom. Or it’s a step back into the land of blah — the last step Paxson and Forman should make with this franchise.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com

Twitter: @ricktelander

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