Confirming months of speculation, the Bulls parted ways with Tom Thibodeau on Thursday.
Vice-president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman said a communications breakdown, and a lack of candid trust, made them decide they could not move forward with Thibs as coach.
“Relationships sare difficult,’’ Paxson said. “There has to be a situation where you can have open dialogue, where there are no barriers. Obviously, there was a breakdown. That’s not a secret. You have to have a situation where you’re all pulling in the same direction. Once that stops, it’s very difficult to move forward.’’
The Bulls’ inability to get past an injury-riddled Cleveland didn’t help matters.
“We probably wouldn’t be sitting here if we’d won a championship,’’ Paxson said. “We were all really disappointed in the way the season ended. Cleveland’s a great team and they’re in the Finals. But we really felt like, given their injuries, the path was there for us and we could have seized it. It’s about trying to take advantage of the moment, and we didn’t do that this year. And that was really disappointing.’’
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg is widely expected to be named the new Bulls coach in an announcement that’s expected to come sooner than later.
But Forman said the Bulls have just begun to think about their next coach.
“It’s when we find the right guy,’’ Forman said. “Whether that’s a day, a week, a month, two months, whatever it is, we’re going to try to find the right fit for our players and this team. We’ll be looking for someone who’s a leader, who has great communication skills, who’s got an excellent knowledge of the game of basketball, someone that’s an open and creative learner.’’
Minutes restrictions, which clearly made Thibodeau chafe, were a prime example of differing views in which communications became strained. While Thibodeau was involved in those discussions, he did not have the last word.
“Everybody was there,’’ Forman said. “The final decision is obviously made by us. But we were taking the recommendation of our doctors and how they thought we should best proceed, to put our players in the best position to have success both short-term and long-term. At the end of the day, [Thibodeau] had some input. There was a lot talked about. But that wasn’t his decision.’’
With LeBron James still transitioning in Cleveland, and Bulls like Pau Gasol not getting any younger, this post-season was widely viewed as the Bulls’ best chance to make a championship run.
Paxson believes this Bulls group can still compete at the highest level.
“Derrick [Rose] is still a young player,’’ Paxson said. “His ability to play and, though he went through another injury, get back in the playoffs is a huge thing for us. We do have some young players in Jimmy [Butler] and Nikola [Mirotic] who are very key to our future. We feel confident in some of the moves we’ve made in the past and we can continue to do those types of things. I don’t think we’re worried so much about a window as much as we are just continuing to try to put the best team we can together.’’
A coaching change adds a new layer of uncertainty. But it had been clear for a long time that the Bulls had reached the point of no return with Thibodeau.