The decision still baffles Luol Deng.
Like everyone, the former Bulls All-Star and current Heat forward heard the rumors last season that his old team and former coach Tom Thibodeau were headed for a breakup. But he never thought the front office would be naïve enough to let Thibodeau go.
“It’s stupid,” Deng said last season. “He’s one of the best coaches in the league. I really think if you get rid of someone like that, it’s going to be a lot of rebuilding coming afterward.”
More than a year later, Deng stands behind everything he said.
“I’m still in awe that they went ahead and made that decision,” Deng said Friday after the Heat’s 118-96 victory at the United Center. “Coach Thibs is one of the best coaches I’ve ever played for, and when you get a coach like that, his basketball IQ is very high. I think it’s smart to listen to him and have a relationship where you always understand where he’s coming from. I don’t know the details of what happened here, but that can’t get in the way of building a great basketball team.”
Deng said he believed Fred Hoiberg could be a very good coach, but he couldn’t get over the Bulls’ front office not listening to Thibodeau more.
“When you look at San Antonio and other great basketball teams, when you keep a core and a coach together, it works,” Deng said. “When you change everything, now everybody is at square one trying to learn everything. I thought they would realize to listen to him.”
Deng didn’t like how the front office tried to build its case against Thibodeau by correlating injuries to minutes played.
Deng led the NBA in minutes under Thibodeau and insisted that players striving for greatness welcome the workload.
“What I always say is, we had injuries before Tom came,” Deng said. “It’s not something that all of a sudden happened. It’s not like Thibs came in and our injury chart went up. I never complained about playing heavy minutes here. I always loved it. It was my best basketball. It’s when Chicago got to really realize who I am, and I thank Thibs for giving me that.
“I think if you ask any good player, if a player is complaining about too many minutes, you have to be mature enough to go to the office and talk to the coach and tell him you want less minutes. If a player does that, as a coach, I would listen and play him less minutes. But every player wants to play in this league. If they don’t, then they need to question what they’re about.”
The Bulls and Heat have gone in different directions this season. The Heat are fourth in the Eastern Conference, and the Bulls are ninth, a half-game behind the Pistons for the final playoff spot.
“I know there’s a lot of teams out there that can’t wait to get a guy like coach Thibs,” Deng said. “He’s going to be great again. I’m not here anymore to see it, but it’s still a good team. Obviously injuries hit a lot of teams, but it’s how you adjust to it. I just wish them the best the rest of the season.”
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