The Chicago Bulls are all in for the 2014-15 NBA title. Make no mistake about it.
However, will they be able to pull it off despite an ongoing rift between head coach Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls front office?
That remains to be seen.
Should the Bulls win their seventh NBA title amid all the noise going on around them, this one would be, without a doubt, their most controversial championship.
On May 6, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported on the trust issues which have been plaguing the Bulls for the past several seasons. It’s a plague that has gone viral on the Internet.
Shelburne’s colleague at ESPN, Marc Stein, earlier reported on March 21 things have gotten so bad between Thibodeau and the Bulls that the team is actually considering Iowa State Cyclones head men’s basketball coach, Fred Hoiberg, to replace him at season’s end:
It is widely—and I mean widely—believed throughout the league that Fred Hoiberg, whose Iowa State Cyclones were bounced in the first round of the tournament by UAB, is the top choice of the Chicago Bulls to replace Tom Thibodeau in the event that the Bulls and Thibs indeed part company at season’s end.
Just last Tuesday, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski followed suit, reiterating the Bulls’ seemingly high interest in Hoiberg:
Yes, the Bulls have a real good shot now. And the best chance they’ll ever have to win a title here would be with Thibodeau—as terrific of a coach as Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, management’s top choice to ultimately be the replacement.
The Orlando Magic are waiting to watch what happens at season’s end, league sources said, waiting to see how the team and coach dissolve the remaining two years on his contract and separate.
When two respected NBA journalists say Thibodeau is in danger of losing his job to Hoiberg, we should pay attention even if the Bulls deny whatever storm is brewing within their ranks.
And now Shelburne’s story takes the Internet by storm.
There’s definitely something fishy going on.
Chicago Bulls Aiming for 7th NBA Title ‘Despite Trust Issues,’ Per ESPN
ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne starts off her May 6 update by wondering if Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, who has suited up in just 100 of the Bulls’ past 328 games, can ever revert to the form that made him 2011 NBA MVP.
“Nobody knows what to expect, because I don’t know what to expect,” Rose tells Shelburne. “It’s kind of predicting the weather. All I know is that I prepare myself well.”
However, the most riveting part of Shelburne’s story is when she reveals the tension between Thibodeau and Bulls management is “very real”:
This really might be the last, best chance for the Bulls as we know them. Thibodeau’s future in Chicago is murky, at best. He’s never come to blow with Bulls management, like former coach Vinny Del Negro did with executive vice president John Paxson or fought a public war of words, like Phil Jackson and general manager Jerry Krause famously did to end to end the Bulls dynasty of the 1990s.
But the tension between Thibodeau and Chicago’s front office is very real and, depending on who you believe, possibly beyond repair.
Shelburne then reveals the two sides can’t come to terms on the number of minutes Thibodeau’s starters get every night:
The point of conflict usually arises over how many minutes Thibodeau plays his starters—a live issue in these playoffs, during which Rose has been, by the numbers, essentially an MVP candidate with two or more days of rest and an inefficient bit player otherwise.
Management has long been on Thibodeau to limit the team’s star players to keep them at their best. There’s too much science now that fiinds players tend to get injured more when they’re fatigued.
Lack of sleep, the rigors of NBA travel and heavy minutes are all culprits. Management wants that science heeded. Thibodeau wants flexibility.
On the same day the Yahoo! Sports update came out, The Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley reported Bulls players have actually witnessed arguments between Thibodeau and members of Bulls management during the past several seasons.
At one point, Thibodeau got so fed up with Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson’s alleged meddling, he moved the team’s training camp practice locations, per Cowley.
According to Shelburne, both Thibodeau and Bulls general manager Gar Forman refer to the ongoing rumors as “noise.” The latter drove this point home when he spoke with ESPN on Wednesday:
That’s all it is. It’s noise. The focus internally has been on this team and getting it healthy and in a rhythm going into the postseason in order to compete at a very high level.
We’ve played well this year; we’re as healthy as we’ve been. There’s a core group of guys that have been here for a while and been through a lot together. Our sole focus is on the playoffs.
Both Thibodeau and Forman also told Cowley on Wednesday it’s just that—noise.
The Final Say
The Chicago Bulls are in an excellent position to win another NBA title even with head coach Tom Thibodeau allegedly feuding with the team’s front office.
This is certainly reminiscent of former New York Yankees manager Billy Martin’s historic spats with team owner George Steinbrenner in the 1970s.
The Thibodeau and Bulls management rift hasn’t reached that magnitude yet, but based on the facts we gathered, it could reach that level sooner than later.
If their point of contention is the number of minutes the Bulls’ starters should be getting, then Derrick Rose certainly has a lot to do with this mess. Remember, Rose has suited up in barely a third of Chicago’s last 300-plus games.
Seeing Rose suffer injury after injury must have gotten on the nerves of Forman and Co., they want Thibodeau to give Rose and his fellow starters ample time to recover.
This applies especially to D-Rose, the Bulls’ franchise player. The last thing Forman and Paxson want to see is the 26-year-old guard’s NBA career ending abruptly. If that happens, Chicago’s title hopes will also take a serious hit.
However, Thibodeau has stuck to his guns. He plays his starters as he sees fit. It’s either he’s too foolish or too trustworthy. He trusts his starting five that much.
With a lineup consisting of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, who wouldn’t?
Now that we’ve seen both sides’ perspectives, the best we can do right now is speculate. If this feud is real, let’s hope it fizzles out as soon as possible.
But as they say, winning cures everything.
If the Chicago Bulls win the 2015 NBA title, you can expect these nasty rumors to die down. It won’t be hard to imagine Thibodeau receiving a hefty raise and Paxson and Forman chomping on one victory cigar after the other.
On the other hand, if the Bulls come up short, we might as well put up a banner at the United Center that says, “Welcome, Coach Fred Hoiberg.”