Tom Thibodeau is officially out as head coach of the Chicago Bulls.
Thibodeau’s dismissal is clearly an example of two sides who couldn’t get along.
According to The Chicago Tribune, Thibodeau had two years and around $9 million left on his contract when the team fired him on Thursday.
With this, league sources told ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell the Bulls are confident they don’t need to pay the bulk of Thibodeau’s deal if he gets another NBA head coaching job due to the “set-off provisions” in coaches’ contracts.
Bulls general manager Gar Forman told Friedell management decided on Thibodeau’s fate by Wednesday evening. He was informed before midday on Thursday.
Official Release: http://t.co/vcAPYusoZF
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) May 28, 2015
The ESPN Chicago report says Thibodeau arrived at the Bulls’ practice facility, the Advocate Center, at 12 noon ET on May 28. He left 45 minutes later upon learning about his fate.
Bulls guard and 2014-15 NBA Most Improved Player Jimmy Butler was also at the Advocate Center but did not comment on his now former head coach’s firing, per Friedell.
Chicago center Joakim Noah texted ESPN Chicago. The message reads, “I just want to thank thibs for all the hard work he put in and I wish him the best.”
The Bulls also fired assistant coach Andy Greer. The fate of Thibodeau’s remaining assistants will be determined by the next head coach, per The Chicago Tribune. Thibodeau thanked the fans and the Bulls for the opportunity in a statement obtained by The Chicago Tribune:
I appreciate the opportunity that Jerry Reinsdorf gave me. We are proud of our many accomplishments, fought through adversity, and tried to give our fans the full commitment to excellence they deserve. I love this game and am excited about what’s ahead for me with USA Basketball and the next coaching opportunity in the NBA.
In explaining Thibodeau’s dismissal, Forman told the team’s official website on May 28 management wanted “a change in approach”:
When Tom was hired in 2010, he was right for our team and system at that time, and over the last five years we have had some success with Tom as our head coach. But as we looked ahead and evaluated how we as a team and an organization could continue to grow and improve, we believe a change in approach was needed.
For his part, Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf issued a strongly-worded statement in the Bulls’ press release. He actually hinted at disunity within the Bulls ranks when management parted ways with Thibodeau:
When everyone is on the same page, trust develops and teams can grow and succeed together. Unfortunately, there has been a departure from this culture. To ensure that the Chicago Bulls can continue to grow and succeed, we have decided that a change in the head coaching position is required. Days like today are difficult, but necessary for us to achieve our goals and fulfill our commitments to our fans.
Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson confirmed Reinsdorf’s assessment.
Paxson told The Chicago Tribune on Thursday management and Thibodeau were essentially going in opposite directions. He also stressed the importance of transparency in any business relationship, acknowledging the Bulls fell short in this regard.
Paxson said, “Obviously, there was a breakdown.”
He also expressed disappointment in not getting past LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs, an opportunity the Bulls could have fully taken advantage of given Cleveland’s injury woes, per The Chicago Tribune update.
The Chicago Tribune update says tension between the two sides simmered this season when management did not want to overplay Rose and Joakim Noah, who were both coming off knee surgeries. Thibodeau, who is known to preach practice and repetition, balked at the suggestion.
Nonetheless, the Bulls made the conference semifinals thrice and the conference finals once with Thibodeau as their head coach.
Under his guidance, Rose became the youngest MVP at the age of 22 in 2011. In addition, Luol Deng earned two All-Star berths, Noah won the 2014 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award and Butler received this season’s Most Improved Player honor, per The Chicago Tribune.
Thibodeau, the 2011 NBA Coach of the Year, exits with a 255-139 (.647) win-loss record in the regular season and a 23-28 (.451) mark in the playoffs, per the Bulls’ official website.
He is expected to be a candidate for the New Orleans Pelicans and Orlando Magic’s head coaching vacancies. However, The Chicago Tribune says Scott Skiles remains the front-runner for the latter head coaching job.
As for Chicago, former Bulls player and current Iowa State Cyclones head mens’ basketball coach Fred Hoiberg is widely rumored to replace Thibodeau, per The Chicago Tribune.
The Parting Shot
A good metaphor for the Tom Thibodeau and Chicago Bulls management squabble would be that of a marriage.
Things started off well, before irreconcilable differences set in. The two sides can’t even meet halfway on a major issue.
Marriages can fail because of infidelity, money issues and the like.
Thibodeau’s relationship with the Bulls failed not because of a trust issue, but because of completely different philosophies. This spells disaster in any business relationship if no middle ground is reached.
With Thibodeau calling the shots, the Bulls could have won their seventh NBA title.
They have Derrick Rose, the 2011 NBA MVP. They have solid players in Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic. They were perennial playoff contenders whose lowest defensive rating was 98.3 during Thibodeau’s tenure.
In five seasons as the Bulls coach, Tom Thibodeau led Chicago to the postseason each year. pic.twitter.com/hclPBYcFMC
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 28, 2015
Ultimately key injuries to several Bulls players and differences in ideologies led to Thibodeau’s downfall.
What could have salvaged his relationship with management?
The simple answer here would be for them to have met halfway. Sadly, it was all or nothing for both sides. One of them had to go, and it had to be Thibodeau.
Bulls management did the right thing here. Had this feud gone on, the team would have been a public embarrassment for not being able to defuse the tension. Should the higher-ups and a candidate like Hoiberg be on the same page, the Bulls would be more successful over the long haul.
As for Thibodeau, he should treat this as a blessing in disguise. As successful as he was, he would never have been at peace with all the emotional turmoil brewing inside of him.
For all he knows, he could land a better opportunity with either the New Orleans Pelicans or Orlando Magic. If he goes to New Orleans, he would have Anthony Davis and a Pelicans team on the rise at his disposal.
If he winds up in Orlando, he would go to a rebuilding situation with a very young team. He has to be patient.
Either way, expect Thibodeau, with his guts and hard-nosed approach, to succeed.