Did you hear something? What was that noise? Maybe it was just the wind … Nope, there it is again. What on earth is that? Oh, right, those are the rumblings of Tom Thibodeau chopping block rumors. It’s getting pretty loud. I keep trying to ignore it, but it’s impossible now.
I guessssss I’ll address it.
I can’t speak to the legitimacy of the rumors, but there’s no denying that the Front Office and Thibodeau don’t always see eye to eye; however, is that reason enough to think that they’ll actually fire Thibs? That this is likely his last season with the Chicago Bulls?
Maybe. But if they do, I think that’s insane. Absolutely, positively, bat-shit insane.
If a head coach is supposed to produce wins, Tom Thibodeau has done just that. He has a career record of 239-127 (.653) as of February 18th, 2015, and was 112-36 (.757) in the two seasons before Derrick Rose’s injuries, including two number one seeds. To put this in perspective, the only other active coach with a better win percentage over his career is … you guessed it, Gregg Popovich (.684). Tom Thibodeau is 7th all-time in coaching record among those with more than two full seasons of experience (this excludes, for example, active coaches Steve Kerr, who walked into a great situation in Golden State, and Dave Joerger, who hasn’t coached two full seasons yet with Memphis).
This season is nothing to scoff at, either, at 34-20 (.630), and DRosesAndThorns has written at length about why the Bulls are likely to only go up from here.
He and his staff have also taken nameless or left for dead point guards like C.J Watson, John Lucas III, Nate Robinson, DJ Augustin and now Aaron Brooks and transformed them into productive, effective, and valuable back-ups and sometime starters.
Let’s also not forget that Thibs was an Assistant Coach for the 2008 NBA Champion Boston Celtics, under Doc Rivers, and is widely credited for creating the defensive scheme to contain Kobe Bryant in the Finals. A scheme that has taken the NBA by storm in the years since.
It is generally popular to criticize the coach and the leadership first, whenever a team seems to be underperforming; after all, the coach’s job is to get the most out of his players. It is especially popular to criticize Tom Thibodeau specifically in his minutes management, especially when a team like the Spurs has demonstrated success while resting players. But Thibs is an old school thinker – there may not be a right and wrong (see: Fun Minutes Facts), in this discussion, but maybe a case-by-case.
As it relates to the Spurs, they have the luxury of having been together for years, and developing a winning chemistry. The Bulls are still working on this. Also, the Spurs are consistently a top seed, so they aren’t exactly tanking the regular season to ensure they’re rested come post-season – it’s a byproduct of winning regular season games. As mentioned in the Fun Minutes Facts (really, check that out, if you haven’t), Tim Duncan and Tony Parker sitting is a recent development due to their aging, not because they think every good player should be sitting. Players should play – especially the young ones. That’s how you get better, that’s how you prepare for the playoffs where the intensity is higher, and that’s how you win.
Could Tom be a little more lenient on minutes played at the end of a game in order to reduce the risk for “meaningless” injuries during garbage time? Probably. But a win isn’t a sure thing unless a team is up about 20 points with less than two minutes left. Leaving in a few starters for an extra 90 seconds at the end of a game to ensure victory means more by the end of the season in obtaining a high seed than having 90 extra seconds of rest. Having a high seed matters: In the last 25 years, the teams to win the NBA title have had the following seeds, with number of titles in parenthesis: 1 (14), 2 (6), 3 (4), 4 (0), 5 (0), 6 (1), 7 (0), 8 (0). I gather that it’s important to have a top 3 seed. With the Hawks playing the way they are, and competition with the Cavs, Raptors, and Wizards, there are five teams vying for three good spots, contrary to preseason expectations, which would have you believe this was a two horse race. Maybe these other teams got offended. They’re playing pretty good ball, making it that much tougher for the Bulls to land a top seed, and all the more reason why each regular season victory is meaningful.
Thibodeau’s practices are often not scrimmages, either. From Sam Smith:
“a mischaracterization about Thibs is the overworking of players. Yes, he plays them a lot in games, though not as much this season, but rarely, if ever, scrimmages in practice. He believes in resting that way…. So I think the Bulls practices… sound mostly boring. There are drills like scrimmages, but a lot of walking through your plays and the opponent plays.”
He’s not running players into the ground for 40+ minutes then forcing them into a grueling 5 on 5 the next day. If he was, we would hear more about it. The players would probably be making more noise.
If the FO really had major, relationship-beyond-repair type issues with Tom Thibodeau on this, one would think they would make player minutes mandates and force him into canceling practices, having more rest days, etc. But that isn’t happening in any significant quantities, other than injury-recovery minutes limitations.
Do the rumors hold water?
“The perception around the league is that Tom is losing his locker room…. Rose made some of his strongest comments to date, saying ‘We’re just not on the same page,'” – Chris Sheridan.
“Bulls did have Sunday off. But players talked about first 2-day break since Dec. 21 as chance to recover. Instead, Thibodeau calls practice.” – K.C. Johnson
Both of these statements suggest that there’s some tension between the players and Tom Thibodeau. But Rose was referring to the players in the locker room not being on the same page, not Thibs. Not once have the players attacked Tom. In fact, they frequently come to his defense. Here’s an example, post-firestorm. That article also makes mention of Van Gundy’s unfortunate comments, where he attacked the Front Office. I think we all wish he would’ve stayed quieter on that one.
“But then I went checking around, speaking with another source who is plugged into all things regarding he Bulls, and was told that nothing [Thibs losing the locker room] could be further from the truth. Didn’t Thibs guide the Bulls to winning records and playoff appearances the past two seasons despite being without Derrick Rose? Didn’t they just win 10 of 11? Does that count for nothing?”
This is the same guy that was cause for much of this stir from the start, and once he investigated a little closer, he was turned away.
Water not held.
So why doesn’t the Front Office come out and make a statement, and quiet the noise? Well, historically, they haven’t exactly been forthcoming with information. They’ve shrouded things in mystery, so why would this be any different? And besides, sometimes management organizations like to keep employees on their toes just a little in order to get the best out of them. It’s not a management style I would agree with, but that could be part of it. Or maybe the rumors are just so ridiculous that they don’t want to even address them because they know they’ll go away soon.
Members of the media are paid for stories and headlines that get reads and hits and attract attention, so undoubtedly, if you find a mole hill, wouldn’t you make it into a mountain? I would. So take all of this with a gigantic grain of salt. Or several grains of salt. Or several gigantic grains of salt.
Forget the notion of “trading” Tom Thibodeau (pre-Doc, this was basically unheard of), or firing him. In my opinion, Thibs is here to stay for the remainder of his contract, despite all the articles claiming that the relationship between Tom and the Front Office are “Beyond Repair.” Ignore the noise – it’s distracting to the goal. Tom is the right guy for the job, and the players respect him. None of them have made any direct comments that Thibs is the problem, nor that he’s losing his guys – all the rumors are just speculation.
Is it possible all of this is out the window if the Bulls lose in the first round? Definitely – since front offices are under a lot of pressure to make sweeping change to Win Now. But: If the Bulls make a playoff run that lands them in the Eastern Conference Finals or further, and the FO really does let him go, it will be one of the biggest mistakes in franchise history.
In Thibs We Trust.