Derrick Rose can make all the health proclamations he wants to while in Spain. Tony Snell can be compared to Kawhi Leonard and Scottie Pippen before ever setting foot on an NBA court, Malcolm Thomas can retrieve a record number of Summer League bricks in a game and we can talk about how great of a fit Mike Dunleavy is for the Bulls’ system until we’re blue in the face.
We’ll just see how much longer that system lasts.
The most important takeaway from the Chicago Bulls offseason, to date, is the strained relationship between head coach Tom Thibodeau and general manager Gar Forman.
Generally both quiet public figures that avoid unwanted attention, Thibodeau and Forman have been no strangers to headlines this offseason. Recently, top assistant Ron Adams was let go by Forman for undisclosed reasons. This prompted Yahoo! Sports NBA writer Adrian Wojnarowski to call the relationship between Thibodeau and Forman's coach/GM relationship: "easily the worst in the NBA."
While the motives behind the decision have not been confirmed, the dismissal of Adams, who was recently hired by Boston, is certainly puzzling to say the least.
Thibodeau has called Adams one of the top five coaches in the league, period. And while the actual value of an NBA assistant coach is essentially impossible to measure, the move gives anyone following the Bulls reason to speculate towards what could be the beginning of the end of the Forman/Thibodeau marriage as we know it.
Yes, predicting the end of one of the most successful (from a winning standpoint, at least) coach/GM tandems in the league due to the dismissal of an assistant coach is a bit premature. But in today’s NBA, executives and coaches are more eager than ever to prove that they are the reason for an organization’s success.
Need evidence? Look no further than the Memphis Grizzlies, Lionel Hollins and what could be the beginning of the basketball saber metric fad.
That said, the Bulls have not quite reached that point. As it stands, Forman would be out of his mind to fire Thibodeau.
But a 2013-2014 campaign ending in anything less than an eastern conference title would only increase friction at the Berto Center, warranted or not. And while the roster looks like it can contend, they aren’t necessarily the favorites to come out of the east.
The issue doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, either.
Forman knows Thibodeau is arguably the franchise’s second-most important piece behind Rose. He has to. While the roster was certainly changed, the core of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Derrick Rose was only good for an eight seed in the playoffs the year before Thibodeau’s arrival.
Bless Vinny Del Negro’s heart, but that’s no coincidence.
The speculated problem, which has been discussed at length in the Chicago papers over the past few weeks, is Forman’s issue with the heavy minutes Thibodeau continues to exert on his core players. Luol Deng led the league in minutes played once again this year.
Essentially, Thibodeau has been known to treat every regular season game like it’s game seven of the NBA finals. Forman appears to want his style to morph into one more like Greg Popovich, who seems to treat some regular season games as if they are exhibition contests against the Flint Tropics.
Jackie Moon references aside, the bottom line is the Bulls have limped into the playoffs the last three years, when they should be peaking.
Still, many franchises envy the spot the Bulls are in. They have a relatively young roster with high character assets, play in city rich with basketball tradition and have a 24-year-old former MVP—who can hopefully stay healthy—running the show.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, Adams served as a symbol of a much greater message that could ultimately spell trouble: Gar Forman wants to be “the man” in Bulls-land.
He’ll seemingly do anything it takes to display his power over Thibodeau besides firing him, because he knows doing that would be detrimental to the franchise. And, while Adams was just an assistant coach, difficult decisions with players such as Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer will need to be made next summer.
If personal agendas reign supreme over basketball strategy in those decisions, how much longer can Forman and Thibodeau really co-exist?
To be blunt, the situation is more toxic than people give it credit for.
Bulls fans are no strangers to rocky GM/head coach relationships that still proved to be functional. Jerry Krause and Phil Jackson had their differences, but still won six championships.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, situations like those are more of a rarity than a normality. The Bulls are known as a team of high character individuals that are prone to overachieving. That attitude and culture should start from the top.
But how can Bulls brass preach it if they don’t live by it themselves?
Tom Thibodeau signed a four-year contract extension in October. And, while he has proven to be a great regular season coach that has not fared quite as well in the playoffs, the resounding belief is that he will hopefully finish out that contract, perhaps with a championship ring or two by the deal’s end.
It would be sad, and, frankly, downright silly, to see the Bulls and Thibodeau part ways due to a seemingly childish dispute. Still, in today’s NBA, stranger things have happened.
Just ask the unemployed Lionel Hollins.
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