Chicago Bulls Management Must Value Tom Thibodeau, Keep Him Happy

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistJuly 22, 2013

The Chicago Bulls management needs to keep head coach Tom Thibodeau happy. The degree to which they’re doing that right now is a bit of a debate.

It’s an odd conflict because the Bulls are the only franchise presently employing both a Coach of the Year winner and an Executive of the Year winner who won the award with their present team.  

Probably the biggest question raised is over the team not renewing the contract of Ron Adams, Thibodeau’s lead assistant, against the will of Tom. Typically, while management has final say in the coaching staff, the head coach picks who he wants.  

Newton’s fourth law of motion states, “For every reaction to an equal and opposite action, there is a corresponding media overreaction.”

When Adams was let go, there was a race by media members and bloggers everywhere to hyperbolize the event as much as possible. Eventually, no one could trump the Daily Herald’s Mike Imrem, who proclaimed of the alleged feud between Thibodeau and GM Gar Forman, “The only way it will end is if Forman or Thibodeau is gone or both are.”

It’s already over folks. There is no saving this situation. Slab it, embalm it and bury it. It’s only got one way to end.

Or it’s just what happens when the media gets bored in the summer.

So what’s all the fuss about? Why was Adams let go? According to Imrem:

Thibodeau and his assistants apparently have been on a mission to assume more power in personnel matters. Forman responded by being on a mission to maintain his power and exercised it to put Thibodeau in his place by firing Adams.

So Forman fired an innocent man, disrupting his life to put Thibodeau in his place? That’s a pretty steep charge. Either Forman is actually an evil person or Imrem is stretching.

The more realistic probability is reported by David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.

Though Forman refused to elaborate, a source told the Tribune late Monday night a pattern of insubordinate incidents since the end of the season concerned Bulls officials enough to relieve Adams of his duties. Thibodeau didn't like the decision but had full knowledge it was coming, the source said.

If Adams got fired because he was berating his boss’s boss for not doing his job right, and did so on a daily basis, then it’s little wonder he ended up without a job. If you think that’s just the organization and the way they’re run, go yell at your grand-boss today and see what happens.

It doesn’t quite have the same potential to stir up fans, sell papers or garner links to say, “Obscure Assistant Fired for Insubordination.” No wonder that’s not the angle everyone ran with.

It doesn’t hurt that Gar Forman has reached a level of unpopularity in Chicago that would have him criticized if he saved a baby from a burning building and left the kitten to die.  You can question why he doesn’t elaborate on his side, but what could possibly be gained from that? Is raking Adams over the coals really going to help Forman’s image?

That’s not to say that there is no truth to the allegations that Thibodeau wasn’t pleased with having his lead assistant pulled out from underneath him. It was pretty evident that he was bothered. His curt answers to Zach Lowe of Grantland during a Summer League Q&A are indicative of that. However, they also demonstrate he’s not still dwelling on the issue.

Can you elaborate on why, from what you’ve heard, the team allowed him to move on?

Nah. We’re not going to look backward. We’re going to look ahead. We’re just thinking about next season.

Did that decision create as much tension between you and Gar [Forman, the team’s GM] as was rumored?

We’re fine. We’re just thinking about next year.

Translation: Obviously I was bothered, but we’re grownups and we can move on.

There is room for some grey area between Thibodeau being 100 percent complicit and happy with everything Forman ever did, and being ready to walk out on his brand-new contract because Forman fired his best friend just to spite him.

All accounts cite a common theme to what the underlying issue behind Adams’ complaints to management were: Coaching wasn’t being given the players they needed.

Meanwhile, management was bothered that Thibodeau wasn’t giving the players they had signed enough playing time. Thibodeau wasn’t playing them because they weren’t executing his system.

It seems Adams became Thibodeau’s mouthpiece to management, and management grew weary of the way that Adams was saying what he was saying. Even if you accept he was right (which I wouldn’t say he wasn’t), being right doesn’t mean you’re right.

Behind every married man is a woman who’s said, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it!” Adams, in all likelihood was not let go because management was bothered with what he was saying. He got canned for the manner in which he was saying (i.e. yelling) it.

Sure, you can say that management needs a thicker skin, but before you say that, go take the yell-at-your-boss’s-boss test.  

Those who saw Thibodeau in Summer League may have been surprised. Instead of seeing a simmering kettle of stew, they saw the coach as relaxed as he’s been as a Bull. In fact, he probably hasn’t smiled that much since he was a little boy.

Look at the interview here with the NBA crew when he talks about Tony Snell—an actual, relaxed smile comes across his face. In fact, he seems pretty happy (can you use that word for Thibs?) during the entire interview.

He also raves about the acquisition of Mike Dunleavy, citing his ability to play defense as a big part of why he’s happy with the signing. He offers similar sentiments to  K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune in a separate interview.  

Mike has been a starter and played very well. And he has been a bench guy and played very well. I like that he can get it done in shorter minutes. He complements Derrick and Carlos (Boozer) extremely well. He moves well without the ball. He's a playmaker and an excellent team defender (emphasis mine). We think he's a great fit.

If Thibodeau didn’t have a say in who they picked up in the draft and free agency, management at least seems to have picked players that he wants to give playing time to. That could and should solve any remaining friction.

The ripple effect here is that, as Nick Fridell of ESPN Chicago reports, Thibodeau is promising to lessen the playing time of both Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, two of the biggest victims of overplay last season.

Thibodeau’s final word on the matter in the Johnson article seems to sum it up.

People are going to read into things the way they want to. I'm fine. All I'm thinking about is getting ready for next season and being a championship-caliber team. That's it.

He seems happy now, and as long as management and Thibodeau can work together to select players they agree on, there seems little reason to make any more of this than what it was, a hurdle that both management and coaching have cleared.

Management needs to keep Thibodeau happy, but in the grand scheme of things, we can't overlook the fact that he seems happy right now. Now let's just hope they can all stay happy. 



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