The rift between Tom Thibodeau and the Chicago Bulls front office has been the subject of whispers for quite a while, but now that executives are reportedly meddling with Thibs' rotation, those whispers are in danger of turning into shouts.
According to Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News:
Tom Thibodeau is one of the NBA’s top coaches, but when it comes to managing minutes of his top players, he is going to get some help. Even if he doesn’t want it. The Bulls’ front office has been taking an active role in telling Thibodeau how he’ll dispense minutes to Joakim Noah, among others. And these are two parties that have had their differences in the past.
There's no question that Thibodeau has made a habit of demanding huge minutes from his best players. Last year, Luol Deng led the league in minutes and Joakim Noah ranked 16th, per NBA.com. And as the year wore on, Jimmy Butler began to see iron-man minute allotments as well.
There's a perception out there that the Bulls' continued issues with physical breakdowns are somehow related to Thibs' excessive demands. There may or may not be something to that theory, but there's no doubt that the hard-nosed head coach won't take kindly to being told how to manage his team.
General manager Gar Forman canned Thibodeau's top assistant, Ron Adams, over the summer. So, this latest report isn't the first overt instance of the front office reaching down from the executive suite in a way that could ruffle some feathers.
For what it's worth, Chicago's best players aren't playing excessive minutes this year. Noah is at 29.3 minutes per game, while Butler leads the team with "just" 36.7 minutes per contest. It's too early to know whether those reductions are the result of a front-office decree, but they're interesting nonetheless.
Per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, Bulls vice president John Paxson did his best to squash rumors of the divide between Thibodeau and Forman earlier this month:
No matter what you do in this business, when you’re making decisions, whether it’s based on personnel or anything like that, you’re going to have ideas, different opinions, and that’s what we do. We sit in a room and talk these things through. The thing is, right now we’re all on the same page, and there are no hidden agendas from Gar, myself and Tom.
Perhaps Thibodeau and his superiors really are making decisions democratically. Maybe they're calmly discussing playing time issues over tea. But that's not how Lawrence's report makes it sound.
The Bulls have the talent to go a long way this year, so a potential power struggle would have the potential to create a distraction at a highly inopportune time. This is a situation worth monitoring, as Thibodeau isn't the kind of coach to stand idly by while Forman—or anyone—gradually bleeds him of his authority.