DEERFIELD, Ill. – By announcing Tom Thibodeau’s four-year contract extension as their media day activities began Monday afternoon, the Chicago Bulls raised a happy flag over what otherwise might have been a blah day, on the heels of a dreary 2012 offseason.
From Derrick Rose’s torn ACL in late April to the summer departures of several players – Omer Asik, C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer – who had provided Chicago with arguably the best bench in the league, there hadn’t been much for Bulls fans to get excited about heading toward 2012-13.
Oh sure, all those vacated roster spots were filled, but guys like Vladimir Radmanovic, Marco Belinelli, Nate Robinson and Nazr Mohammed haven’t yet moved the needle for a team largely defined by, and successful because of, its extreme depth last season. The subtraction seems greater than the additions, and the fact that Rose won’t be available until sometime after the All-Star break … or into March … or maybe not at all undercut what historically is an NBA team’s most optimistic day of the year.
The Bulls, plain and simple, were desperate for some good news – beyond the modest re-signing of Kirk Hinrich — and general manager Gar Forman delivered it minutes into his gathering with the team’s media. The deal reportedly is worth at least $17 million, possibly more with incentives.
“The thing about Tom is, when you watch him work every day, there is an emphasis on defense and rebounding, but he’s very good on both sides of the ball. Offensively he’s very, very creative. He builds strong relationships with our players and through those relationships, there’s a trust level.
“You can see that in how our guys respond to him. I’m biased, because I’m here every day. But I think he’s the best coach in the NBA.”
Thibodeau, an NBA assistant for two decades before the Bulls hired him in 2010, has helped Chicago to the best regular-season record (112-36) and No. 1 seed in each of his two seasons. They reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2011, but their title hopes last spring went down with Rose in the playoff opener.
The public speculation about Thibodeau’s extension – when or whether it would happen – was driven in part by uninspired offseson and news vacuum around the Bulls. Both Dallas’ Rick Carlisle and Oklahoma City’s Scott Brooks coached to the end of their contracts last season, signing fresh deals over the summer.
Thibodeau said, based on the way the Bulls organization has treated him for two-plus years, he did not worry about his long-term security with the team. But he also said that, as recently as a week ago, there was no deal on the table and he didn’t expect one to materialize so soon.
Waiting for Rose has Bulls fans antsy enough. Sweating out Thibs’ fate might have been pushing them too far. While it might only have risen to the level of a manufactured distraction, now it’s not even that.
“I’m excited,” said forward Luol Deng, a workhorse in Thibodeau’s system. “Individually I’m happy – I’ve had two seasons with Coach, [last year] being one of my best seasons. … But for him I’m very happy it’s out of the way – just focus on basketball now. And for the organization, I think they got a great guy who’s committed to winning. He’s proven that the last two years.”