Thibodeau ‘Trade Rumors’ A Losing Deal

(Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images)

Tom Thibodeau has three years left on his contract with the Bulls. (Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images)

CHICAGO – So far, amid the wispy speculation and conjecture hovering over coach Tom Thibodeau, the Chicago Bulls and their future together, it was Thibodeau who has had the healthiest perspective.

“Every day there’s something going on [in the media],” Thibodeau said Friday evening. “Now, the rumor about my date with Kate Upton, started by me, I’m not commenting on that either. So let’s move on.”

He got the laughs intended. But this is about something more tawdry than funny.

Common sense and, frankly, a sense of decorum would suggest that anyone dwelling on Thibodeau’s whereabouts beyond this season is, respectively, wasting his or her time and wallowing in something awfully jaded and cynical.

Regarding the former, Thibodeau has three years left on his contract. His coaching skills and work ethic are almost universally lauded throughout the NBA (his minutes management, a little less so). His relationship with Derrick Rose, the star-crossed star in whom the Bulls have many more millions tied up than they do in their head coach, is one of the closest and strongest of its kind in the league.

Thibodeau’s connection with Chicago’s second-best player, Joakim Noah, nearly is as special. And with Thibodeau’s role as a Team USA assistant through the 2016 Olympics, the rapport he develops with top players from throughout the league will only enhance his status as a draw for those hungry to win and willing to work, as well as players eager to have their full potentials tapped into.

The only reasons Bulls management might consider moving on from Thibodeau are bad ones. By the way, it’s worth noting here that the coach and the front office so far have expressed nothing but mutual admiration and respect, though relations have been strained at times over personnel and philosophical disagreements.

But if this were to come down to internal friction between Thibodeau and GM Gar Forman and/or VP of basketball John Paxson, it would be both petty and silly, considering the levels of outrageousness NBA teams routinely tolerate from players. Cast aside a proven, eminently qualified basketball mind with occasionally divergent viewpoints for a corporate “Yes” man? Stop nodding so obsequiously, please.

If it’s a case of Thibodeau not being on board with an unstated organizational goal, not simply to “retool” the Bulls but to tear down and start over – specifically, by losing as often as possible this season to enhance lottery odds – then the management would have an equally tough sell with their fan base.

Sure, there is a segment that lives for the bright, unsullied “future,” whatever and whenever it is, over the stark reality of any particular present. There are Bulls fans, too, who got spoiled by the 2008 leap to No. 1, on a 1.7 percent chance, to land Rose in the first place, as if their favorite team’s mere presence in the lottery would guarantee a top prize. It wouldn’t.

Besides, if the Bulls wanted to go back to employing the Vinny Del Negros of the coaching world, well, they had the real deal on the payroll just four years ago.

Beyond wrong reasons, though, this sort of maneuver feels plain wrong. It’s a threshold that was unseemly enough when Doc Rivers, Danny Ainge and the Los Angeles Clippers “went there” last summer and, were it to become a thing, it could lead to all sorts of instability and turmoil across the league.

As a one-off, the Celtics-Clippers “trade” of Rivers was interesting, a ramification of Boston’s sudden veer into rebuilding and Rivers’ absence of appetite for same. With key veterans (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, on the heels of Ray Allen a year earlier) being purged, it seemed of a piece. And Ainge planned to dig deep, targeting a prime pick in the 2014 Draft.

The thought was, Rivers – having led Boston to the 2008 championship – wouldn’t want to roll up his sleeves and start over in his 15th season as a head coach. So he and they finagled a way to get him out West with a roster more ready to win, while the Celtics saved money on their head coach’s salary and got everyone in the organization flow chart on the same page (with the exception of some proud players in the locker room).

Few of those factors are at play for the Bulls and Thibodeau. This is only his fourth season as a head coach. There has been no ring, not even a trip to The Finals. Rose’s second season-ending knee injury, and the Jan. 7 trade of free-agent-to-be Luol Deng, hardly is an orchestrated rebuild.

Then there is Thibodeau’s single-minded and single-geared approach to winning. If that’s a reason to shed him, the Bulls would need to immediately slash their ticket prices by 20 percent or more because it would raise a competitive white flag over the entire organization. Nothing would drive home the suspicions that management loves selling out United Center and ogling the Forbes valuations – Chicago Bulls: $1 billion – more than it loves winning than cutting ties with a coach who eats, drinks and sleeps it.

Even Rivers could see the folly in Chicago doing with Thibodeau what Boston did with, and for, him.

“I think it would be nuts not to have him here,” Rivers said of his friend and former assistant. “He’s the best coach, one of the best coaches in this league. So if you have that, that’s an asset. And I don’t think any right-minded organization would allow that asset to leave. Because with all this adversity they’ve had with injuries, if you allow that one to leave, things will fall apart. And that would be pretty much a guarantee.”

Rose, again in need of a fresh start, could leave – which, given Bulls’ luck, probably would be a guarantee of his return to form as an All-Star point guard. Noah, already rocked by Deng’s trade, might never fully recover. Thibodeau’s ability to plumb the depths of a player’s skill set, to get more out of less (i.e., late first-rounders Jimmy Butler, Tony Snell) and to convince players he coaches not for vanity, not for money but for one valid reason … it all could be gone.

And frankly, Thibodeau hasn’t done enough, long enough, to merit any such “favor” by the Bulls. Since when can’t he abide a team hitting the reset button? That’s a conceit as unflattering as bosses being unable or unwilling to work through a little disagreement from the sideline.

Also, does the NBA really want to create and live with a coaches trade market? Do owners want to start ripping up and bidding up contracts — as opposed to routinely paying off the fellows they fire — in a category of employees where there is no salary cap? Would coaches — even if they found the leverage advantageous and the clamor for their services in other markets flattering — want to be cast as specialists, where some of them become known only as builders or maintainers or closers or, ahem, tankers?

And what impact might it all have in the locker rooms, if players start to adapt to a world in which they not only can get a coach fired but maybe get him traded?

I asked Rivers before the Clippers’ game in Chicago Friday about the precedent he might have set, the ripple effects and unforeseen consequences of his team switcheroo.

“I didn’t do it for that effect,” he said. “If it does help coaches, then great, I’ll look at it that way. It’s not why I did it.”

It is, however, the only reason it’s become a topic of conversation and rumors in Chicago.


  1. TheTest says:

    I hope the Lakers get D.Rose.

  2. luckyfri says:

    the bulls want to tank and tips is just too good. you cannot tank with him. you can also put away boozer and he still reaches playoffs. welcome to 2014 – if you want to loose you gotta kick out one of the unique coaches. they should trade tips against melo, then the bulls got no problem to tank. if they bulls kick out tips one team gets the chance to change their franchise, he reaches playoffs nearly with every squad (bucks maybe take 2 years). kick people out if you loose and want to win and not the opposite, thats really ridicoulus. THE INDIANA FROM CLEVELEND RETURN. STARRING TIPS.

  3. joshb78 says:

    Bulls send
    Tom Thibodeau, Carlos Boozer, 2014 1st round pick, 2015 2nd round pick.
    to Knicks

    Knicks send
    Carmelo Anthony and Andrea Bargnani
    to Bulls

  4. mee(a)t says:

    They won’t lose Thibodeau…he pretty much gave the Bulls the defensive identity

  5. Nick says:

    I can’t quite understand the calls for tanking the season and hoping for highest draft pick. Given not only the Bulls recent draft selection history (e.g. they picked Aldridge and sent him to Portland for Tyrus Thomas!), but also the outcome for few top picks from recent drafts (Milicic with Detroit, Oden with Portland, and most recently Bennet with Cleveland), it’s a huge gamble to rely of draft picks for getting you anywhere. And needless to say that there’s no guaranty that you will get a top pick if you tank the season. But if they did win the lottery, basketball is a team sport and Bulls have been a one-man team for far too long. Rose and Noah are not getting any younger, and who knows how Rose’s help will be when he comes back, and top draft picks may take few years to develop into reliable players. All that amounts to another few years of waiting, with very low chance of resulting in a serious title run. Therefore the Bulls should try and spend money on free agency or acquire another star player via trade while they still have a handful of decent players to surround Rose and Noah with.

  6. Saggy B says:

    Boring basketball… Give Thibs a new start..

  7. emevipeelad234 says:

    LOL the team is struggling but mister thibodeau priority is to date kate upton ? WOWOWOW i understand now why the bulls lost rose

  8. Jamale says:

    I am a big Chicago Bulls fan….I’ve seen it year after year…where we show the spunk to go far….the biggest downfall I can say of the Bulls are the injuries…but Tom is an EXCELLENT COACH. I wouldn’t replace him, I think if we go shopping for a star, that doesn’t take up too much of the cap room, that can help be a leader to this team. BULLS have the will and determination, those young guys are busting it up and down the court regardless of what the NBA says….yeah we don’t have the greatest players…but we are in far better positions then NYK and NETS who spent boatloads of money on players and still trying to reap the benefits….I honestly think Bulls need a little tweaking but as far as the coach..he is doing SUPERB!!

    • Tr0uB135uM says:

      Completely agree wit u…….n great example in reference to NY teams-u dnt always get wat u pay 4

  9. George says:

    Steve, you just love to talk negatively about the Bulls. I actually wonder how you still have a job. Deng’s trade was an excellent move. Obviously bulls need a consistent scorer to win a championship. Both Deng and Boozer are inconsistent. And, Derick’s injury was just a case of very bad luck. The Bulls organization is doing a very good job with their personnel given the circumstances. Thibodeau and Noah are not going anywhere any time soon. They will give Rose another shot at returning next year. Let’s just hope for the best.

  10. Bob Meyers says:

    Welcome to the Golden State Warriors Thib.

  11. Jargal says:

    Certainly, Thibs and The Bulls are not going to be champions unless they ask Pippen from fan seat to play some minutes at United center.))

  12. kevin says:

    if thibs gets fired please come to portland…with your coaching and stickler for top or the line defense portland blazers would be a dynasty 😉

    • OKC says:

      WHAAAAT!?!? No loyalty for Stotts? The dude will probably get coach of the year and you want to replace him? The Trailblazers defensive troubles aren’t all on Stotts, he really doesn’t have many top flight defenders to do it with. Mathews is a dog at 6’5, but can’t move up and guard a lot of SFs and Batum is ok (though I couldn’t tell watching him try to guard KD), but besides that all the way down through the bench there aren’t any great defenders.

  13. dustydreamnz says:

    If they get that top guy from Europe it will help a lot.

  14. pipen says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if pax and gar get rid of thibs. they made so many bad moves in the interest of saving cash,

  15. lol says:

    The bulls need to bring MJ and Pippen back thats their only hope for a championship in the future…. lets get real, no matter what they do they are doomed, D.rose will never win a championship unless he joins a team with a BETTER scorer than him…hes a PG and he needs an all star SG or SF scorer, thats his only hope to compete and i dont see that happening with the Bulls, wuts worse his injuries might have already ruined his career and hes simply finished, the Bulls cannot be contenders for the next 3 years at least…

  16. the future says:

    Rose, Jimmy Butler, Tony Snell, Jabari Parker (native) and Noah could make great run and they can cut Boozer and sign free agent to max

  17. The front office hasn’t shown the ability to acquire talent through the free agency or trading. The mainstays in Chicago were all drafted there. Thibs can win with lesser talent, but it’s going to take upper management providing him more talent to bring home rings. He is an amazing coach, but he also happens to coach against the second best player of all time who joined up with 2 other all stars. If Thibs were in organizatuon that wasn’t so concerned with financial gain and more willing to make big moves, he could already have a title by now. No offense to any of the Bulls, but drafting late first rounders and counting on them to be the answer to the championship puzzle is a bit naive and insulting to the fan base. The draft is were management has shown they are talented. Tanking puts them in a better position to make the right choice.

  18. okc2014 says:

    This is a business and anyone can be replaced. However, it would be a bad business decision, in my opinion, for the Bulls to cut their losses with Coach Thibodeau. He is the heart an soul of the Bulls. But then again, there is a good chance that remaining pieces of his “Bulls”, may not be part of the long haul, i.e. Rose, Boozer and Noah…..And I don’t blame them if they do. The Bulls don’t seem to have a good future.