But unlike Mark Jackson and the Golden State Warriors, that hasn't resulted in a termination of their relationship.
As ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell recently reported, "It appears as though all the ups and downs that Thibodeau and the front office have experienced over the past couple of years have led league executives to believe that Thibodeau can be let out of his contract for the right compensation."
That would be a dramatic move, seeing as Thibodeau has consistently helped the Bulls overachieve in the wake of injuries and questionable personnel decisions. Seeing him pacing the sidelines and stomping in frustration on the floor of an arena other than the United Center would just feel...strange.
But it's a feeling and sight we might have to get used to, unless the Bulls do what they should—end the speculation about his future for good by staunchly denying his availability.
One of the Best in the Business
Let's assume you know nothing of Thibodeau's past. You're blissfully ignorant when it comes to the excellent teams he's led in recent years, the defensive schemes he's developed and the impact the packing-the-paint strategy has had on the league-wide defense.
Looking solely at the 2013-14 season, you could still figure out that Thibs is a pretty incredible coach.
Absolutely nothing broke right for the Bulls, most significantly the injury to Derrick Rose that knocked him back out of the lineup after he'd regained health from a long ACL rehabilitation process. Without the former MVP in the lineup, Chicago was pretty much doomed.
Well, except Thibodeau was on the sidelines and wasn't going to let his team give up.
Midway through the season, the Chicago front office decided to trade Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Andrew Bynum, who was immediately released from his duties in the Windy City. Now down two of their three best players, the Bulls began to be associated with tanking.
But not on Thibodeau's watch.
He and Joakim Noah staunchly refused to give up at any point during the campaign, instead shocking the world and earning the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference with an even more renewed focus on defense.
According to Basketball-Reference, the Bulls finished the 2013-14 season allowing 100.5 points per 100 possessions. That mark left them trailing only the Indiana Pacers, and it was largely due to the concerted efforts during the second half of the season, when everyone but the Bulls themselves had left Chicago for dead.
If you looked carefully enough, you could see passion and desire oozing from Thibodeau's forehead as he completed his sideline histrionics.
"Thibodeau continues to face roadblocks whether it’s injuries or trades, but no matter what, he gets his team to win games," wrote B/R's Steven Korn in late January while ranking the Chicago signal-caller as the No. 3 head coach in the Association. "If Thibodeau can ever get a healthy, talented roster there is no telling how good he will make this team."
Based on how the rest of the season went, it's hard to see how he'd do anything but move up to No. 2, passing Doc Rivers and occupying the spot just behind Gregg Popovich.
Other Teams Are Calling
When a head coach of this caliber is even slightly available, other teams are quickly going to come calling. And even though it's been a matter of days since the Bulls were eliminated by the Washington Wizards, interest has already been expressed in Thibodeau's services.
First, the Golden State Warriors.
"The Warriors are expected to contact the Chicago Bulls to explore the availability of their head coach, defensive whiz Tom Thibodeau," reported Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle. He's only one of a dozen candidates, but that's not how the Bulls can afford to look at this situation.
The vultures are already swarming, and there's not even a carcass for them to pounce on.
Vultures? Yes, it's plural, thanks to an article from ESPN.com's Mark Stein and Ramona Shelburne:
The Lakers also plan to reach out to the Chicago Bulls for permission to interview coach Tom Thibodeau, though that has yet to happen, sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin and ESPN's Andy Katz. The Lakers are closely monitoring the playoffs, believing that several viable candidates could become available should their respective teams be eliminated.
It's not as though members of the Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings are reaching out to inquire about the availability of this Chicago coach. These are the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors we're talking about.
While the Chicago job itself is an attractive one, so too are those opportunities.
Coaching by the Bay Area offers Thibodeau much nicer weather and a chance to harness far more offensive firepower than he's ever had at his disposal. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and David Lee can do more than Derrick Rose and his supporting cast ever could on that end of the floor.
And the Lakers job basically speaks for itself.
Although the Purple and Gold is going through a downtrodden portion of franchise history, it's still an opportunity to coach one of the absolute premier franchises. When casual NBA fans think of the sport, the Lakers usually come to mind before the Bulls, even with Michael Jordan popularizing the team in the 1980s and '90s.
Friedell breaks down the appeal:
Almost any coach in the NBA would listen if the Lakers came calling. It's the Lakers, one of the most storied franchises in sports. Thibodeau has a well-documented history with Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant. If the Lakers are willing to make it public that they are going after Thibodeau, then they know it will take a big-money contract, on top of compensation, to get him out of the contract he has in place with the Bulls. Thibodeau would also have close friend Doc Rivers to bounce ideas off right next door since Rivers is the coach of the Clippers.
That's hard to turn down.
And if two franchises have already expressed a desire to contact him, who's to say it stops there? What if Scott Brooks doesn't last through the offseason and Thibodeau has a chance to coach Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook?
The Bulls are creating a slippery slope for themselves if they don't put an end to the speculation and make it clear that Thibs will be fulfilling the last three years of his contract. Allowing him to speak with the first two teams that make a request creates a precedent, one that plenty of other teams will take advantage of.
And eventually, one will make a convincing pitch, leaving the Bulls in even more of a lurch than any of their personnel decisions or injuries have in the past few years. Wouldn't Chicago like to avoid that and see what happens when Thibodeau gets to lead his first full-strength roster in years?
Remember, the 2012 postseason run was cut short by Rose tearing his ACL in the opening game against the Philadelphia 76ers, then the dynamic point guard missed the entire 2013 season and ensuing playoff battles.
This year, he was out once more.
Unless there's a serious setback, Rose and Noah will be ready to go when the 2014-15 season comes around. And they may even be joined by Carmelo Anthony or another high-profile free agent, in addition to Nikola Mirotic and whoever else is brought aboard.
The Bulls can't afford for anyone else to lead the charge. There are no better coaches available, nor will there be.
Dramatic as it may seem, even allowing Thibodeau to be pursued by other teams while he's still under contract will inevitably end up leading to a search for a replacement. Wouldn't management rather see the right man for the job trying to spearhead the efforts next year?
We'll find out soon enough.
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