Bulls: Why Luol Deng believes Tom Thibodeau is 'misunderstood'

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Rob Schaefer
·3 min read
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Why Luol Deng believes Thibodeau is 'misunderstood' originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

In the 11 years since Tom Thibodeau first became an NBA coach, he's become a bit of a polarizing figure.

To some, he's a mastermind defensive schemer singularly focused on winning -- and darn good at both. Others perceive that drive as skewing too extreme, to the point that he over-taxes his players in pursuit of short-term results.

Ask those that played for Thibodeau, though, and the reviews are largely positive. Take legendary Bulls forward Luol Deng, who recently appeared on the Bulls Talk Podcast, as a prime example.

"Tom is kind of, he's misunderstood," Deng told K.C. Johnson on the podcast. "Because I really think with basketball, you've got to decide what you want. Honestly. And I think with Thibs, if you have too many people trying to tell him what to do, it's not going to go well.

"Thibs likes to be in control. But you have to understand that he's about winning and that's it. It doesn't matter how, it's about winning."

Thibodeau certainly did a lot of that in Chicago, spearheading the Bulls' best multi-year span since the dynasty. Two league-best regular-season records. One Coach of the Year award (in his first season). A 255-139 record -- 23-28 in the postseason -- that places him second in franchise history in regular-season winning percentage by a fair margin.

Stewarding the development, or continued advancement, of the likes of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Deng and countless others goes on his resume too.

"I connected with Thibs because I didn't ask too many questions, I just knew that he sees everything," Deng said. "Sometimes he has issues with guys because some guys are super talented, but they're not gonna give you 100 percent -- not to knock those guys, but it's just how they are, that's how they've been playing basketball. If you look at our Chicago Bulls team, from the MVP to the last player, everybody played hard.

"There was no slack, there was no taking off and I think with Thibs that's where he thrives."

Thibodeau rejoined the NBA head coaching ranks last offseason by accepting the New York Knicks' vacant position. And as anyone could have predicted -- though maybe not to this magnitude -- they're off to a rollicking start. As of April 20, the Knicks sit 31-27, sixth in the Eastern Conference and with the NBA's third-ranked defensive rating.

The franchise hasn't finished a regular season above .500 since 2013 -- incidentally, also the last time they made the postseason. An All-Star leap -- and beyond -- from Julius Randle, the surprising spark plug that is Immanuel Quickley and other key veterans (including a revitalized Rose) have made it possible.

But Thibodeau is at the center of it, barking from the sidelines and leading late-night film sessions all the way.

For more Bulls memories, and Deng detailing his work with the South Sudan Basketball Federation, check out the podcast.

Related: Why Deng hopes Noah waits to retire as a Bull

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