The Boston Celtics are in Chicago to face the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night, marking the return of former Bulls assistant coach and current Celtics assistant Ron Adams, widely regarded as one of the best if not the finest assistant coach in the NBA. Adams’ contract was not renewed last summer by the Bulls, for reasons the team did not fully elaborate on, reportedly angering both the coaching staff and (more importantly) the players along the way.
Adams was also not given a reason for not being offered a new contract after a rough 2012-13 season, a campaign that saw the Bulls work without Derrick Rose for the entire year, but one that saw the team also grit out 45 wins and reach the second round before falling to the eventual champion Miami Heat.
Adrian Wojnarowski reported in October that Adams was not brought back because of a contentious relationship he shared with Bulls general manager Gar Forman, who didn’t like assistant coach carping about personnel moves that cost Chicago Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson (while bringing in Kirk Hinrich on a much-criticized contract) over the 2012 offseason. Adams didn’t exactly confirm all of this while talking to the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson recently, but he did confirm at least one carp in the rare instance of an assistant coach going on record with the media.
"It's still a bit mystifying to me," Adams said. "And I don't understand it. And if the intent was to be hurtful to me and my family, it succeeded."
The Tribune reported in June that Forman took exception to Adams voicing displeasure over certain personnel moves. Adams confirmed this, saying he was told he "made a disparaging remark about the organization outside the walls of the Berto Center."
The Celtics likely have no issue with Adams discussing as much with the media, as they are more than happy with Adams’ performance in helping the surprising C’s (with rookie head coach and NBA neophyte Brad Stevens) to a borderline-shocking 13-18 record thus far.
The Bulls are again without Rose, lost for the rest of the year with a meniscus tear, and in even worse shape than the Celtics with a 12-18 record. Though Thursday’s game is in Chicago and the Bulls are relatively healthy (sans Rose) for the first time in quite a while, don’t underestimate Adams’ ability to prepare the young Celtics for a turn against his former team.
Of course, “relatively healthy” isn’t saying much. Both Joakim Noah and Luol Deng are working through a pair of nagging injuries, while Jimmy Butler’s turf toe will bother him for the rest of the season. Butler played his best game of the year in a win against Memphis on Friday, but that wasn’t long after a needless 46-minute stint against Dallas that prompted SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell to write this:
If it's clear as day Butler is injured, why is he playing 46 minutes? It's true that Tony Snell and Mike Dunleavy didn't give Thibodeau much of a bail out option -- they combined to go 3-of-17 from the field -- but what's troubling is a failure to see the bigger picture. The Bulls were getting pounded the entire game. At a certain point, the health of Butler -- the one promising under-25 player on the team -- has to take precedence.
What's really disheartening is that there doesn't appear to be anything that can be done about it. This is how Thibodeau is. He's the best asset the Bulls have because he essentially guarantees a top five defense. Even in the current dystopia, the Bulls are sixth overall in points allowed per 100 possessions. The coach is a tactical genius, but he seems to lack a basic component of humanity.
We don’t know how much Ron Adams’ drive led the Bulls to overplay certain injured players over the last few years, but whatever the impetus the insistence on it has mostly carried over to the Ron-less Bulls in 2013-14. Meanwhile, the team is struggling, the front office’s hoped-for incoming assets (a high-end pick from the Charlotte Bobcats, the possible addition of international star Nikola Mirotic) are no sure thing, and all signs seem to be pointing to the release of Carlos Boozer in the summer, alongside the re-signing of Luol Deng as he sweats his way into his declining years.
There are no such stars in Boston, what with Rajon Rondo still on the bench and the rebuilding team missing out on a lottery pick last season, but there will be incoming cap space and heaps of draft picks for the Celtics’ front office and coaching staff to work with. We’re not saying Boston is ascending as quickly as Chicago is descending, but absolutely nobody in Chicago is getting what they want right now.
And even Adams, on that ascending team, still seems hurt and gobsmacked by Chicago’s decision to let perhaps the most appreciated NBA assistant coach out there leave without a fight.
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