June 05, 2010
With K.C. Johnson reporting that the Chicago Bulls have come to terms with Boston assistant coach Tom Thibodeau on a three-year deal to coach the Bulls, Chicago fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Their team has just hired the best candidate possible.
And the Chicago front office can enjoy another sigh of relief, because despite their worst effort, they just dodged another mediocrity bullet.
Because the Bulls nearly blew it, again, with Thibodeau, the (say it with me) highly-regarded Celtic assistant. The team, curiously, never even interviewed him during their search for a head coach in 2008, at a time when Thibodeau's stock was, at the very least, as high as it stands right now. The team didn't move an inch toward considering him, instead flirting very publically with Mike D'Antoni, doing all but hiring Doug Collins, and settling (in a settle for the ages) on Vinny Del Negro.
VDN managed a .500 record in two seasons with Chicago, and despite major roster turnover and a terrible relationship with team management, it was still a disappointing turn. Del Negro just wasn't ready to lead an NBA team, which shouldn't be a surprise as he hadn't coached on any level prior to taking the job. His work was so poor, even considering the mitigating circumstances, that the Bulls even tossed musings out to the media that they wouldn't even consider dealing with a candidate with no head coaching experience.
Thibodeau doesn't have any head-coaching experience, in the NBA at least. He did run a Division III team for a season, Salem, back in 1984; but beyond that he's more or less spent his time as the top defensive guru for some of the top defensive teams of this generation.
And considering the options beyond Thibodeau, those with head coaching experience to fall back on, the Boston assistant had to be Chicago's choice. Mo Cheeks just hasn't worked as a head man, Eric Mussleman has talent but has also flamed out of a couple of gigs, Lawrence Frank is a sound coach but not the highlight name Chicago needs at this point, and Dwane Casey is a terrific talent with a mindset that the Bulls front office, for whatever reason, did not appreciate.
No, it had to be Thibodeau. And why it took so long for Chicago to swoop in and interview the man that seemed the obvious choice both in 2008 and 2010, seems beyond my comprehension. Word is that Chicago has had Boston's permission for weeks to speak with the assistant, and yet they didn't really make a move until Wednesday night, the eve of the biggest coaching game of Thibodeau's career, to deal with the man.
This was after the assistant had interviewed with New Orleans, and dragged the team along despite a fair Hornet offer, waiting desperately to see a call from a 773 area code show up on his phone. It was an uneasy situation for all involved, not the most tactful way of doing things; and, as is usually the case in this league, completely unnecessary.
Which seems a staple of the William Wesley style of business. Thibodeau is represented by Wesley and CAA, now, which will open up the assumption floodgates once again. LeBron James(notes), Chris Bosh(notes), and Dwyane Wade(notes) - in whatever form this takes when it comes to negotiate free agent deals with this group - are also represented by the same duo. Will hiring a Wesley "client" push someone like James or Bosh toward the Bulls? Hard to say.
Will Thibodeau work quite well as Chicago coach? That's easier to say. The answer should be "yes," assuming he works with the personnel correctly and is able to think on his feet. He apparently won Chicago executives Gar Forman and John Paxson over with his talk about a drive and kick offense, which seems natural with such a natural driver in Derrick Rose(notes), and less appealing when you consider the men he's kicking to (the Bulls were 28th out of 30 teams in three-point percentage last year).
Thibodeau, at the very least, has to restart a defensive mindset that hasn't been in place since Scott Skiles flamed out as Chicago coach. The Bulls have the makeup to be a top five defensive team as is, but Derrick Rose has yet to improve defensively in his two years in this league, and the Bulls were pretty mediocre on that end under Del Negro. Lots of highs, lots of lows, quite average in the end.
The new coach has to change that. And if the rumors are true about Ron Adams (a former defensive whiz under Skiles) returning to Chicago after two seasons spent turning the Oklahoma City Thunder into all-world defenders despite their age, then the Bulls should be well on their way.
Anything beyond that?
As it is with just about everything in this league save for the two giants battling it out in Los Angeles right now, all the rest of the recaps have to be writ once LeBron decides what he's doing. Then the rest of the dominos fall, and we can get back to properly analyzing this mess of a league. Thanks a lot, Wes.
Until then, the Bulls finally got their man. About damn time.