If you’ve been following the Chicago Bulls the past several weeks, you don’t need insider information to determine they’re a dysfunctional bunch, because alpha triumvirate Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have told us as much with their recent vocal criticism of the team and each other.
So, when the Chicago Sun-Times reports Butler is telling teammates not to speak ill of the franchise in front of assistant coach Randy Brown if they don’t want general manager Gar Forman to find out about it, you wonder how much more critical they must be when cameras are off and Brown’s not around.
Here’s the kicker from Sun-Times beat reporter Joe Cowley in a piece about Butler’s distrust of the front office, which may or may not have begun with a member of the Bulls brass reportedly telling the three-time All-Star in 2014 they would play Tony Snell over him if he didn’t sign his contract extension:
Butler and other Bulls have had issues with the “spying’’ that goes on in the locker room. He warned new players that if they didn’t want Forman to hear criticism, they shouldn’t talk in front of certain assistant coaches such as Randy Brown.
The belief is that the Bulls love to gather as much ammunition as they can on players, so they can win the news conference when the breakup comes, whether it’s a trade or free agency.
“They did it with [Luol Deng], and they did it with [Joakim Noah] and Derrick [Rose],’’ a source said. “That’s how they operate.’’
It seems strange the Bulls would need any added fuel to explain those departures, since it doesn’t take a mole to explain Rose’s injury history, Noah’s age or Deng’s contract negotiations to the public. That info was right in front of their faces. But the odd press release following coach Tom Thibodeau’s 2015 firing, which featured phrases like “there must be free and open interdepartmental discussion and consideration of everyone’s ideas and opinions,” sure suggests management would have liked a little birdie to let them know more about what was going on behind those closed locker room doors.
Erstwhile Bull turned CBS Sports analyst Richard Hamilton suggested Thibodeau’s staff also had their snitching suspicions during the 2011-12 season (Butler’s rookie season), when Brown — a Chicago native and former Bulls point guard — served as special assistant to the general manager, before he became Forman’s assistant GM in 2013 and then an assistant coach under Fred Hoiberg last season.
Here’s Rip talking about a film session from his first season in Chicago on on NBA Crossover:
“One of the coaches, assistant coaches, spits out, ‘Randy has nothing to do with this team, he doesn’t need to be around the players,’ said Hamilton. “Looked at every man that was in that film session and pretty much told them, ‘Hey, don’t listen to him. When he comes and talks to you, don’t listen to him.’ And for me, as a veteran guy just coming from Detroit, I was like, ‘What is going on around here?’ Because every conversation I had with Randy was always good, was always love. So it’s kind of like a situation where, like, man, I don’t know what’s going on between management and the coaches. And now, as you see, it’s coming out again.”
Hamilton’s NBA Crossover cohost, Raja Bell, served as Director of Player Administration for the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2014-15 season, and he said there’s a fine line between telling management about observations he made during practice and actually relaying private information from inside the locker room. “Having played, that’s a sacred place,” added Bell. “I’m not taking anything said to me in that sacred place and taking it anywhere else. You can’t do that.”
These sorts of player development roles are common in every NBA franchise, and Hamilton suggested it’s part of their job to inform the front office about certain personnel matters, but not at the expense of breaking trust. When an assistant coach is the root of that distrust, it can fracture a locker room even further, and that appears to be the case with Brown. And you can’t help but wonder what criticism Butler, Wade and Rondo are hiding, since they’ve already aired out the team in plain sight.
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