Pay that man his money! (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
In case you missed it, Blog-A-Bull whipping boy Nick Friedell broke the news last night that the Bulls had resumed contract extension negotiations with coach Tom Thibodeau. It had been quiet for quite some time on the Thibs contract front, as the last we heard from K.C. Johnson about a month or two ago was that the Bulls and their headmaster were still relatively far apart on a new deal. Johnson reported back at the end of June that the Bulls were worried about another Scott Skiles situation, and he reiterated that sentiment in an excellent podcast with Bulls Confidential's Doug Thonus in July.
The natural comparison point for a new Thibs deal is the Thunder's Scotty Brooks, who signed a four-year deal worth about $4 million per earlier this year. The word from K.C. is that Thibs is looking for at least that much and probably more, and quite honestly, I would have no qualms giving it to him (as long as he's not looking for some ungodly amount). Sure Brooks has a NBA Finals appearance under his belt, but it wasn't too long ago that he was being lambasted for his poor coaching performance in the postseason. And while Thibs certainly deserves his fair share of criticism as well, it's difficult for me to say that he hasn't been better than Brooks the past two seasons considering the circumstances.
Thibs has done an excellent job maximizing the talent on the roster and also getting all of his players to buy into his defense-first system, which is why Sports Illustrated's (soon to be Grantland's) Zach Lowe says that extending him should be an absolute no-brainer. As Lowe states, you "lock a head coach like that up for the long haul and smile, having filled one of the three or four most important positions within an organization."
Of course, nobody is smiling yet as the Bulls appear to be playing hardball. One has to wonder whether they may be doing so because the team is set for a bit of a fall this year, and thus, could possibly use that as an excuse to pay Thibs less going forward.
On the other hand, Thibs could also use this season as an opportunity to show just how much he is worth to the team. Lowe pontificates that the Bulls will remain an elite defensive team despite the loss of Omer Asik, but the real challenge will be how much Thibs can get out of an offense that will be missing its star in Derrick Rose for quite some time:
But Rose being on the bench in uniform and Rose sitting in street clothes are two very different things when you start considering the trickle-down effect his injury-related absence has on Chicago's rotation. Chicago's offense collapsed without Rose in the playoffs last season, a collapse that began even before Noah also went down with an ankle injury. The Bulls generate many more corner threes and shots in the restricted area when Rose plays, per NBA.com's stats tool, and all those little changes will add up to more significant damage when Rose misses entire games (and months) instead of just the first few minutes of two quarters.
Kirk Hinrich will start at point guard in Rose's absence, and while he's a steady player, he shouldn't be anyone's starting point guard. Chicago built its offense around Rose's dynamic dribble penetration and his ability to draw loads of attention on the pick-and-roll. Use a hard or soft trap on Rose at the three-point arc or way out along the sideline, and you're inviting him to slip a bounce pass to Boozer or Noah at the foul line, a place from which the Chicago bigs can use their elite passing skills and 4-on-3 advantage to create a good look. Hinrich isn't going to command that kind of attention and barely attacks the rim anymore, leaving Chicago's other players with more of a burden than they are really equipped to carry.
Even without Rose, the Bulls should have enough talent to be successful offensively against the dregs of the league. Where things have the potential to get ugly are against the better teams that actually give a damn about the defensive side of the ball. We saw this in the Sixers series, which was truly an offensive abomination once Rose went down.
I actually broke down the entire third quarter of Game 2, which saw a six-point Bulls lead turn into a 14-point deficit thanks in part to a spectacular inability to get any quality looks at the basket (a trend that continued throughout the rest of the series). A hobbled C.J. Watson and too-dribbly John Lucas III were completely ineffective in setting up the offense, which allowed the Sixers to easily key on the other Bulls on the court. There was little threat of pick-and-roll with Boozer or Noah, and both Rip Hamilton and Kyle Korver were taken out of the picture because of hard traps that likely wouldn't have happened as frequently with Rose on the court.
With Hinrich not offering all that much relief in terms of shot creation, these same issues will probably pop up again. While it's obviously up to the players to execute, there will be times where Thibs will have to really dig deep and get creative with his offensive sets. He'll need to find ways to get the bigs involved despite the extra attention. He'll need to find ways to try and free up shooters for good looks. Needless to say, it should be one hell of a test of Thibs' mettle as a coach. If he can guide this group to an above-average record without Rose on the floor, there should be no doubting his importance.
Ultimately, however, nothing that happens this season should be relevant to Thibs' contract extension. And that's because it should be done before the year starts. Plain and simple. But of course, it's the Bulls we're talking about here, so I'm not feeling all that great about it, despite the fact that negotiations have seemingly reopened.