If you believe the reports, there's been an air of discontent swirling around Tom Thibodeau and the Chicago Bulls front office that predates even last summer's firing of respected assistant coach Ron Adams. Thibodeau allegedly wasn't happy about the breakup of Bench Mob 1.0 in the summer of 2012, a shakeup that saw the Bulls lose Omer Asik to a carefully laid out contract by the Houston Rockets and then opt to trade sharpshooter Kyle Korver for a trade exception that was never used. When Adams was suddenly let go a year ago, speculation ran rampant that a rift between Thibodeau and the front office was real.
"What had been a strained, fractured partnership descended into permanent disrepair," wrote Adrian Wojnawowski of Yahoo! Sports, and you can be sure the rest of the league was taking notice. Though Thibodeau has just completed the first season of a four-year, $18 million contract, another first round playoff exit and another season-ending injury to Derrick Rose has apparently been enough to convince executives around the league that the relationship between Thibodeau and the Bulls is splintered enough to make the coach available.
What's happened since has been a lot of outside speculation with zero public acknowledgement from either Thibodeau or the Bulls. There were the Mitch Lawrence reports during this past season that posited Thibodeau was in-line to become the next head coach of the Knicks. There were reports that the Lakers wanted to talk to Thibs about their coaching opening. Same for the Warriors before they gave Steve Kerr all of the money to fill their vacancy.
All the while, the Bulls have remained as steadfast as ever in their silence, which is something of a company M.O. at this point. That isn't good enough for some, and a weekend article titled "Thibodeau-Forman silence speaks volumes" at ESPN Chicago has only helped keep the rumors alive. On Monday, ESPN's Bill Simmons threw another log on the fire after the Memphis Grizzlies went through a front office shakeup:
Hearing that, if the Grizz totally clean house, the Memphis owner will look to trade for Tom Thibodeau + give him an SVG/Pistons-type deal.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) May 19, 2014
PS: Bulls need assets for a run at Kevin Love, an extra 1st round pick would help. They'd hire Fred Hoiberg if Thibs got traded. Stay tuned.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) May 19, 2014
PS: Simmons might be connected enough to know things, but the way he rushed out with this quite sizable leap of faith almost immediately after Jason Levien and Stu Lash were fired in Memphis reeks of a cry to be noticed rather than a credible, if sourced, report.
It would not surprise me if the Grizzlies like Thibodeau, just as it would not surprise me if any other team did. The pesky thing getting in the way here is Thibodeau's contract, and the fact none of these available openings are objectively more desirable than the situation he has in Chicago. The Bulls have their own issues across ownership, the front office and the roster, but that's hardly something new in the NBA.
Look at what's happening in Golden State, New York and Memphis. Rich and powerful men have a tendency to want to do things their own way. It's only natural that everyone won't always be on the exact same page. That's how we get to "strained, fractured partnership(s) descended into permanent disrepair".
We can argue about the viability to trading Thibs for the Lakers' lottery pick or wonder if Grizzlies draft pick (No. 22) would be enough to sweet the pot for Kevin Love, but it misses the overarching point of all this: for the Bulls, keeping things status quo is the easiest path, and thus the one they usually take. Another: Thibodeau is a terrific coach, and injuries to Rose have robbed the Bulls of a chance to compete in the last three playoffs. That's no way to end a promising run in Chicago, and all of the flexibility the front office has touted during this summer only makes what the Bulls have more appealing.
Allow me to dump the honorary K.C. Johnson bucket of cold water here: Thibs isn't going anywhere. Try all you'd like, other NBA teams, but your time would be better served trying to find the next Thibodeau withering away as an assistant elsewhere than going all-out for the one the Bulls already have locked up.