During the Bulls January slide, the always-looming discussion of Tom Thibodeau's relationship with management has bubbled back up to the surface. Thus far it's been pretty exclusively either 'fringe media', an oft-vocal Thibs supporter, or Joe Cowley braying on virtual street corners wishing he had a blog*, but now we have something legitimate from KC Johnson of the Tribune (via).
despite last week's team meeting instead of a practice, Thibodeau isn't going to change, even while the speculation about his long-term future with the Bulls continues. Despite the two seasons left on the four-year extension Thibodeau took several months to sign in the 2012-13 season, several league sources believe Thibodeau's relationship with management is beyond repair.
And while there are no plans to replace Thibodeau during the season, a mutual parting of the ways after this season wouldn't surprise many league personnel familiar with the deteriorating dynamic.
[*The Sun-Times actually posted a column of his where he makes his case for Thibs, but there's no reporting in it.]
And, yes: it's about the minutes. Thibs has had an issue with the Org.'s new-found commitment to in-season workload management all season, and before the Warriors game Thibs once again went in on the concept of a minutes police.
"The only way you can improve execution and timing is really through repetition," Thibodeau said. "The only way you get repetition is you have to practice. ... There's the school of thought that less minutes are better. There's also the school of thought that when you do less, you also become deconditioned."
There was also the usual references to Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan...even stuff about pitch counts in baseball.
And then after the big win in Golden State, there was more:
"The more you practice, the better you practice, the better you're going to play," Thibodeau said after the stirring victory. "That's time-tested, age-old, however else you want to describe it. That's what you gotta do if you want to win."
You could also describe it as outdated and antiquated!
Even if the Bulls appear to be steering out of their midseason swoon, there is undoubtedly still the concern that this team will be burnt out before the playoffs, yet again. Jimmy Butler's numbers have slid, correlating with a league-high workload. Pau Gasol sometimes looks every bit of his 34 years and I thought he was going to keel over after playing yet another entire-quarter on Tuesday. Joakim Noah looked very good in that game, but I wonder if management was kind of cringing his minutes shot up over 40 already again. A lot of the developmental bench pieces only seem to get time when there's an injury.
Thibodeau definitely has a difficult job. He gets his teams playing better later in the year because he works them so diligently, and he gets victories in part because he coaches every game to win (funny to imagine what we'd hear if they lost that Warriors game...). If the 'management' goes too far the other way, maybe this team feels better physically but hasn't developed the habits necessary for a deep playoff run.
But we all cheered when Bulls management said they were committed to guiding player maintenance away from the era of 'Fred Cleared Him'. Rose is now without restrictions that looked to have worked, and the idea of not playing Gasol for entire quarters or Butler for entire games (in blowouts, too) isn't totally insane. The idea that Thibodeau still feels they are fundamentally wrong is concerning, and would show that his stubbornness really is something that's tough to reconcile. It doesn't help the relationship that the Org. themselves is full of thin-skinned weirdos, but they're on the correct side of this particular argument.
Whether that holds true, and whether Thibodeau's job security remains intact, is all about the playoffs. We've seen rumors in the past where other teams have looked to poach Thibs away from the Bulls, and if this team has an early exit (which could be due to being run down, or not developing those winning habits...again, it's a tough job) maybe this offseason the Org. doesn't stand in his way to leave.