- Tom Thibodeau was not only fired as Bulls coach yesterday, but sent packing with a 'don't let the door hit ya...' note from Chairman 'dorf. As much as the sour end of the season - maybe the first legitimate playoff failure of Thibs, though he's been pinned for others - made this parting inevitable, the manner in which it was done was so Bulls. And thus it was sort of shitty, as Ricky pointed out here. Kelly Dwyer also had fine words on the history of dysfunction (that's the 'culture' legacy, in actuality) the Bulls have fostered, even agreeing that the time was now for a new coach.
The problem with the content and tone of the release is that it underscores that this may have been as much of a personal problem as a professional one, and that kind of blows. This has always been an organization that has valued loyalty over performance, and the idea that Thibodeau's end comes because he failed to defer appropriately to his bosses moreso than basketball reasons is pretty disconcerting. Adrian Wojnarowski added his report to several saying that Gar Paxdorf just didn't like how much praise Thibs got for the Bulls success, and we've read elsewhere that Jeff Van Gundy's comments towards the organization may have been the final straw when it came to Reinsdorf supporting Thibodeau.
There are other reasons to want a new coach, and yes among them is having a coach who the front office can partner with when it comes to decision-making. But for all of Reinsdorf's corporate HR-jargon (or as Dan Bernstein would call it, erotic fiction) about department-head responsibilities and communication, this past season was clearly doomed. The front office had followed up their 2013 of messing with Thibodeau's staff with then imposing minutes restrictions and, yes, undermining the coach along the way this past season. I realize it was probably an impossibility given the money owed, but they really should've fired Thibs last year if the relationship got this bad, instead just using the seasons failures to build cover for their own jobs.
To paint a clear dichotomy, though both sides had 'issues' with the other, it reads like Thibodeau's issue was the team not supporting him and letting players go for nothing. Management's issue was lack of "free and open interdepartmental discussion".
- As much as Reinsdorf admonished the idea of letting things get to the media, they seemingly had no issue leaking their own info that the players were starting to feel at the end of their rope with Thibs themselves. I don't doubt that there's some discontentment, probably more than ever, between the Bulls players and Thibodeau, as five years is a long time for any coach on any team. But it's pretty comical to think put yourself in these player exit meetings, where the guys asking the questions sign the players checks, aren't going anywhere, and have been whispering to you all year that they're sick of the coach. And even if the players liked Thibs as a coach, why would they be ok with the organizational dysfunction with him continuing? Of course they'd want a change!
- It's a poorly-kept secret, from Woj to KC Johnson, that Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg is the Bulls only plan of succession. It's a logical response to how the Bulls-Thibs relationship ended: replace the hard-ass with the players' guy, and the difficult personality with the organizational stooge. There's reason to believe Hoiberg will run a more fast-paced, free-flowing offense, but despite his ties to the Bulls and Timberwolves (and it looks like Flip Saunders would rather stay and coach there instead of bringing in Hoiberg) is still a college coach making the leap to the pros, which has for a while been pretty disastrous. There is a trend of rookie coaches doing quite well, including the two current Finals entrants. However, the Cavs are certainly a unique situation, and on the Warriors comparison: Mark Jackson is not on the level of coach as Thibs, and Steve Kerr both had more NBA experience and cachet than Hoiberg will coming in, plus a top-notch staff of assistants.
Though Thibs had genuine faults, and his regular season record was a bit puffed up because of them (gunning for immediate wins at the expense of season-long achievement), he's objectively a great coach and one of the tops in the league. Rob Mahoney at SI put it well: if Thibs was wearing down on players physically and otherwise, it needs to be mentioned that the diligence and precision is what made his teams better. Can Hoiberg come in and immediately get to that level?
- As for Thibodeau's future, there's no rumors yet as to what he'll do. He's going to get paid $9m regardless, and that money is all coming from the Bulls if he doesn't have a coaching job next season. It'd be funny to think of Thibodeau taking short money now from his new team in a way to screw over his old employer...but I just can't see that happening.
- The underlying bummer with how this deed was done, with the Chairman's emphasis on the Bulls culture, is that we've seen this happen before with different coaches but the same management team. As nemesis Jeff Van Gundy has pointed out, it's been from Phil Jackson to Ron Adams to yesterday in a fairly public and obvious fashion. But even on less-publicized manner, this has been the 'culture' of the Bulls: Bulls were leaking players' discontent with Vinny Del Negro when he was axed. Reinsdorf was putting his foot in his mouth about the Skiles firing. Paxson wanted to hire different assistants for Skiles. VDN was hired in part because he was in favor of larger rotations and playing younger players. And Doug Collins just popping up every couple years. Jon Greenberg made this point on Thursday: it was Thibodeau who was the culture-changer, elevating this team into contention.
You could say the Bulls need to get this hire right, but how is this one actually different than the others? For one thing, I'm not even sure the Bulls view this as a management failure, given their complete lack of contrition and the fact that they did have Thibs coach the team for 5 seasons, an eternity in this league. And overall, it apparently matters less how the coach excels rather than how they behave.
That's the final one of these types of weekly posts, FYI.