By: Andrew Karns | May 20, 2015
The Tom Thibodeau chapter of the Chicago Bulls is about to come to an end, that no one should be surprised by. The Fred Hoiberg to the Bulls is the worst kept secret in basketball. Regardless of which side of the fence you stand on, the Thibs-GarPax relationship can no longer go on. It’s time for the Bulls to move on one way or another. Rumor has it that early in the 2014-2015 season, GarPax asked Thibs to add an offensive assistant to his staff to help give a jolt to our offense. They supposedly gave him a list of assistants for him to choose from, and in classic Thibs fashion, he wasn’t having it. Thibs and Gar Foreman have reportedly not talked since. This sounds like a couple who’ve stayed together for the kids but in reality they’re just raising their kids in an awkward and hostile environment. Clearly there’s a massive rift between Thibs and the front office. If the Bulls want to win a title, they need to get the front office paired with a coach who’s willing to pull on the same side of the rope.
The ironic part is that the front office has given Coach Thibodeau a roster full of his hard-working, tough-nosed, defensive minded players that he wants….yet there’s still a rift. So why can’t they get along? I can only speculate why….
- Overworking The Roster: Everyone who follows the Bulls knows what I’m talking about. I don’t think anyone really cares if the Bulls best players play a boatload of minutes, but when you’re up 20 with 5 minutes left, is there really any reason to keep Joakim Noah in the game when he’s got a bone on bone injury to deal with? You can’t take the foot off the gas just a little? It’s all about minutes in context. If you want to play Jimmy Butler 45 minutes against the Cavs in a nailbiter, sure. Playing Jimmy 42 minutes in a 23 point victory against the Sixers in February…. Not acceptable. Thibs reportedly went over the minutes restrictions over 20 times this season with Joakim Noah. Sounds like a big “F-U” to the Bulls’ management. Why else would you do that?
- Bulls Fired Thibs’ Favorite Assistant, Ron Adams: This took place a couple years ago. Nothing ever came out explaining exactly why the Bulls fired him. Thibs and the front office’s relationship was already heated before this happened. This sent it spiraling.
- Lack of offense: Thibs is a clearly a defensive genius but when it comes to offense, he leaves a lot to be desired. Thibs’ coaching style is very simple. He wants to play good defense and hold the ball on offense. You’ll notice the Bulls always hold onto the ball until about 10-12 seconds on the clock and then run their play or start moving the ball. Thibs’ wants to limit the amount of possessions in the game and win with defense. This tactic has proven year after year under Thibs that it works great…in the regular season. Every year the Bulls make the playoffs, they always seem to get bogged down on offense.
- Lack of Adjustments/Playoff Woes: Granted the Bulls have dealt with many injuries under Thibs, but in the Eastern conference especially, the Bulls should’ve had more success in the playoffs. Thibs has a common theme in the playoffs. Win game 1 and then lose the rest. Hasn’t happened every series but always seems to happen against LeBron. Happened in 2011. Happened in 2013. Would’ve happened again this year against the Cavs if Rose hadn’t hit a miracle three in game 3. It seems after game 1, the opposing coaches adjust to the Bulls, and then Thibs has no answer back. Thibs has gotten outcoached in almost every playoff series he’s been in….even by dead-man walking David Blatt. The Cavs went small in this year’s playoff series, and Thibs had no answer. In 2012, granted Rose went down in game 1, but there was no reason the Bulls couldn’t beat out a very pedestrian Sixers team who was the 8th Being the 8th seed in the East is equivalent to barely making the roster of a Junior Varsity Grade School team. Yet, the Bulls lost to them in six games. In 2014, again the Bulls were without Rose, but were heavily favored against the Wizards. The Wizards had descent talent but had very limited playoff experience on their roster and were a 5 seed in the East….not very impressive. Yet, the Wizards smoked the Bulls in five games.
- Coaching Style: In a similar fashion as ex-49er’s coach Jim Harbough, Thibs demands a lot from his players. A few successful ex-Bulls players have commented that they absolutely do not miss Thibs’ practices. There’s only so many times your coach can yell “TRY HARDER!” before the message starts wearing thin. That style works well for a younger team like the Bulls had a five years ago. Now this team is made up of veterans and Thibs isn’t connecting with his players the way it used to, and it shows on the court.
Thibodeau’s shortcomings may be okay to live with if you’re winning championships. No coach is perfect. But when you consistently get whooped in the playoffs year after year, something has to give. Here’s what people need to ask about Thibs: Why does the regular season success never translate to postseason success? Whether we’ve had a healthy Rose or not, we reach the playoffs and all of a sudden we don’t look nearly like the team that we watched all season long. I attribute that to Thibs. During the regular season, teams don’t have a chance to really prepare for every team that comes through. In the playoffs though, teams get an extensive look at you. They know your every move, every tendency, every set. That showed in both the Milwaukee series and the Cavs series this year. After the Bulls lost a heartbreaker in game 4 against the Bucks this year (on a last second Rose lapse on defense), Dudley of the Bucks came on air and explained that Coach Jason Kidd told them the exact defense the Bulls would be in, and the exact way to beat it. Rose obviously is first to blame here in this instance, but that doesn’t bode well for you when your opponent’s coach is coaching circles around you.
Thibs’ lineup choices have been much maligned, and deservedly so. Thibs always has one solution for every problem throughout every game: More Defense. No matter what the matchups, Thibs will always go with his defensive guys that he trusts the most. There’s no other reason that Noah and Hinrich played so much during these playoffs. When the Bulls were on their last stand versus the Cavs in game 6, Thibs was in desperate need of offense. The Bulls had scored 13 points in the second quarter, and then 16 in the third quarter. So who did Thibs turn to in order to save their season? Mr. I can’t jump an inch off the ground Noah, and the Craptain himself Kirk Hinrich. Thibs honestly thought he was going to hold the Cavs to 13 or so points in that last quarter which was insane to think since the Cavs had spent all series long scoring at will, regardless of the lineup Thibs put out there. Thibs’ baffling lineup choices isn’t a new thing. Remember when Kyle Korver played behind a bum like Keith Bogans and the corpse of Rip Hamilton? Korver is now an all star with Atlanta. Korver has never been a great defensive player, and that’s the exact reason and only reason he didn’t play as much for the Bulls. Thibs is an all-defensive all the time kind of coach.
You’d think that by year 5 Thibs would have evolved by now, but that hasn’t happened at all. Everyone knows Thibs can be a stubborn coach, but his unwillingness to evolve offensively has been his un-doing. Much like the Lovie Smith era with the Bears, Thibs has done a solid job overall. In order to win a championship though, your coach’s limitations can’t be working against you. Lovie and Thibs both had no clue what they were doing on the offensive end. It’s one thing if the coach just isn’t helping in that area, but some of Thibs’ decisions end up crippling the offense. You can’t expect to win anything significant that way. Like Lovie, Thibs will probably suffer the same fate (or get traded away). The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but that doesn’t mean you stick with the same guy who hasn’t gotten it done. It was the right call for the Bears to move on from Lovie, it was NOT the right call to hire Marc Trestman. But if the Bears hired Bruce Arians (which they reportedly almost did) they would’ve looked like geniuses. So letting Lovie go was the right move, not hiring Arians was where they went wrong. If Hoiberg comes to Chicago to coach the Bulls, will he be Marc Trestman or Bruce Arians? As long as he isn’t Thibs, it’s a step in the right direction.