Before I begin, I want to provide a little perspective:
I’m not someone who believes that the reaction to every disappointment in sports is a coaching change. I think the coach gets too much credit in good times and way too much blame in bad times.
With that said, I think it’s time for Bulls management to seriously consider whether Tom Thibodeau is the best person to coach the championship-caliber team they hope to be over the next few years. If there are any doubts, now would be the time to make a change.
I know, it sounds crazy to even bring up the subject considering the way the Bulls overachieved during the regular season.
Thibodeau finished third in the voting for the NBA’s coach of the year award, behind Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs and Jeff Hornacek of the Phoenix Suns. After leading the Bulls to 48 regular-season wins despite losing Derrick Rose and Luol Deng during the season, Thibodeau deserved every vote he received.
But keep in mind: it’s a regular-season award, and that’s appropriate because I have the feeling that Thibodeau may be a regular-season coach who’s not nearly as effective in the postseason. He's capable of pushing a team to get the most out of it in the regular season, but he has yet to impress me with his coaching in the playoffs.
In essence, I'm wondering whether he's the Marty Schottenheimer of the NBA, a coach whose teams have great success in the regular season and then bow out in the postseason sooner than expected.
And no, I’m not saying this only because the Bulls lost to the Washington Wizards in five games in the first round of the playoffs. It’s the way the Bulls lost and the way Thibodeau reacted to adversity – both on and off the court – that disturbs me.
The series with the Wizards basically was decided in the first two games at the United Center when he stubbornly refused to alter his usual rotation in both fourth quarters and the Bulls ended up blowing late leads in both games.
With the Bulls in desperate need of scoring, Mike Dunleavy remained on the bench and Jimmy Butler and Kirk Hinrich stayed on the court bricking shots from a variety of areas on the court.
I recognize the important of defense, but sometimes offense is just as important because you do need to out score the other team to win.
Because you face the same opponent repeatedly, the playoffs are all about adjustments, both game-to-game and in-game. It's different than the regular season when a clever game plan and an intense effort is enough to win most nights.
Maybe the Bulls would have advanced if Joakim Noah was healthy and not bothered by a knee injury, but injuries are apart of the game and coaches must adjust on the fly.
Another reason I think executive vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman should seriously consider a change is the way Thibodeau now carries himself off the court – particularly in his dealings with the media.
I was the Bulls beat writer for the Sun-Times during his first season as a head coach. He was serious, focused and completely consumed by basketball. But he also was somewhat personable and approachable.
I didn’t cover the Bulls during his second and third seasons, and I was stunned when I returned this season to discover the tension between Thibodeau and the reporters (or at least some of the reporters) covering the team on a daily basis.
Every day in every sport, coaches and managers have their moves and strategy questioned by reporters who generally have a limited knowledge of the subject and usually are reacting to whether or not a move was successful – not if it was the right decision at the time.
I understand why that is frustrating, but it’s also part of the job and a major reason why coaches/managers have seven-figure salaries instead of six-figure salaries.
But after Game 2 of the Wizards series, Thibodeau was heard muttering “unbelievable” under his breath in the interview room following a question from one of the beat writers.
As someone who covered the Bulls during the second three-peat, I know that the scrutiny will be more intense and the questioning much tougher once you become a championship-caliber team.
I also believe that Thibodeau is the kind of coach who can keep a team’s attention for a period of time because of his intensity, but eventually the players will grow tired of the act and tune him out.
I know firing Thibodeau would be extremely unpopular and a tough decision for Paxson and Forman to make at this time. Still, it’s something they at least have to explore to make sure they have the right coach in place. In the long run, that assessment will be as important to their championship aspirations as bringing in another scorer this summer.
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The following video takes you behind the scenes with Tom Thibodeau:
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