I told you yesterday about mutterings I have heard around the league that Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has lost his locker room. Then last night, Derrick Rose poured jet fuel on the fire with some of the strongest comments he has made as a professional, including “we are not on the same page.” Rose rarely if ever uses expletives, but he used them Monday night after the Bulls got crushed by the Cavs, 108-94.
A source close to the Bulls tells SheridanHoops that eating the remaining money (roughly $11 million) and years (two after this season) on Thibodeau’s contract will not be a concern to management or ownership if they decide to fire him.
The feeling among some players in the locker room is that Thibodeau is simply too hardcore, too much of an oddball personality, and runs his best players into the ground both in practices and games.
Check out what K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune tweeted this morning:
Bulls did have Sunday off. But players talked about first 2-day break since Dec. 21 as chance to recover. Instead, Thibodeau calls practice.
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 20, 2015
Thibodeau has had the support of ownership, grudgingly at times, because he led the Bulls to the playoffs each of the past two seasons despite the absence of Rose both years. There is no questioning his basketball acumen or dedication to his craft. But a head coach cannot impose his own gym rat mentality on a roster of players loaded with easygoing guys. from free spirit Joakim Noah to wily veteran Pau Gasol to smarter-than-you-may-realize Rose. Even Jimmy Butler, who is playing for his max contract, has seen his production drop from 21.7 ppg in November and December to 17.0 (on .403 shooting) in January.
Here is a little historical background on Thibodeau, who has coached under one of the most hardcore guys out there, Jeff Van Gundy, and one of the smoothest and most player-friendly, Doc Rivers.
Van Gundy was an us vs. them guy, a trait he inherited from his one-time mentor, Pat Riley. “Us vs. them” was a very closed society in the Van Gundy years when he coached the Knicks, with the coach often telling the team that the only people who mattered in an organization were the 15 guys in the locker room, along with the coaching staff. Management, the media, opposing teams — they were all lumped together as “them.”
So in a case like this one, if Thibodeau has lost his locker room, he should not expect a ton of support from management. People close to the organization have told me that relations between Thibodeau and the front office have improved in the two years since assistant coach Ron Adams was let go against Thibodeau’s wishes, but I have heard enough anecdotes from people close to the team to realize that Thibodeau still views Bulls management with a jaundiced eye. And some have told me that team president John Paxson remains lukewarm at best regarding Thibs.
Just my opinion, but Thibodeau should be emulating Rivers more than he is emulating Van Gundy.
So you can be damn sure that Thibodeau’s job will be on the line as the Bulls, losers of four of their last five, begin a brutal stretch that includes games against the Spurs, Mavericks, Warriors and Suns before the end of January. The pre-All Star break schedule concludes with a home game against the Cavaliers — but it should be noted that Chicago does not exactly enjoy a home court advantage. They are 12-10 at home and 15-6 on the road.
More on Thibodeau and the Bulls in this interview with CineSport’s Noah Coslov.
Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-of-chief of SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.