In an Adrian Wojnarowski column filed after Chicago’s Game 1 win in Cleveland, the Yahoo! reporter says management still “can’t wait to rid itself” of Thibodeau. Furthermore, Wojnarowski cited some fairly disturbing examples of the lengths to which the relationship between the coaching staff and front office has been broken.
In one such case, an assistant coach actually feared his office had been bugged. The report:
For everything Rose has done to evolve, it will forever be a failure of management, and, yes, Thibodeau too, that they couldn’t grow themselves. They became more entrenched, more embittered, more toxic. When a visiting scout visited the Bulls practice facility in the past year or so, he had the opportunity to watch the awkward, strange interplay between Bulls general manager Gar Forman and Thibodeau. Eventually, the man walked into the office of an assistant coach and asked: “What the hell is the deal here?”
Before answering, the coach turned his fan on full blast. For the visitor, everything was becoming even stranger. He gave the assistant a befuddled look, as though to say, “What are you doing?”
“I’m not taking any chances,” the coach said, refusing to risk the possibility of those walls being bugged.
Wojnarowski also reports that Chicago management has tried to get Derrick Rose to side with them in the ongoing dispute, but Rose wouldn’t do it.
When management has tried sidling to Rose, he’s never sold out Thibodeau. When people have tried to blame Thibodeau for playing a part in Rose’s rash of injuries, Rose has never blinked. In a lot of ways, the Bulls-Thibodeau partnership survived because of Rose. Even now, his stature won’t stop the inevitable parting this spring.
And when everyone else in Chicago wanted Rose back on the floor sooner than later with those knee injuries, Thibodeau never wavered with him. When someone in the organization leaked that the team doctor had cleared Rose to return, make no mistake: Rose knew it wasn’t his coach.
The most fascinating aspect is that the Bulls keep winning in spite of all the “noise,” as Thibodeau put it. Wojnarowski says the parting between the Bulls and Thibodeau is inevitable after this season concludes, with the Orlando Magic waiting in the wings as a potential suitor for the embattled coach. Our publisher, Chris Sheridan, was spot on in early January when he said Thibodeau was on the coaching hot seat — a report that was largely ignored by the Chicago media.
That said, what happens if the Bulls make the Finals? It’s not an unfathomable concept at all. Rose is increasingly playing elite basketball again. Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah offer a star-studded supporting cast. And after losing Game 1, the Kevin Love-less Cavaliers would have to beat the Bulls four times in six games to eliminate them, including at least once in Chicago. That won’t be easy. And if the Bulls beat Cleveland, neither of Atlanta or Washington in the Eastern Conference Finals would appear especially daunting. It wouldn’t be easy, of course, but the Bulls would seem to have a realistic shot.
If all that happens and the Bulls make the NBA Finals for the first time since Michael Jordan took them there in 1998, could general manager Gar Forman and other Chicago executives really look fans in the eye and immediately ditch the head coach and his staff afterward?
With the relationship so toxic that an assistant feared his office had been bugged, the Bulls might still do it, regardless. But it would be fascinating to watch unfold.
SPURS COULD LOOK TO TRADE TIAGO SPLITTER TO CREATE CAP SPACE
Splitter, now 30 years old, averaged 8.2 points and 4.8 rebounds in 20 minutes per game with the Spurs this season, doing it all with high-efficiency marks including 56% from the field, 75% from the free-throw line and a PER of 19.0. He has two years left on his current deal at $8.5 and $8.25 million, respectively, and that’s not a bad figure for a capable big man — especially with the salary cap set to rise significantly after the 2015-16 season.
But Splitter was largely ineffective in the playoffs while dealing with a calf injury, arguably one reason the Spurs were eliminated by the Clippers in the first round. As such, the Spurs know they may need a major move this summer to get back among the West’s elite, and ditching Splitter could prove necessary. Details from Stein:
The working assumption nonetheless persists that the Spurs, with maestro executive R.C. Buford as their offseason point man, will manufacture at least $20 million in salary-cap space this summer to go after Aldridge — or Memphis’ Marc Gasol — even if Leonard is maxed and Duncan returns.
One scenario on the personnel grapevine gaining steam is the notion that the Spurs could elect to explore the possibility of dealing away Tiago Splitter to create more financial flexibility. Splitter has two years left on his contract valued at just under $17 million and is quietly regarded as a key contributor in San Antonio given how well he fits as a frontcourt sidekick next to Duncan. But if you’re the Spurs — and if the increasingly loud rumbles about Aldridge having San Antonio as the preferred destination atop his wish list prove true — examining Splitter’s trade market might suddenly become unavoidable.
The good news for the Spurs is that most of the prime free agents this summer are big men, with one of them a Texas native (Aldridge). Should they land one of them and convince Tim Duncan to play at least another year, they’d already have two starting bigs — thus inherently limiting Splitter’s role and importance. As a result, a trade may well be the best and most likely outcome for both parties.
OTHER NEWS FROM AROUND THE LEAGUE
Former Kentucky big man and current NBA Draft prospect Willie Cauley-Stein has legally changed his middle name to Trill.
The seven-foot, 240-pound center is gearing up for June’s draft, when he’s expected to be a lottery pick. Kentucky.com has the story:
Former University of Kentucky basketball star Willie Cauley-Stein’s hyphenated last name is official now, as is a change in his middle name.
Cauley-Stein, 21, was born Willie Durmond Cauley Jr. He filed a name-change order Friday with the Probate Division of the Fayette District Court to legally change his name to Willie Trill Cauley-Stein.
“I want to include my mother’s last name,” was Cauley-Stein’s reason for the change.
Cauley-Stein’s mother, Marlene Stein, said her son decided to change his middle name since he was already there to change his last name.
Trill is the “nickname his ‘boys’ call him,” Stein said.
Jay Bilas will undoubtedly enjoy narrating this on ESPN‘s draft telecast.
Speaking of the June 25 draft, it’ll be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for a third consecutive year, reports Tim Bontemps of the New York Post.
That represents the fifth straight season the draft will be held at the Nets’ arena, following two drafts at the Prudential Center in Newark in 2011 and 2012.
From 2001 to 2010, the draft was annually held at Madison Square Garden, the home of the Knicks. But with the new, state-of-the-art Barclays Center opening and Madison Square Garden undergoing renovations, the Nets have grabbed hold of the annual event — and don’t seem to plan on letting go anytime soon.
Even though the Nets will again host the draft, the Knicks will be the bigger story. They’re already guaranteed a top-five pick in this draft and have the second-best chance to claim the No. 1 overall spot via the NBA draft lottery, which will be held in Times Square on May 19.
Ben DuBose is a veteran sports reporter who has followed the Houston Rockets and the NBA since Hakeem Olajuwon was Akeem Olajuwon. He writes for both SheridanHoops and ClutchFans, an independent Rockets blog. You can follow him on Twitter.