Full disclosure: At the turn of the century, I was attending a self-improvement clinic (that I helped originate in the mid 1980s), I happened to be sitting next to Tom Thibodeau who was there because he was Jeff Van Gundy’s assistant with the New York Knicks. Jeff had been coming to the clinic since he was a graduate assistant with Rick Pitino at Providence. Due to the proximity (and the fact we went for two days, ordering food in to make the most efficient use of our time, Thibs and I chatted it up quite a bit. At the time I was working at Fresno State for Jerry Tarkanian who had hired Thibs during his short stay as head coach of the San Antonio Spurs. We are by no means “boys” but we did get to rekindle our friendship when I saw him at Hall of Fame ceremonies a couple years ago when Tark got inducted. I am definitely biased.
Let’s set the stage: 1993 NBA Finals, Game 6 in Phoenix, Bulls up on the Suns 3-2 in games but down 98-96 with time running out, John Paxson makes a (wide open) three-pointer with 3 seconds to go, allowing the Bulls to win their third straight NBA Championship and second three-peat in the ’90s.
Question #1: What is the shelf life of that shot in terms of Paxson’s golden boy status?
Question #2 Does Gar Forman have incriminating pictures of Jerry Reinsdorf?
In a game of “stare down,” the Bulls blinked first. Their intention was to either get compensation for their coach (with whom they haven’t spoken to for several months) or, because they badmouthed him so bad, no team was willing to give up a draft pick for a guy they knew was going to be fired anyway, let Thibodeau twist in the wind until all the open jobs were filled and, then, fire him. Even though, if he were to be hired by another team, there would be “offset” money, meaning whatever dough he was getting paid by his new employer, was money they could subtract from the considerable (uh, $9 million) they owed him. If that second option sounds childish, . . . you ain’t heard nothing yet.
Bulls’ management talks of the “culture” but I wonder if that culture wouldn’t be in Portland if . . . well, everybody knows about the 1984 NBA draft. What people, especially Jerry Reinsdorf, need to do is get into “today.” Chicago is a destination city for a coach – in terms of the market, fan base and good place to raise a family (at least everybody would learn how to survive those nasty winters). It’s just that it hasn’t been a destination job since . . . Phil left. Not only do Frick & Frack (Paxson & Forman, take your pick as to which is which) fire coaches, every time time they do, it’s nasty to the point of ugly.
Scott Skiles has a good name in coaching circles and might be back in the league as a head man next season. They pink-slipped him. Did he deserve to go? Hey, it’s the NBA – you get fired for not making the playoffs, making the playoffs but losing earlier than the front office thinks you should, not to mention,with everybody owning a camera, one slip up in your personal life (although that last one might be overlooked if you won it all).
Vinny Del Negro got the Clippers job and won 56 games in his final year (including 17 straight). Yet, F&F, allegedly, got rid of Del Negro because he played Joakim Noah more minutes than he was allowed – by F&F. They consulted with the doctors and asked how many minutes Noah should play. The only reason Del Negro played him more is because the game went overtime. It’s a Catch 22 – don’t play him and lose (do that enough and you’re canned) or play him to try to win and piss off the two guys who are power hungry.
How bad are they? They placed time limits on player this year and were upset that Thibodeau played guys too much. What is this pee wee hoops – everybody gets to start at least once and all the players get to play at least once each quarter? Hire your guy and let him coach. Apparently, in both cases, Reinsdorf overruled whichever coach F&F wanted. So they would leak information to undermine the coach (and the franchise). In the Del Negro case, Paxson threw a temper tantrum and began kicking the desk (does someone need a time out, Johnny?) There have been rumors that Paxson likes adult beverages . . . more than is healthy and that they may affect his behavior. Whether or not that’s true may or may not be discovered.
Steve DelVecchio’s story went as far to say, “The relationship between Tom Thibodeau and the Chicago Bulls front office is not functional…If the Bulls tried to screw Thibodeau in a childish manner, they’d also be taking themselves out of the running for any candidates that the New Orleans Pelicans, Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets are considering.” That’s called “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” What’s come out is that Thibs is difficult to get along with. Yet, when asked how, it always comes back to F&F telling him they want the team coached. Hey. hire a guy and let him work. You don;t like the results, then fire him. When Mark Jackson had that success with Golden State but couldn’t get along with the higher ups, they let him go. And look what happened. Maybe that plan works. It did for the Warriors. It hasn’t for the Bulls.
ESPN’s Marc Stein tweeted, “More and more you hear Thibs’ admirers around NBA say they fear Bulls (were) determined to let all three open jobs get filled and then let Thibs go.” Would they consider that a “win?” Beyond childish.
It sems as tough F&F have near autonomous power. They were overrules by Reinsdorf, who’s known as the biggest White Sox fan in the stadium and among the biggest fans of the Bulls. Regarding Thibs’ hiring, Joe Cowley, of the Chicago Sun Times wrote, “The Chicago Bulls’ front office reportedly attempted to have Tom Thibodeau hire an offensive-minded assistant coach. The coach pushed to Thibodeau was Doug Collins,. . . (whom they) nearly hired as a head coach again in 2008.” If only. Then, they there was their win-win. If the Bulls won, Doug could snatch the credit; if they lost, they could fire Thibs and hire Doug. Apparently, owner Reinsdorf wanted Vinny Del Negro. So, is this how it works – Pax and Gar don’t get to pick the coach but they can fire him? Because he doesn’t coach the team and use the players the way they think he should?
Now they want Fred Hoiberg, who’s done a great job at Iowa State but has zero NBA experience and is coming off open heart surgery. Do they want him that badly? Even if the rumor is Hoiberg wants to coach in the NBA, didn’t they already hire a Iowa State coach (Tim Floyd) whose claim to fame is . . . he hired Gar Forman?
Sportswriter Darrell Horowitz wrote a scathing article, ripping Thibs. He was pretty much the Lone Ranger within his profession. Wonder what his relationship to F&F is? He wrote things an insider would know (assuming what he wrote is fact. What Thibs has going for him is the president (of the United States, not the Bulls – which happens to be Reinsdorf’s son – he probably nailed the interview) came out in support of him. Darell Horowitz (and F&F) are against him. And got Reinsdorf to belittle Thibs. Until then, people felt Jerry was a Thibs’ supporter – and probably was.
A claim can be made that every one of the Bulls’ championships begin and end with Michael Jordan. While MJ didn’t win those titles all by himself, the Bulls never won one without him. They three-peated, he left and they three-peated when he came back. None without him. Case closed.
Once again, to end the Bulls’ dysfunction, the answer is to have John Paxson and Gar Forman coach the damn team. Then maybe they’d fire themselves and let adults take over. After all, as Jeff Van Gundy said (in support of his man, Thibs):
“These are the same two guys who drafted Tyrus Thomas ahead of LaMarcus Aldridge.”