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Chicago Can’t Afford to Sell Off Thibodeau

Rumors have the Los Angeles Lakers attempting to buy Tom Thibodeau from the Chicago Bulls. Should Chicago consider selling?

Joel Brigham profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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First it was the New York Knicks reportedly setting their sights on current Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, but when those rumors died down in favor of new ones featuring Steve Kerr, the next story du jour was that the L.A. Lakers, on the heels of the Mike D’Antoni resignation, would be asking Chicago for permission to speak with one of the league’s most respected head coaches.

So far, Thibodeau or the Bulls haven’t released any official statement saying that no such conversation will happen between the two parties, but let’s not allow ourselves to believe for one minute that Chicago is really going to let Thibodeau walk.

With only a few years of head coaching experience under his belt, Thibodeau is already one of the most respected coaches in the NBA. The 2011 NBA Coach of the Year award was given to him after his first season as the head honcho, and in just his second season manning the Bulls he won his 100th NBA game in only 130 tries—the fastest that any NBA head coach has ever done so.

For two out of the four years he’s coached the Bulls, he’s been without Derrick Rose, yet he’s helped the Bulls earn homecourt advantage in each of those four seasons, including the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference twice.

This season, he lost Rose to injury early in the year and then saw his second-leading scorer, Luol Deng, traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for salary cap relief, yet the Bulls thrived rather than shriveled, and all of that is a testament to what Thibodeau has done for this team.

His mantra for his players, through all the injuries they’ve experienced the last few years, is that they have “more than enough to win” each and every night, and somehow, they usually do. Even when Nate Robinson or D.J. Augustin is leading the team in scoring. Even when the former league MVP is in street clothes. No matter who Chicago plays, they hang in there because Thibodeau has the Bulls playing harder than any other team in the league. They do more with less better than anybody.

And the guys on that roster buy into his system. Whatever disconnect there may be between Thibodeau and the Bulls front office, John Paxson and Gar Forman are very good at finding players with the character and work ethic to buy into what Thibodeau is preaching. While Thibs isn’t necessarily inviting Paxson and Forman over for secret Santa gift exchanges at Christmas time, they do have a respectable and reasonable working relationship that, professionally speaking, is good enough to keep Thibodeau in Chicago.

Both Paxson and Forman have endorsed Thibodeau publicly on radio programs over the course of the last few months, and considering they gave him a pretty massive contract extension that kicked in just a year ago, they seem to be behind him financially, too. At $4.5 million a season, Thibodeau is one of the league’s better-paid coaches, and that’s a contract that runs three more years.

It’s tempting to look at the perceived discord between Thibodeau and the Bulls front office and consider the possibilities of “trading” him to L.A. for draft picks, much like Boston did with Doc Rivers when the Celtics were able to get some draft considerations from the Clippers. However, no draft pick the Lakers could send would come close to doing for the Bulls what Thibodeau does. He’s one of the only coaches in the league worth 8-10 wins over an average replacement, so one or two measly draft picks can’t make up for what he does. Losing him would be almost as catastrophic as another Derrick Rose knee injury.

Chicago made the right call in taking a shot on a former respected assistant that looked ready to run his own team, and he’s best head coach that this franchise has had since Phil Jackson left town in the late ‘90s. He’s not going anywhere, and he shouldn’t.

Think of it this way: In the one full season that Thibodeau had Rose fully healthy, the two helped push the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals. Should Rose come back healthy again, and depending on how free agency and the draft go for them, the 2014-15 season could get Chicago back to where they need to be in terms of contending for a championship on a perennial basis.

That is the ultimate goal, and Thibodeau gives Chicago the best chance of getting there.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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