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NBA AM: Are The Bulls Facing The Inevitable?

Tom Thibodeau is arguably the most successful Bulls coach since Phil Jackson, and he may be out when the season ends… The Cavaliers don’t have a rift, they have an answer…

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Facing The Inevitable: As the clock on the Chicago Bulls season continues to tick down, the noise surrounding their head coach continues to ramp up. One of the most over-analyzed situations in coaching is that of head coach Tom Thibodeau and his front office in Chicago. The rift between the two sides has been well chronicled and a divorce seems all but imminent; the question becomes “when” the two will part ways, not “if.”

Thibodeau has two years remaining on his contract, which makes an outright firing somewhat unrealistic, especially with the number of would-be suitors for his coaching services. The Orlando Magic are said to be in a holding pattern, waiting on the outcome of Thibodeau’s situation. Sources close to the situation say not only would the Magic give the Bulls compensation (likely a second-round pick or two) for the chance to get at Thibodeau, sources also said the Magic would meet the expected $7-8 million per year coaching salary Thibodeau likely commands in his next deal.

The Magic are not the only team keeping an eye on the Thibodeau situation. The Denver Nuggets and potentially the New Orleans Pelicans, if they make a change, are said to have Thibodeau high on their wish list.

Current Pelicans head coach Monty Williams remains in limbo as does general manager Dell Demps. The Pelicans have gone to great lengths to deny that they have had lengthy or substantive conversations with former Detroit Pistons executive Joe Dumars.

However, it’s been known in NBA circles for some time that Dumars would be the likely heir apparent to the basketball operations job in New Orleans, likely taking over as President of Basketball Operations, a job currently being done by New Orleans Saints executive Mickey Loomis. It seems if the Pelicans can get Thibodeau, Dumars might be part of a leadership overhaul too.

The Bulls have long been linked Iowa head coach Fred Hoiberg. However, sources near that situation say Hoiberg, who’s been dealing with heart related issues and had another heart procedure last month, may not be looking to jump to the NBA and the stress level associated with it.

If the Bulls do part ways with Thibodeau, it’s unclear who they would target as his replacement. Sources peg Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry as a serious front runner.

While most of the discussion surrounding Thibodeau’s future in Chicago is media driven, the Bulls have tried to deny reports of a massive rift between their coach and front office, frequently saying reports are untrue or massively overblown.

The Bulls have a big offseason ahead of them, not only in resolving their coaching situation but that of pending free-agent Jimmy Butler. Sources close to Butler say while he is loyal and appreciative of the chance and trust Thibodeau has given him, his free-agent decision won’t be tied to the head coach.

While Butler won’t be making a decision based on the head coach, there is a sense that a number of the Bulls players would have a significant problem with Thibodeau being ousted, namely franchise cornerstone Derrick Rose.

Thibodeau and Rose have become close, with the head coach being one of Rose’s biggest supporters while he rehabbed for his return from consecutive knee surgeries. Sources close to the situation say Rose has voiced his concern about how Thibodeau’s situation is being handled, but it’s unclear if Rose has enough clout in the organization to stave off what could be the inevitable.

There seems to be little doubt that Thibodeau would be out of a job for long, as it’s believed he’s the frontrunner for the two open positions in Denver and Orlando and, if reports are true, he could be the frontrunner to replace Monty Williams in New Orleans. With so many teams willing to take on Thibodeau, it seems the Bulls can avoid paying out the balance of Thibodeau’s contract and get an asset or two in return. While that might not seem favorable to Bulls players and some of their fans, it seems like a reasonable answer to the problem in Chicago no one wants to really talk about.

Much Ado About Nothing: The problem with living in a fishbowl is everything you do can be seen and over-analyzed, and such is the life of Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James.

With Game 4 on the line, James waved off his teammates opting to take a corner shot, knocking down a buzzer beater to even the series. After the game, James revealed that the play in the huddle was for someone else and this started a firestorm suggesting that James and head coach David Blatt were not on the same page.

The problem with that narrative is that some time ago, Blatt and the Cavaliers made changes not only to the roster but to the responsibilities of each player. A big part of Cleveland’s turnaround was the decision to put the ball in LeBron’s hands as well as allowing him to freelance and make plays on the fly.

For most of the last four months James has been making his own decisions on the court. This is nothing new; in fact, it’s been quite common for LeBron to see something on the floor and make a judgment call. This is something the staff in Cleveland has been comfortable with and they have had a lot of success. So it’s no surprise that with the game on the line, James did as he’s done 100 times this season: called his own number. This wasn’t a rift, this wasn’t blowing off the play – this was business as usual for the Cavaliers.

As with most things with Cleveland this year, everything said and done is being over-analyzed with an eye toward a rift or a problem. It’s a much better story to say LeBron and his head coach are not on the same page than admitting this has been operational procedure for most of the season.

Now some might say this is another reason Blatt may be under prepared for the situation he finds himself in, but those inside the locker room like the fact their coach trusts them in the moment, especially with the game on the line. There’s no question that Blatt has had a tremendous learning curve, but in an industry where control is overused and over asserted, Blatt trusting his players, especially his best player, in the moment is something veteran coaches do all the time.

There’s little doubt that everything the Cavaliers do will be put under the microscope, but the fact that LeBron made a game-winning shot when his team needed him the most isn’t part of a problem. It’s part of the Cavaliers solution.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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