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NBA PM: Thibodeau, Bulls Front Office Clashing Again

Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls’ front office are clashing again and a breakup could come this summer.

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Tension in Chicago: The Chicago Bulls currently stand at 30-17 overall, in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and have enough talent overall to justify championship expectations. Yet, according to Bulls beat writers, tension has never been higher between the Bulls’ front office of Gar Forman and Jim Paxson and head coach Tom Thibodeau. This is far from the first time the two parties have clashed – whether it be over members of Thibodeau’s coaching staff, personnel moves he wasn’t consulted on or the heavy workload he puts on his star players, they have been at odds for years. They’ve found a way to make it work and stay civil, thanks largely in part to Thibodeau’s success. If there was ever a moment in the last two years where Paxson and Forman could have parted ways with Thibodeau without suffering massive public disapproval and a potential revolt in the locker room, they probably would have pounced. But, now according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, a breakup that has always seemed inevitable could occur this offseason. An in-season firing, even with the team’s recent struggles, is out of the question according to Johnson, but don’t expect Thibodeau to do anything differently as his seat heats up.

“If you coach in this league, it’s part of the territory,” Thibodeau said to Sam Amick of USA Today in an exclusive Q&A session. “They’re going to criticize you for something. You have to stand by what you believe in, and I don’t believe that we lost in the playoffs (last season) because we were out of gas. If you look at what we’ve done the second half of the season (in the past), we’ve always done extremely well the second half of the season. Now you get to the playoffs, and when you’re down a Derrick Rose and you’re down a Luol Deng and you’re down a Joakim Noah, now it’s different. Once you get to the playoffs, now it becomes more equal talent. Maybe we lost because we were shorthanded. That’s the way I look at it.

“Our team has overcome a lot of obstacles. When you lose a Derrick Rose and a Joakim Noah and a Luol Deng, and you still manage to get into the playoffs, I thought it was terrific accomplishment for our team. One year (2013), we advanced to the second round short-handed. When we got there, Luol Deng was out with a spinal tap, Kirk (Hinrich) was out with a calf injury, Derrick was gone, Joakim had plantar (fasciitis), and we still managed to win a round and then last year won 48 games (in the regular season). So I’m not apologizing for any of that. You have to believe — to me, the only way a team can improve is you have to be sharp. The way you execute in this league is through repetition, and that’s both offensively and defensively. You’re not going to rest your way to success.”

Thibodeau has a reputation for working his players as hard as any coach in the league. In a day and age where the amount of games being played and each player’s minutes are being critiqued more than ever, Thibodeau doesn’t see any way to go about his job in order to meet expectations. It may lose him his job with the Bulls, but it will lead to him being hired very shortly after he becomes a free agent.

“Like everyone, (outsiders) look at minutes but they don’t know what’s going on in practice,” Thibodeau said. “They don’t know how much contact you have (in practice). They don’t know what your philosophy is in terms of days off. Is (practice) after back to backs? Is first day of a road trip? Is (practice) a day off after never more than three consecutive days? Whatever it might be, there’s a lot that goes into it. But you also — if you’re looking at performance and how you can get the best out of people — there’s a reason why teams have success over a long period of time. You have to have core values. What do you believe in? Do you believe in hard work? Do you believe in discipline? Do you believe in conditioning? Because those are the things I know that do work.

“So I’m not surprised if the play is up and down and it’s been sporadic in terms of — can you practice or not practice? No, practice is important. The regular season is important. Your meetings are important. Your walk-through is important. Everything is important. You want to be a championship team, there’s a price to pay. And that’s what you have to do. There’s no shortcuts. You can’t shortcut your way to success.”

With talks of turmoil more intense than ever, Forman did come out and issue a statement.

“While as an organization, we try to avoid responding to rumors, there is absolutely no basis to this recent speculation,” Forman said. “We are very proud of what the team and our players have accomplished to this point in the season, and we will not allow anything to detract us from our ultimate goal. The focus of the entire organization from the top to bottom of on winning basketball games.”

While it’s a bit unfair to not take Forman at his word, there’s just too much smoke over a prolonged period of time to deny that there is a fire that at some point and time will have to be extinguished. Thibodeau isn’t changing, and he’s not going to lose his way to a justifiable pink slip either. So, something is going to have to give, but for now it seems like both sides are going to continue to ignore what everyone else can clearly see: for whatever reason, they simply cannot work together harmoniously.

Kobe Coming Back: With his season cut short for the third consecutive year due to injury, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant still has no plans to retire. Reports circulated earlier in the week that he wasn’t interested in going out like this, and Lakers general manager came out and confirmed that today.

“I don’t think he’s retiring,” Kupchak said. “He told me he’s looking forward to training camp next season.

“The big key is we have to improve the talent level on the team.”

The Lakers are going to have ample cap space this summer to try and attract help for Bryant to Hollywood. His absence for the rest of the season also helps increase their odds to keep their draft pick, which would go to the Phoenix Suns if it was outside of the top five. The Lakers are 12-34 and losers of nine in a row – the worst streak in the NBA currently.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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