By Steve Silverman
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There are tears in Chicago once again, as Derrick Rose has gone down with yet another knee injury.
This is the third time in his career that the once-brilliant superstar has been sidelined, and it could render the Bulls championship aspirations for the 2014-15 season moot.
However, there’s no way Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau will admit defeat at this point. With Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler playing well, Thibodeau knows he has a team that will be a difficult out in the Eastern Conference.
Certainly the Bulls will be underdogs against LeBron and the Cavs, the Wizards and the front-running Hawks, but they have enough to give each one of those teams a legitimate battle.
But here’s the reality: Somewhere along the line, the Bulls without Rose will almost certainly get stopped. Their season will end in the first or second round of the playoffs, and at that point, the Bulls may part company with Thibodeau.
The best defensive coach in the sport and arguably one of the top three coaches in the NBA has been in a difficult position with the Chicago front office for several seasons.
Even if Rose had been healthy and the Bulls had made it out of the Eastern Conference, the belief among many was that Thibodeau’s time in Chicago was nearing an end. Bulls vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman have been locking horns with Thibodeau about issues like playing time and practice for years, and there has always been an undercurrent that Thibodeau pushes his team too hard during the 82-game regular season and that’s why the Bulls come up short in the playoffs.
The Bulls may pull the trigger on Thibodeau, and if that happens, Phil Jackson needs to be ready to act. Everything has gone wrong for Jackson and the Knicks this season, and finding the right head coach is one of the many steps that needs to happen before the Knicks are a competitive team once again.
The attributes that have brought about criticism in Chicago would make Thibodeau a star in New York if Jackson is quick enough to get him. Thibodeau would establish a defensive demand of each player. He would also make every practice count, and he would push his team towards perfection.
Perhaps he has pushed his team in Chicago too hard for some players’ liking. That’s exactly what the Knicks – and many other NBA teams – need to become competitive on a nightly basis. Having a team that is overworked by the time it reaches the second or third round of the playoffs? That’s a dream scenario for long-suffering Knicks fans who have seen their team become an awful NBA joke.
Thibodeau became a star assistant coach under Doc Rivers when the two were working together in Boston. His defensive schemes were instrumental in the Celtics winning the NBA championship in 2007-08 and Thibodeau helped keep them in contention for the next two seasons as well.
Thibodeau left Boston to become head coach of the Bulls in 2010-11, with Chicago having been largely a non-factor since the end of the Michael Jordan era. Thibodeau’s presence helped change that as the Bulls went 62-20 in his first season and he won Coach of the Year honors.
The Bulls went 50-16 in the strike season that followed, and they have been solid since. However, since reaching the Eastern Conference finals in Thibodeau’s first year, the Bulls have failed to advance that far again.
That has resulted in frustration on the part of the team’s management and fans, and that’s why Thibodeau has been under the gun. His hard-charging coaching style does not take into account a player’s injuries or problems. He wants his players to remain in the lineup and play hard, and if they can’t, they are of little use to him.
In many ways, he’s more like an NFL coach than an NBA coach.
Thibodeau is not a perfect leader, and he may never be the guy who can take a contender and turn it into a championship team. But he is the guy who can build a team and mold it into a winner and a contender.
If the Bulls fire Thibodeau in a couple of months, Jackson must be at the ready and bring the New Britain, Connecticut native to New York to get the Knicks back on track.
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