Whenever the air comes out of any high-pressure situation in the NBA, it tends to precipitate a fallout where all manner of unfavorable gossip finds its way to the surface.
For example: After the Cavaliers fired David Blatt in January, Chris Haynes reported that he didn’t know how to draw up plays late in games or when to call timeouts. Blatt’s friend Adrian Wojnarowski then reported that LeBron James had cooked up a conspiracy to oust his coach and eventually replace him with Mark Jackson.
The Chicago Bulls were officially eliminated from the NBA Playoffs last night when the Pacers beat the Nets, so, today, it’s gossip time. Our first entry comes from the Chicago Sun-Times, where Joe Cowley reports that management poisoned the well before last season in order to make it easier to get Tom Thibodeau out the paint:
If there was an instruction manual on how a front office can mess up a situation, John Paxson and Gar Forman just spent the last two seasons writing the outline.
It was in training camp 2014 that the front office told several core players like Rose and Joakim Noah that it was OK to tune Thibodeau out. That was verified by several sources, including current players.
Gar/Pax sold the players on the idea that Thibodeau’s perceived heavy workload was leading to injury problems.
The Chicago Tribune has more, including the tidbit that the Bulls’ brazen cost-cutting maneuver of dumping Kirk Hinrich to save on luxury tax payments was seen as a betrayal:
And the unceremonious dumping of veteran stalwart Kirk Hinrich to save $2.5 million on the imminent luxury-tax payment was pitched by Forman, beyond the cost-saving aspect, as giving the Bulls a free look at Justin Holiday, a trade exception and an unprotected second-round pick.
That those assets could become trade chips and Holiday has played well hasn’t assuaged some players’ puzzlement over Hinrich’s departure. Beyond his limited-minutes defensive aptitude, Hinrich possessed a powerful, behind-the-scenes presence of accountability and quietly helped teammates in a well-received manner.
According to the Tribune, Hinrich was crucial in holding together coach Fred Hoiberg’s relationship with his team. That relationship was on the rocks as soon as he asked Joakim Noah to come off the bench, and it only soured over the season, finally reaching its peak when Jimmy Butler publicly called him out and asked him to “coach harder.”
Butler’s public declaration in December for Hoiberg to “coach harder” underscored a season-long theme — that Hoiberg struggled to hold players accountable. Hoiberg’s individual relationships with players is stronger than the perception; he communicates with them regularly and is liked.
The Tribune reports that Butler’s leadership wasn’t always well-received:
But Butler’s emboldened state after landing a max contract led to several disruptive moments throughout the season, in film sessions and on the practice floor, sources said. That they continued sometimes unchecked throughout the season didn’t bode well for team chemistry, which started to fray in Thibodeau’s last season.
As for Butler, teammates alternated between rolling their eyes at his self-proclaimed leadership attempts and respecting his work ethic. His heavy workload and two-way, All-Star talent reminded all that his heart remained in a good place. But his failure to embrace Hoiberg’s system and preference for slower pace and isolation plays didn’t represent inclusive leadership.
Both reports conclude that the Bulls will probably make big personnel changes and give Hoiberg a shot with a roster that’s not so full of Thibodeau guys, which is a good idea. Chicago had the talent of a playoff team, but their season will be over after Wednesday.
Jimmy Butler has shown himself to be a legitimate two-way star, but a bottom-six offensive team who can’t figure out how to juggle four starting caliber-big men is a misshapen mess, not a contender. They’ll try to get younger and faster, in order to mold the roster to Hoiberg’s desired style of play. Chicago has the assets and talent to push for the playoffs again next year. Whether the Bulls can become a contender again despite a combative front office and a luxury-tax-obsessed ownership group is another matter entirely.