Thibodeau hired to coach Bulls


Jun 5

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The Bulls have a new coach, Tom Thibodeau of the Boston Celtics.

Thibodeau, according to reliable sources, agreed to a three-year deal early Saturday afternoon to become the 15th (not counting interims) coach in Bulls history.

Thibodeau currently is the associate head coach of the Celtics, who are down 1-0 in the NBA Finals.

NBA rules do not specifically prohibit the announcement of significant transactions like a trade or coaching hire during the Finals, a spokesman said. But teams are strongly discouraged from doing so to not upstage the league’s premier postseason event. Plus, Thibodeau is busy now, anyway.

I know. Apparently this memo never reached LeBron James.

So the Bulls declined comment.

But reliable sources close to Thibodeau confirmed that Thibodeau received the three-year offer worth some $6.5 million late Friday and agreed early Saturday.

Sources also said Thibodeau is trying to persuade Oklahoma City Thunder assistants Mo Cheeks and Ron Adams to join his staff in Chicago with holdover Pete Myers.

Thibodeau also is not expected to comment until the Finals conclude and under rules of the Celtics assistant coaches cannot do interviews with the media.

Unlike the interview process, which was permitted by the league to be public, the Bulls will have to wait to make the official announcement. Team officials could not be reached for comment.

But it was clear with word from Thibodeau’s associates the deal is done and that Thibodeau is thrilled. Thibodeau made the unusual commitment to pass on several job opportunities just for the chance to be considered a prime candidate for the Bulls job.

Although the Bulls did extensive background work on numerous candidates and had informal personal and telephone discussions with candidates, the interview with Thibodeau while the Celtics prepared for the Finals earlier this week was the most significant.

So did the Bulls get a great coach?

No one ever truly knows that until they get the chance to prove it. But Thibodeau has strong backing and support around the NBA and in retrospect perhaps the major surprise is he is just getting his first NBA head coaching job.

The guy has been so good for so long that he’s been taken for granted,” Jeff Van Gundy told the Newark Star-Ledger about Thibodeau, his longtime assistant. “Tom now has this thing where he’s known as a defensive guy, which he’s great at — not good, great. But he also is very good offensively. And it’s the reason why I hired him initially in New York — his work with individual players. He had incredibly good offensively ideas. His work with Yao Ming still gets overlooked because Yao is hurt a lot. But in Yao’s last full year, he was an MVP candidate, 25 and 11.”

Thibodeau has gotten a reputation as a so called defensive guru, which is a bit unfair because you have to have the players. And while he did have Kevin Garnett in Boston, no one ever accused Ray Allen or Paul Pierce of being defenders previously in their careers and they’ve both been principal starters for one of the NBA best defenses the last three years, and at the most vital wing positions where there is the best talent.

The so-called knock on Thibodeau has been that he’s too intense, so would not relate well with players. But with Thibodeau up for serious head coaching consideration this season his players have been effusive in praise. And Van Gundy also noted the irony of guys being condemned because they don’t work hard enough and here’s a guy who supposedly works too hard.

And while Thibodeau is highly regarded for his defense systems and schemes, even Kobe Bryant credited him in a recent interview for helping Bryant develop his offensive game when Bryant was growing up in Philadelphia and Thibodeau was a 76ers assistant.

As the son of former 76ers Joe Jellybean” Bryant, Kobe had access to 76ers facilities and said of Thibodeau: “He started drilling me, NBA basketball drills, when I was 14. So he kind of has inside information on what I like to do because he taught me most of the stuff.”

Added Bryant: “I’ve been facing his defenses here for some time and they’re tough – very, very tough.  Every single team he’s been on has had great strategies and physical defenses.”

And Van Gundy’s point about Thibodeau and Yao was significant, if often overlooked.

But before his injury which kept him out all last season, Yao had become one of the most efficient and effective offensive players in the NBA. Thibodeau is a renowned worker who has put the job before everything in his life. Friends says he owns little but a car as he spends all his time working with players and on the game. During his time with Van Gundy in Houston, Thibodeau traveled to China in the summers to work with Yao and developed a strong teacher/student relationship with him and Yao long has been an advocate.

Here are some quotes from Boston players on Thibodeau:

Ray Allen: “Tom will come up with a defensive scheme that we’ve never heard before, and he’ll say it like we’ve been talking about it all year.  But he makes sure we’re all on the same page with it. So, he’s definitely kept us keyed in.”

Kevin Garnett: “Coach is real animated. He’s real emotional. He’s real energetic. That’s what type of defense we try to go out and have. It’s an energetic, consistent defense. It’s a talkative defense, and when you see him on the side, those are the things that he’s put in for us to try to go and carry over to the court.”

Kendrick Perkins: “Thib has been the best thing that happened to us.”

I’ve also heard the stuff about Thibodeau and being too much a workaholic and humorless, and as I’ve written previously I didn’t find that when I’ve talked with him and I remember a scene at the All Star game in New Orleans a few years back when I saw Yao and Thibodeau doing something of a comedy routine for the NBA Entertainment cameras, which are everywhere during All Star weekend, about Thibodeau being single and what he does on Valentine’s Day and both shooting one liners at one another. And if you have been around Yao you knew he does that much better than most guys with English as a first language. It certainly didn’t strike me with Thibodeau as a guy who didn’t have the humor gene.

Which is not to say the Bulls hired Jerry Seinfeld.

I believe they hired one of the most respected coaching minds in the NBA. That seems to be a good start. And, at least on this one, Jeff Van Gundy and I agree.

I caught up with Van Gundy Saturday afternoon after Finals practice and he was both thrilled and relieved his old friend and coaching colleague, Thibodeau, finally gets a chance to be a head coach.

Van Gundy chose to sit out this coaching derby to stay with his ESPN/ABC television gig, but his views about the game are held in high regard and he believes Thibodeau will be a success with the Bulls.

Van Gundy admits he probably wouldn’t have been so bold if he were Thibodeau to turn down jobs to pursue a chance with the Bulls, but Van Gundy said, “You’ve got to admire him. He knew what he wanted and he went for it.

“He’s smart,” said Van Gundy about why he believes Thibodeau is the right man for the Bulls job now. “But not just smart about the game, but about people and making the right decisions. That’s critical to being a good coach and that’s what he’s got. The other thing is he’s sincere, reliable and trustworthy. Those are the things that are going to form the basis for solid relationships.

“He’s as bright as anyone I know about the game,” said Van Gundy. “I don’t worry about that. It’s the other stuff at which he’ll surprise his critics. This is a guy who’ll be astute about the magnitude of the job.”

Van Gundy laughed about past questions of Thibodeau’s supposed lack of a gregarious nature. Besides not necessarily being the case, Van Gundy said it’s not like Pat Riley and Phil Jackson are going around doing celebrity roasts.

“I have no doubt for a guy who never has coached an NBA game that he’s done as much to prove he’s ready to get an opportunity as anybody. He’s experienced everything, the highs and lows, the championships, long losing streaks, winning streaks, all kinds of markets and players. He’s a guy who knows how the NBA works and he’ll be the same coach every day. No real highs or lows, and that demeanor will serve him well.

“And he understands the balance you need for winning basketball,” said Van Gundy. “You see that with the teams still playing, teams that balance offense and defense.”

Van Gundy admitted his friend was discouraged some after the Celtics won in 2008 and he didn’t get a head coaching chance, but he persevered, which is the kind of trait a coach needs to carry a team through the tough parts of seasons.

“Like any good coach, Tom believes in certain principles without regard to who is on the team,” said Van Gundy. “Play hard, play smart, play together, defend, rebound, take care of the ball. But he will design a system that plays to the strengths of his best players and try to hide their non strengths. I think his time in Philadelphia, New York and Boston has prepared him for the magnitude of the job.”

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