Tom Thibodeau Talks about his Bulls departure


Aug 11

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There was no formal invitation. Reporters from Chicago and a few from around the country began slowly to encircle USA Basketball assistant coach Tom Thibodeau following the conclusion of Tuesday’s opening session of the three-day mini camp. There were no cheers, but there were no boos. Nor did anyone declare forcefully they had the privilege and distinct honor of presenting the former coach of the Chicago Bulls.

But Thibodeau Tuesday made it clear: The State of the Tom was strong.

“It was a great run,” Thibodeau said in his first extended remarks to media since his firing by the Bulls in May after the second round playoff loss. “I had a great staff. The players were terrific. My whole experience there was great. In pro sports, it happens. You move on. I’d rather reflect on positives than think about any negatives; the good far outweighed any bad. I’m very proud of what we accomplished. To win the games that we did, to deal with the adversity that we did. We dealt with Derrick with his injuries. We survived that. We lost players along the way, but we always found a way to compete. I’m very proud of that. I have no regrets. Every year, you look at what you did, you try to analyze the things you did well and the things you’d like to improve upon. You always want to keep trying to get better. From that standpoint, I don’t think I’ll change. I thought I learned from each year that I was there. I’m looking forward to whatever comes next.”

And so continues the Thibodeau Doctrine and his pursuit of NBA happiness.

In a relaxed and at times light and jovial session with reporters, Thibodeau said he considers Chicago home, at least for now. He said he’ll spend this season mostly visiting fellow coaches here and abroad and maybe even a few days not involved with fellow coaches. Get this man a Fodor’s!

But if Thibodeau wasn’t critical or regretful, he also wasn’t apologetic or rueful. He defended his use of players and the way he coached the team, suggested the 2010-11 and then 2011-12 Bulls teams were on the verge of a title before Derrick Rose’s ACL injury in the first playoff game of 2012, and he is rooting for the Bulls this season because of his continuing relationships with Bulls players.

Thibodeau, in a gray USA golf shirt and black sweat pants, spent much of the one hour practice chatting amiably with Jimmy Butler, who is among 34 players at the camp, Rudy Gay and LaMarcus Aldridge and running through some modest shooting drills. After last year’s serious injury to Paul George, USA Basketball officials are ensuring no one is hurt with a lack of contact. Only some players will participate in Thursday’s paid fan scrimmage, likely including Butler as one of the eight new players on the roster. Derrick Rose didn’t attend and USA chairman Jerry Colangelo indicated that would disqualify Rose from participation with the 2016 team. Though LeBron James still hadn’t arrived and George left after the team meeting Monday night.

Thibodeau has mostly been in Chicago since the end of the season, often seen running along the lake near his downtown high rise or working out at the East Bank Club. He said he understood Rose passing on the camp given a desire to improve his health and said he hadn’t spoken with Rose. Though Thibodeau was gracious about his Bulls departure, reiterating several times that it was part of being an NBA coach, he skipped the NBA summer leagues in Las Vegas, associates said, to avoid any controversy so close to the firing.

The sacred firing for liberty? to paraphrase George Washington.

As reporters moved slowly to approach Thibodeau with players and coaches doing interviews throughout the arena on the UNLV campus, Thibodeau quipped: “I’m not talking.”

If he wasn’t relaxed a month ago, being back in the gym and in sweat pants again seemed to be the balm.

And a balm can have all sorts of effects, especially when not applied by a doctor. Or even the Doctor. There was little sense, at least publically, of being burned.

“When you’re around it, you know (firing) could be a possibility,” acknowledged Thibodeau, who had two years remaining on his Bulls contract. “I think the important thing is to try to take advantage of it in a positive way. You recharge, you visit with people and it gives you an opportunity to do some things you normally don’t do. Visit with not only coaches here, but coaches overseas; all sports actually. The important thing is to take the positives out of it and look ahead to what the challenges might be and try to make the best of the time you do have, which I am looking forward to. So from that standpoint it’s great; Obviously, being involved with USA Basketball is a big plus for me.”

Thibodeau’s Bulls made the playoffs every season with an appearance in the conference finals his first season in a major turnaround that had Thibodeau the fastest coach ever to 100 wins and with an NBA coach of the year award. Those first two seasons had the Bulls seemingly headed to a title.

“The first year was the best team we had,” said Thibodeau. “We had a tough (conference finals) series with Miami, but we could’ve won all those games. You hope to build continuity off that and we came back the next year and had the best record and then Derrick went down. Sometimes you have no control. After that, it was a lot of adjusting on the fly. I thought we never made excuses. We always found a way to compete.

“If you look at that team and study it closely statistically, we were top five in offense and defense,” noted Thibodeau. “Usually when you have that type of efficiency, you have a chance to win it all. We had a lot of depth. We had toughness. We had guys who could go off the dribble. I think Luol (Deng) was a far different player then. Joakim (Noah) kept getting better and better. Derrick, he’s the MVP of the league at 22; that’s a lot. We also had quality depth. When you’re bringing Omer Asik off your bench, and Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson and Kurt Thomas off the bench, that’s good veteran experience. When you look at how you win hard, tough games it’s your disciple, your execution, your toughness and I thought we had all those components. But that’s how it goes in this league. It’s fragile. You take an injury to the wrong guy at the wrong time, it’s going to hurt you. That’s life.”

And as we know life and basketball are not necessarily fair.

“My experience (with the Bulls) was great,” Thibodeau said. “I appreciated all that the players did for me. I appreciated the opportunity that Jerry (Reinsdorf) gave me. I’m moving on. They’re moving on. I wish them well. If they’re healthy, I think they could have a great season next year. And I hope they do because of the closeness I have to all the players that are still there. I don’t know Fred well. But I have a lot of respect for him. I wish him well. In the NBA, this is all part of it. I’m moving on. They’ll be fine.”

As for his next job, Thibodeau said, “I’m hopeful. We’ll see how it unfolds. I want to make sure it’s the right situation for me. I’m not closing my mind to anything. Everything is a possibility. I just want to make sure it’s a good fit.”

But with Thibodeau his elephant in the room as he interviews will be, in part, the injuries. Bad luck? Pushed the players too hard? Laundering his sweat pants? Can he adapt in a changing NBA? Thibodeau’s record figures to guarantee him another chance. He said you always learn and evolve. But at the same time saying he had few regrets, or too few to mention, Thibodeau also emphasized he planned each charted course, each careful step and if there was doubt he ate it up and spit it out.

“There’s always going to be things that are said,” Thibodeau acknowledged about the use of players. “The important thing is when you look at what the players accomplished. When you look at what the team achieved and to be able to win when we were shorthanded is a credit to them. But also the winning component of that is critical for them to be recognized individually. I don’t think you make All-Star teams, become an MVP, become Defensive Player of the Year unless the team wins at a very high rate. That was a byproduct of the winning and that was a reflection of the willingness of the team to commit to each other. When you look back over five years, just let the record speak for itself.

“Whose minutes are you comparing to whom?” Thibodeau asked. “Small forwards in the league most of the time I was there were all averaging 38 or 39 minutes a game. So your small forward is going to average 38 or 39 minutes. It’s changing now. But that’s not the case. You also have to look at the first two years. We had a deep bench; people weren’t playing a lot of minutes. If you look at Jimmy’s minutes, it changed after the Luol trade. We had less perimeter guys, so we had to play him more for us to have a chance to win. The numbers say exactly what it is. Facts are facts. You look at it statistically, Jimmy played the same amount of minutes that LeBron played, the same amount of minutes that (Kevin) Durant played, Nicolas Batum, Carmelo Anthony. All those guys. That’s all I’m saying. Nobody’s going to be perfect. You don’t get every decision right. Some are wrong. But I’m very proud of what the team did.

“No regrets.”

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