In the Wake of the News
July 2, 2013
Upon entering the Berto Center gym Monday for a news conference to introduce the Bulls' two new draft picks, a team PR official made a reasonable request.
Reporters were asked to avoid questions of general manager Gar Forman and coach Tom Thibodeau regarding the decision not to renew assistant coach Ron Adams' contract and told the issue would be addressed after giving the players their due.
Fair enough. The Bulls understandably didn't want to detract from the rookies' day.
Then they detracted from the rookies' day.
Another clumsy public-relations effort by the organization that produced the Derrick Rose fiasco suggested an uncomfortable tension between Forman and Thibodeau. Trying to minimize attention paid a personnel move only maximized its impact.
Many Bulls fans who didn't know who Ron Adams was before Monday do now. Adams went from a relatively low-profile NBA assistant in Chicago to the guy who symbolized a Forman-Thibodeau rift. This was no way to make Rose less of a distraction.
"We're not going to agree on everything, but at the end of the day, I think we both have the best interests of the Bulls moving forward," Forman said. "We unite and we move forward."
Or at least move forward. A united front would have included Thibodeau sitting next to the GM who got rid of a guy Thibs once called one of the top-five coaches in the league, period.
The empty chair said more than Thibodeau's 13-word statement distributed afterward, as promised. Whether the Bulls realized it or not, it also screamed dysfunction.
Forman only took questions after reporters who respected the Bulls' wishes to delay questions about Adams, as a professional courtesy, protested and he returned from his office. Even then, a clearly uneasy Forman claimed, "I don't mind talking about it."
Sure, and Thibodeau loves discussing Rose's knee.
Though Forman refused to elaborate, a source told the Tribune late Monday night a pattern of insubordinate incidents since the end of the season concerned Bulls officials enough to relieve Adams of his duties. Thibodeau didn't like the decision but had full knowledge it was coming, the source said.
"I think with any type of personnel decision, it's best left unsaid as far as why decisions are made," Forman said. "Tom is going to recommend who he wants hired. At the end of the day, I've got final say over personnel, as far as the coaches. In the past, obviously if I felt comfortable with it and Tom wanted a guy, that's the direction we're going to go."
What Forman's decision ultimately says about the direction the Bulls go bears watching closely, from the Berto to Boston. Forman's plan to realistically compete for an NBA championship again in 2014 remains sound if Luol Deng stays and the right pieces fit around a rehabilitated Rose. But some wonder whether Thibodeau will be around for the final phase.
On one hand, the Bulls essentially embraced Thibodeau as the franchise's second star, so it raises an eyebrow when he doesn't get what he wants. No matter who has or hasn't been healthy the last three seasons, the Bulls always competed under Thibodeau with a team that played defense, showed effort and displayed chemistry.
Management trusted Thibodeau to find ways to beat teams with more stars and deal publicly with the Rose saga but not to keep his lead assistant he, more than anybody, needs to trust over a long season? Adams must have severely crossed a line or else this defies logic.
When Thibodeau was evaluating the Bulls job three years ago, he weighed heaviest the words of two people: former CPS chief and Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Adams. Their bond goes back 20 years to when they met as Spurs assistants working on the staff of Jerry Tarkanian and, later, John Lucas. Both followed Lucas to the Sixers, complementing each other's strengths. Lucas once called the hard-driving Thibodeau and easy-going Adams "Batman and Robin."
"If one of them coughs," Lucas once told the Daily Herald, "the other sneezes."
Neither guy probably felt very healthy Monday.
As much as Thibodeau downplayed waiting six months to finally sign his contract extension last April, you can find people in the organization who believe it was no accident. Respected NBA writer Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo tweeted Monday that Forman's and Thibodeau's relationship was "easily the worst in NBA" between a GM and coach.
Chicagoans remember the last Bulls head coach as good as Thibodeau driven out of town by an independent-minded GM 15 years ago. At least that divorce came after Jerry Krause and Phil Jackson coexisted long enough to win six NBA titles.
Forman and Thibodeau sure didn't look any closer to winning their first one Monday after they risked losing more than just the news conference.
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