Bye, bye Kirk? Hello, LeBron?

The Bulls Thursday on the night of the NBA draft took another step toward the potential recruitment of a top free agent like LeBron James with a tentative trade to send Kirk Hinrich and the No. 17 pick in the draft to the Washington Wizards, sources close to both teams confirmed.

The Wizards would not be sending anything back to the Bulls but absorbing Hinrich into their salary cap room. The trade for the Bulls would be to create additional salary cap space, close to about $31 million now, to perhaps be able to sign two top free agents.

It’s an unprecedented situation in the history of the NBA with teams paying others to take their players, as Miami did Wednesday in giving their No. 1 pick to Oklahoma City so the Thunder would take Daequan Cook. The Bulls also were believed to have sent cash to the Wizards, suggesting the Bulls aren’t backing off or sparing any expense in their pursuit of top free agents.

The pitch then would be to a free agent like James that the Bulls could add another free agent, like Chris Bosh or Joe Johnson, along with James and the current roster of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng.

The not-yet-official-deal puts the Bulls likely in the best position among all the competitors to obtain perhaps the biggest free agent prize of alltime, James.

Only the Knicks now have more salary cap space for free agents than the Bulls, and the Knicks roster is decimated with only Danilo Gallinari, Toney Douglas, Wilson Chandler, Bill Walker and Eddy Curry under contract. It would be a huge stretch to believe the Knicks could be championship contenders with James and even Chris Bosh, especially because Bosh would have to be their principal big man and Bosh doesn’t want to be a center and isn’t known as much of a defensive force.

The Miami Heat also is angling for James. They may be able to trade Michael Beasley for cap space as the Bulls are apparently doing with Hinrich and get enough for two full maximum free agents, which they don’t have yet. But it’s difficult to see James coming to a team with Wade when Wade is a similar wing player and it is Wade’s town and LeBron would be at best a costar.

The Nets and Clippers also are hoping to be contenders, but with the Nets playing in Newark and Clippers’ history they are considered longshots. The move figures to put the Bulls in prime position to appeal to James when a few months back it seemed like an impossibility to everyone.

It’s also possible James could remain in Cleveland, especially because of his hometown ties to the area and his desire to live there in the future. Would he be able to after leaving the city like that?

Still, the Bulls now assuming the deal goes through as believed have put themselves in probably the best position to make the strongest case to James for ultimate championship success as they are just about in position to make offers to another maximum player like Bosh along with James.

It was not the case until the deal for Hinrich. It’s why it’s such a major move even though it seems so one sided as the Bulls, effectively, have the Wizards their first round pick and cash so Washington would take one of the best top players. It seems so one sided on the surface to be ludicrous, but it could be a deal people will be looking back on in the future as one of the great moves like when the Lakers gave away players like George Lynch for nothing in 1996 to create more salary space to sign Shaq.

The Bulls still would need to trade someone like James Johnson to get to just about the full expected $16.5 million starting salary for two veteran free agents like James and Bosh.

There are potential roadblocks, like if both or either want six year full maximum deals as the Bulls, really, no longer would have the players to do a sign and trade and the Raptors and Cavs are unlikely to help the Bulls create a super team in their conference.

But the presumption is the Bulls would explain that even without the sixth year and even if the starting salaries are slightly less than the allowed $16.5 million, the players if the team is hugely successful will more than make it up with current and future sponsors.

The potential complication in the deal is it cannot be completed until July 8 because the Wizards will not officially have the space under the salary cap to absorb Hinrich’s contract until then. There is a moratorium period in the NBA until July 8, after which teams know the value of the salary cap and then can renounce players, like the Wizards are expected to with Josh Howard.

The potential issue, though it is rare that it would occur after sides have agreed, is since the deal cannot be official until July 8, if something were to happen to Hinrich before then, like an injury, the Wizards could theoretically say they do not want to proceed. But that would be unlikely because a team cannot afford to get a reputation in the league that it will back out of deals. If that were to occur, it would be difficult for a team to make trades. So it would be unlikely a team would back out, especially with a new owner, Ted Leonsis.

So why would the Wizards want Hinrich given they are set to draft John Wall No. 1 and have Gilbert Arenas? It’s a legitimate question, though the Wizards were said to like the way Hinrich operated as a sort of mentor to Derrick Rose to keep pressure off Rose as he came into the NBA and feel Hinrich can do the same for Wall. Some do feel Arenas and Wall will be dynamic together and Hinrich would be the perfect third guard.

The Bulls made their No. 17 selection Thursday night for Washington, Kevin Seraphin. It will officially be listed as a Bulls selection.

The Bulls have been in discussions for several weeks, as has been widely speculated, that they were in talks to see if they could deal players for salary cap space.

There was the most interest in Hinrich. The talks with the Wizards were strong earlier in the week, though sources said the Wizards would not commit. The Bulls were then engaged in serious talks with the Sacramento Kings about the same deal, which spurred the Wizards into action early Thursday before the draft.

Though on the surface it looks like a major risk to give up their best defensive player and only backup to Rose plus a solid first round draft pick for a chance at free agents.

But it is truly the only way the team could go if they want to make a serious pitch to someone like James. Now the Bulls can say in addition to All Star Rose and top rebounder Noah, they can have another All Star in addition to, say, James. It’s a highly appealing package for any free agent who would say he wants to win.

With the deal the Bulls aren’t quite at the $33 million under the cap believed to be needed for two maximum free agents. Some top free agents, like David Lee, don’t require a $16.5 million starting salary because they have fewer years. Lee would start a deal at about $12 million, so he’s a possibility as well with James for both to get the full maximum available for players leaving their teams.

The Bulls figure to work on another deal, perhaps trading a future first, like the one they are owed from Charlotte, if someone would take James Johnson. Perhaps Taj Gibson, though you figure the Bulls would want to keep him. Such a deal could get the team within less than $1 million from two max deals. There’s also the possibility into July if teams with salary cap space like, say, the Clippers or the Nets, cannot attract a free agent. Then the Bulls could trade Deng, which could potentially give the Bulls room for two maximum contracts and almost a third, or at least a high salaried veteran.

Again, it’s a risk to lose so many players on your roster for just the right to pursue the top free agents. But it’s a risk you have to take if you are serious about becoming a true basketball superpower again. The Bulls officially dove into the free agent pool aggressively Thursday and hope to emerge in a few weeks with the catch of all time. Thursday’s deal was the best and only way.

Advertisements

Thibodeau wastes no time in setting the tone

New Bulls Head Coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t hesitate when it came down to outlining some of the items he hopes to accomplish in the short-term future. Namely, he discussed setting a tone and establishing goals as his introductory news conference.

“There are five things I think we have to establish right away in terms of who we are,” said Thibodeau. “We’re going to be a defensive team, a rebounding team, a low turnover team, an inside-out team, and an unselfish team. I think that has to be clear and we’re going to establish that right from the start.

“Secondly, you have to build championship habits from the start,” he added. “How you practice and prepare yourself, whether it’s in the weight room, practice court or off the court, I think you should conduct yourself in a certain manner. Being part of this organization is very special and you have to take it seriously.”

For Thibodeau, the announcement of his hiring, which was delayed until his duties as the Boston Celtics Associate Head Coach ended, represented the culmination of his 21 years in the NBA.

“It’s been a long wait for me to get a head coaching job in this league and to be in this city with this team is a dream come true for me,” Thibodeau said.

Thibodeau added that he would not have left Boston if he did not feel Chicago was in a position to become a championship caliber team. He considered several factors, including players, front office and ownership, before making the decision to take the Bulls job. He passed on two other opportunities, with the New Orleans Hornets and New Jersey Nets, he confirmed on Wednesday.

“The thing that stood out to me was how hard they competed,” Thibodeau said of what separated the Bulls, citing Derrick, Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich specifically as he recalled past Chicago and Boston matchups. “They had no fear.”

When asked about his offensive philosophies, Thibodeau stated it will start with the Bulls’ defense and rebounding and getting it into the open floor.

“We’re going to try and attack and take advantage of the strengths of our team,” he said. “We want to get as many easy baskets as possible.”

Thibodeau offered high praise for All-Star guard Derrick Rose, who as a rookie led the Bulls in a historic first-round playoff series against Thibodeau’s Celtics that ended with Boston winning in seven games.

“Derrick Rose is a very special player,” said Thibodeau. “When he’s coming at you with a full head of steam, he’s very difficult to contain. A big part of his growth has to be on the defensive end for him to be a complete player. It starts on the ball if we’re going to be a great defensive team. It starts with him.”

Thibodeau added, “When you look at the future of the team, I think it has everything you would look for—a good, young, nucleus; in position to add through the draft and free agency; it’s a great city. I certainly understand the great tradition and history of the team.”

As far as free agency, league rules prohibit Thibodeau from commenting on the Bulls’ plans and/or targets until July 1. But he spoke as if what happens after that day was somewhat insignificant in terms of his decision to come to Chicago.

“When you take a job, you look at the players that you have,” he said. “That’s what made this job so appealing to me.”

Thibodeau did respond when asked how he might make his pitch for a player to join the Bulls.

“There is a lot to sell here obviously,” he said. “The rich tradition, great city, and a great young nucleus you can build around. There is so much to offer. I can’t imagine why any free agent wouldn’t seriously consider this team.”

In the coming days and weeks, the future of the Bulls will unfold via the NBA Draft and free agency. Thibodeau also has a coaching staff to round out. He has a number of candidates he wants to speak with regarding the openings, some of which are under contract with other teams.

“We’ll put a premium on teaching,” he said of that process, which he hopes will include former Bulls assistant coach Ron Adams, a close personal friend of Thibodeau’s. Another contact of his, Maurice Cheeks, has been mentioned as a possibility.

Audio — General Manager Gar Forman and Head Coach Tom Thibodeau meet the media at the Berto Center (Parts I & II – 06.23.10):

Forman’s search starts and ends with Thibodeau

It turns out the first call Bulls General Manager Gar Forman made to start his coaching search could have been his last. Just five to six days into the process, Forman reached out to Tom Thibodeau, who on Wednesday was named the team’s 18th head coach in franchise history.

“All of us know about his defensive credentials, but as we went about the process and we talked with other people who have worked with Tom, the thing that really became apparent to us is that he’s got a very, very creative offensive mind,” said Forman. “We really liked some of the ideas that he presented as far as using the talent we have on the offensive end of the floor.”

Forman cited two players specifically who had developed quite successfully under Thibodeau—Houston center Yao Ming and Boston point guard Rajon Rondo.

“The feedback that we got is that Tom is a terrific communicator and a terrific teacher of the game,” said Forman.

Forman called Thibodeau a “perfect fit” for the Bulls, something which became evident after several conversations with other candidates for the job.

“The biggest thing that we got out of it as we met with Tom and visited with him and a number of people he has worked with and around the league is that Tom Thibodeau is a winner,” added Forman.

Audio — General Manager Gar Forman and Head Coach Tom Thibodeau meet the media at the Berto Center (Parts I & II – 06.23.10):

Thibodeau hired to coach Bulls

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.”

Bulls closing in on hiring Thibodeau

It appears the Bulls coaching search is about to come to a conclusion.
The Bulls, insiders confirmed, officially tendered a three-year contract offer late Friday night to Boston Celtics associate head coach Tom Thibodeau to be the team’s head coach.
Sources close to Thibodeau said he is considering minor elements of the deal, but expect him to agree without any major issue.
It remains unclear given Thibodeau is involved in the NBA Finals with the Celtics trailing 1-0 whether, or when the Bulls and Thibodeau can make an official announcement.
But both sides independently have signaled they believe the signing is imminent.
As we know in sports, nothing is done until it’s done and signed, and things change and greed can be a mighty enemy. But Thibodeau did what few would have done—including me—in his interest for the Bulls job.
Thibodeau has been an assistant in the NBA for 20 years and in search of a head coaching job for perhaps the last decade. He was the most passed over veteran assistant in the last few years with much less experienced coaches getting jobs.
So what do you do? Accept the first head coaching job that comes along?
I probably would.
But Thibodeau said no to a pretty good New Orleans team with Chris Paul and David West. Then he apparently said no to a New Jersey Nets team with Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, the No. 3 draft pick and salary cap room. They are also a team coming off a 12-win season. Heck, I could coach that team and double the win total and win coach of the year.
Thibodeau apparently said no to both offers for just the chance to be a significant candidate with the Bulls. To be honest, I probably would have taken the Nets job if I were him, although I believe the Bulls have a better chance than the Nets to be a great team.
It says something about Thibodeau and what he likely will bring to the franchise that he was willing to pass on his first ever real chance to be an NBA head coach just to have a chance at what he felt would be the best opportunity.
And it was no sure shot, although Thibodeau long was one of the top candidates to replace the fired Vinny Del Negro.
The Bulls had numerous long telephone conversations with Thibodeau and did ample background checks as they avoided the circus atmosphere of 2008 when they did a parade of interviews. But the first scheduled meeting with Thibodeau was cancelled when the Celtics’ series with Orlando was extended. And then there was a mixup in communications while Boston prepared for the Finals. Just this past week the Bulls and Thibodeau got together before the Finals started in Los Angeles.
By that time, Thibodeau had pretty much passed on the Hornets and Nets and had no guarantees from the Bulls. But the meeting went well and apparently confirmed that Thibodeau had the characteristics general manager Gar Forman outlined when he announced Del Negro’s dismissal.
It was basically a basketball guy,  a teacher who would be well prepared and someone who could be a leader and hold players accountable. Thibodeau seems to fit a number of those categories.
The long knock against him was a vague notion of his difficulty in personal relationships with players, and while I personally haven’t seen it or heard particular examples, he’s worked hands on for two decades with numerous top players. If it was a problem you’d assume you’d have heard more about it and the teams he had big roles with wouldn’t be in three Finals in the last decade.
In some ways, Thibodeau’s story reminds me of football’s Bill Parcells.
Parcells was a longtime assistant coach who didn’t get his first head job until 20 years after he began coaching and in his 40’s. Parcells isn’t every player’s favorite, but he has a designed system of play, much like Thibodeau on defense, and holds to certain values of what a team should be. You get that sense with Thibodeau, who is a renowned hard worker. Parcells had seven assistant coaching jobs and was head coach at Air Force Academy before getting the head job with the football Giants. Likewise, someone like the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, who also can be a bit testy, as every one of those TV reporters who do those mindless end of third quarter interviews will tell you. Guys like Parcells and Popovich, the latter an assistant and college coach for more than 20 years before becoming Spurs coach, are the kind of people who, as it’s said, don’t suffer fools well. When you are demanding, you can get a reputation for not exactly being a people person.
Fine with me. Coaches are not there to be loved and to make life easier on the players. They are there to get more from the player than the player thought himself capable of delivering. If Thibodeau had some instances of not exactly being beloved, who cares.
He’s played a major role almost exclusively with big winners and terrific head coaches who are strong supporters of his, like Jeff Van Gundy and Doc Rivers.
And did anyone mention he’s represented by the same agency that represents LeBron James. I don’t believe that had anything to do with the Bulls decision to extend an offer to Thibodeau. But, as they say, it can’t hurt.

All signs pointing to Thibodeau as next Bulls coach

Boston Celtics associate head coach Tom Thibodeau apparently has emerged as the top candidate for the Bulls head coaching job to replace Vinny Del Negro.

Although the Bulls privately are saying there is no agreement and they are only talking seriously with Thibodeau, at least one Boston newspaper is reporting Thibodeau will be the Bulls’ next coach.

The Boston Herald Friday night quoted an anonymous source saying Thibodeau is the Bulls choice to be their next head coach and a contract offer is being formulated.

There have been other reports of a three-year deal similar to the contract Del Negro worked under and that former Chicago prep star and 76ers All-Star Mo Cheeks and former Bulls assistant Ron Adams, both now on the staff of the Oklahoma City Thunder, could work with Thibodeau. Another source, whose information could not be confirmed, said Thibodeau has been given an informal offer in preparation for working out an official deal.

There also are media reports circulating the New Orleans Hornets, who were first to pursue Thibodeau as a potential head coach, have turned to Portland assistant Monty Williams and will likely hire him as coach.

Thibodeau reportedly also has received strong consideration to fill the open New Jersey Nets coaching job. Nets sources say Thibodeau indicated a preference, instead, for the Bulls job.

There also remains the possibility Celtics coach Doc Rivers could take a leave after this season to spend more time with his family and replace Doug Collins on TNT broadcasts. Would Thibodeau replace him? Boston sources said Thibodeau is more interested in the Bulls situation because of the young core and salary cap flexibility and what he believes is a bright future for the team.

Bulls executives Gar Forman and John Paxson met with Thibodeau earlier this week in Los Angeles and reportedly came away impressed over the meeting. Team officials also have learned that despite having the chance for two different head coaching jobs after a career as an assistant, Thibodeau apparently passed on both and risked having no offer so he could only just have a chance for the Bulls position.

Thibodeau has been mentored in his coaching ambitions by his longtime colleague Jeff Van Gundy, who despite criticism of the Bulls’ decision with Del Negro, advised Thibodeau the Bulls job would be the most desirable, sources said.

Thibodeau also is represented by the Creative Artists agency, which also represents potential free agent LeBron James. The Cavs Friday after previously firing coach Mike Brown accepted the resignation of general manager Danny Ferry. That led to speculation both of an organization in crisis on the verge of losing James or preparing a management team opening for James to return and fill, perhaps someone like Larry Brown or John Calipari.

But it may work to the Bulls’ advantage to have someone like Thibodeau, who has a close working relationship with some of the top business advisors to James who will be helping James get his next contract.

Although Thibodeau never has been an NBA head coach, he is one of the most experienced assistants in the league and an expert on defensive system play who has been on the sidelines as the associate head coach, as he is in Boston, or top assistant in more than 125 playoff games and three NBA Finals. While no one assistant is responsible for all elements of a system, Thibodeau generally has been the defensive coach in 19 seasons in which his teams finished in the top 10 in defense 16 times.

Thibodeau worked for Van Gundy with the Knicks and Rockets and has been with the Celtics four seasons.

There has been a vague criticism of him as a workaholic who finds it difficult to relate to players and staff, though friends of Thibodeau have long been confused about the charge. Van Gundy and Rivers this spring both raved about Thibodeau’s work ethic and relationships with their teams, and I’ll add I know Thibodeau and have always found him relatively pleasant and unassuming, a man who simply likes to talk basketball with a ready good humor. You can only go by how people treat you and I never have had issues with Thibodeau.

He, basically, is a career assistant, a basketball gypsy and lifer who began coaching at his alma mater, Salem State U. in Connecticut. He then was an assistant at Harvard, where he coached President Barack Obama’s Education secretary Arne Duncan, who long has been an ardent supporter of and advocate for Thibodeau as an NBA head coach.

Thibodeau started in the NBA in 1989 working with Bill Musselman in Minnesota, where Thibodeau worked more with the offense. Coaches who worked with him there belied the notion he is only a defensive planner. Thibodeau scouted for Seattle after leaving Minnesota and then was an assistant with the Spurs and 76ers before moving to the Knicks with Van Gundy, who long has championed Thibodeau’s credentials.

Ironically, one of the issues that led Mike D’Antoni to leave the Suns and go to the Knicks was management’s request that D’Antoni hire Thibodeau as associate head coach for defense.

Van Gundy has chosen to remain a TV broadcaster, but most around the NBA regard him as one of the most astute minds in the game and don’t believe he’d damage his reputation or push for Thibodeau for so long unless he believed Thibodeau could be a high level coach. And you have to start somewhere to be a head coach as coaches like Jackson, Gregg Popovich and Van Gundy were little known assistants before getting their first chance. The key for them was they got good teams and top players.

If Thibodeau is able to attract someone like Cheeks to his staff along with holdovers Pete Myers and Randy Brown, the Bulls would have a strong mix of veteran NBA minds and popular and tough former players to comprise an enviable staff.

The Celtics gave teams permission about a month ago to begin talks with Thibodeau after denying him a chance to interview two years ago when Boston was last in the Finals. That probably most hurt Thibodeau’s chances with the Bulls, who were not permitted to interview Thibodeau. This time the Celtics agreed to give Thibodeau a chance and two of the more respected GMs in the league, Jeff Bower in New Orleans and Rod Thorn in New Jersey, quickly made him their top priorities.

Of course, all this could be for naught as no official deal has been struck. But it seems clear that Thibodeau holds the chance to coach the Bulls in highest regard. It also doesn’t appear the Bulls are as close to making a decision with any other top candidate. Plus, Phil Jackson has taken himself out of the mix and Rivers with a year left on his deal after going to the Finals certainly is not going to be allowed by the Celtics to leave and join a conference foe.

The Bulls have indicated they’d talk with other candidates, including Hall of Famer Kevin McHale. But in Forman’s initial remarks about what the team is seeking in a coach he stressed a thorough knowledge of the game and the players, a teacher and someone with a strong defensive system of play.

Plus, the reports in the Boston media strongly suggested the offer to Thibodeau is imminent. There is no deal until there is a deal, and many NBA deals have disappeared before being signed.

But the Boston Herald is known to be close with Celtics coach Rivers and was the publication that first reported Rivers’ interest in perhaps sitting out next season. It would be expected Thibodeau would inform Rivers since the Celtics are in the NBA Finals and Thibodeau would be expected to finish the series on the Celtics bench before joining the Bulls if a deal is forthcoming and finalized. But with the draft upcoming and planning for free agency probably becoming urgent once the Finals concludes, it would make sense to have a coach in place before too long.

NBA doesn’t punish Wade for anti-Bulls comments

The NBA absolved Dwyane Wade of any competitive wrongdoing in declaring the Bulls a disloyal franchise, but Wade’s comments clearly signaled this could be a noxious summer of free agent recruiting.
An NBA spokesman said the NBA has a rule that prohibits players from tampering with other players. The complication is the spokesman said the NBA understands players talk and interact with one another all the time and there is no was to regulate that.
The players from the 2008 Olympic team who are free agents have repeatedly stated they will talk about free agency and their plans, and Wade reiterated that again this week.
As a result of the league’s understanding you cannot prevent friends and colleagues from talking to one another the league reserves disciple for only the “most egregious tampering cases.”
It was decided Wade’s comments “do not meet that standard.”
Still, Wade’s comments to the Chicago Tribune earlier this week that the Bulls are a disloyal franchise given Wade’s view of their treatment of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen should put on notice all teams that this will likely not be a fair and honest process.
Wade delivered the first salvo by suggesting, through implication as I noted in my Bulls.com story Thursday, free agents should avoid the Bulls because of some disloyalty factor.
An cursory examination of each team’s personnel roster, as I did, showed the Bulls with three times as many former players working for the franchise currently compared to the Heat. Plus, a huge number of former Bulls players have had significant positions with the franchise, like coach and GM, while the Heat has regularly ignored its former players for major positions in coaching or management.
So Wade’s message, clearly, was don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. It would seem Wade realized his Heat with a decimated and aging roster don’t have nearly as much to sell as the Bulls. If you can’t let the record speak, perhaps then you try some, as Don King liked to say, trickeration. And, yes, this could become like boxing, which one promoter once described to me as “the closest thing we have to 17th century buccaneering.”
Yes, ready the canons and be ready for attacks. It’s just the beginning.