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Bulls shooting a brick by not extending Tom Thibodeau’s contract

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau heads locker room after Chicago Bulls lost 108-91 Denver Nuggets Monday March 26 2012 United

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau heads to the locker room after the Chicago Bulls lost 108-91 to the Denver Nuggets Monday March 26, 2012 at the United Center in Chicago. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 2, 2012 10:35AM



The nice way to describe the contract negotiations between the Bulls and Tom Thibodeau would be ‘‘deliberate.’’

The not-so-nice way would be “please don’t tell me the Bulls are going the cheap route again.” Here’s a man who was the NBA’s Coach of the Year in 2011 and easily could have been again this past season. Not bad for your first two years as a head coach. In terms of work ethic, Thibodeau eats, sleeps and breathes basketball and, given the opportunity, probably would snort it. All of this would seem to make for smooth sailing in terms of an extension. But judging by the way negotiations have dragged on, one would have to conclude the sailing is devoid of wind.

This one is easy. All together now, with Thibodeau-like emphasis: Pay. The. Man.

The Bulls are onto something good with Thibs. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in quantitative hoops to understand that. He knows the game and he knows how to teach the game. His players play hard for him every night — not a given in the NBA. It doesn’t hurt that Derrick Rose likes him. A lot. After every practice, Rose sits with Thibodeau and watches film, like an acolyte at the knee of Martin Scorsese.

In April, ESPN reported that Thibodeau was ‘‘dismayed’’ he hadn’t yet signed a contract extension. Another report said Bulls players knew of his unhappiness, which meant he had been complaining to them about his status. He denied all of it, but behind the scenes, he was upset that Bulls management seemed to be taking him lightly.

I can just imagine the Bulls’ rationalizations: ‘‘You’ve coached only two years in the league.’’

‘‘You had been an NBA assistant for 21 years, and we gave you a head coaching job after lots of teams wouldn’t.’’

‘‘Coaches’ salaries are shrinking.’’

‘‘We just picked up your option for the 2012-13 season, so what’s the rush?’’

Look at the coaches the Bulls have had since Phil Jackson left in 1998: Tim Floyd, Bill Cartwright, Scott Skiles, Jim Boylan, Vinny Del Negro and Thibodeau. Only two of them, Skiles and Thibodeau, would be considered keepers.

Skiles happens to be part of the problem here. The Bulls gave him a four-year, $16.5  million extension in 2005 and were on the line for a significant amount of cash after they fired him in 2007. They’d prefer not to pay coaches who no longer coach for them. Who would?

Any agent worth his hair gel would say that’s not Thibodeau’s problem, but of course it is. These are the Bulls, and they like coaches to know their place.

Thibodeau was beholden to chairman Jerry Reinsdorf for giving him the job. That was reflected in the contract he signed: two years with an option. There’s not a lot of faith or risk in that, nor should there be with a new coach. But now that Thibodeau has proved himself, the idea that he owes Reinsdorf something fades.

It’s true Thibs is a beneficiary of the lottery-ball luck that brought Rose to the Bulls. It’s also true they had the league’s best record this season despite Rose missing 27 games with injuries. That’s called ‘‘coaching.’’

Do the Bulls have concerns? I’m sure they do, and they should. Thibodeau needs to learn to take his foot off the gas. His teams have looked beaten down by the time they have reached the playoffs. We can argue until the end of time whether Rose should have been on the court with a playoff game against the 76ers all but won. Rose blew out his knee, and the Bulls were charred.

But the body of Thibodeau’s work, small as the sample size is, has been brilliant.

It’s worth noting that the only first-round draft pick that Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski didn’t tweet seconds or minutes before commissioner David Stern made his announcements Thursday was the Bulls’ choice. It explains why we’ve had little information on Thibodeau’s situation and why we’re left to look at the blank space where there’s supposed to be a new deal and wonder why. The Bulls have an information blackout.

What we can say with certainty is that the longer this goes on, the more room there will be for hard feelings to seep in.

Do the Bulls think they have a coach for the next five years? That’s the only question here. They know the correct answer.



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