Looking at new coaching hires, it seems Thibodeau is underpaid by Bulls
BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist June 10, 2014 10:58PM
Updated: July 12, 2014 6:36AM
Derek Fisher is the new coach of the Knicks, and his boss is Big Chief Triangle, Phil Jackson, the former beloved leader of the Bulls.
Fine. Good for New York.
Forget that Fisher, who has played basketball since the peach basket was invented but has never coached a team in his life, will be getting $25 million for five years.
And forget that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, generally considered one of the three or four best coaches in the NBA, makes $4.375 million a year.
Forget, too, that Jackson, whose ailing body prevents him from being the Knicks’ coach because of the travel duties, was rejected by his former three-point shooter, Steve Kerr, who signed on as the coach for the Warriors in mid-May for . . . $25 million for five years.
Sense a trend?
Kerr, too, for all his likability and basketball knowledge, is the same as Fisher — never coached a game in his life.
Maybe none of this matters for the Bulls. But I think it does.
They are in a sort of no-man’s land — waiting, as always, on Derrick Rose’s knee, while fretting about the players (read: Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love) they may or may not snag this summer. The entire team has been refashioned since the start of the 2013-14 season, when Rose went down again and Luol Deng was traded to the Cavaliers. Suddenly, everything revolved around center Joakim Noah, a goofball turned solid leader, a shocking first-team All-NBA selection.
Thibodeau did more with less, did a coaching pirouette, in fact, and remade the Bulls on the fly into a playoff team. You think he doesn’t know that?
You think even in the dark and videotape-cluttered man cave where Thibs spends his waking hours breaking down film from the Naismith era, that he doesn’t know how screwed he is in the nutty world of coaching hires?
Sometimes, the less you have done, the bigger attraction you are. Why, neither Fisher nor Kerr has ever lost a game! Take that, you 107-game loser, Thibodeau. Your 2010-11 NBA Coach of the Year award is so yesterday.
Then there are the lucky boys — the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich and the Heat’s Erik Spoelstra, precisely — obviously fine coaches, but nevertheless very fortunate fellows, too, berry pickers who tripped over the verdant raspberry patch. Between those two Finals coaches, they likely have seven or eight Hall of Fame players, starting with Tim Duncan and LeBron James and drifting down to Manu Ginobili and Ray Allen.
Regardless of team talent, Thibodeau is a wanted coach. Though he has never won a championship as a head coach, he is so respected that he has been selected as an assistant for coach Mike Krzyzewski’s U.S. men’s national team. Coach K is a walking hoops god, we all know, but he’s a college coach, and — guess what? — he makes more than twice as much as Thibs.
Back in April 2013, Thibodeau signed a four-year, $17.5 million contract extension with the Bulls, taking him through 2016-17. That, you might think, would be the end of it. Probably is. But coaches can get fidgety, can become burdens to their parent team, can have lawyers work out ways to buy out contracts, move on, etc.
Even Kobe Bryant has said he’d like Thibodeau to be his coach, to take over the dysfunctional-family Lakers. Whether a wish by a fading superstar such as Bryant, who will turn 36 this summer, is even worth processing, who knows? But the idea of being in demand is a concept that won’t go away. Thibs and his defense-first, all-for-one, nothing-exists-in-my-world-but-hoops intensity is a desired commodity.
The Nets took fresh-off-the-court Jason Kidd last year and made him their coach, and the result wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad, either. Kidd signed for $10.5 million for four years, with three years and $7.5 million guaranteed, and he’ll likely renegotiate upward sometime soon.
You can see how the coaching inflation has launched just since 2013. Indeed, there are several coaches making $6 million to $7 million per year in the NBA. And rich-man college coach John Calipari just turned down a seven-year, $60 million offer to be president, coach and chief Humpty Dumpty of the woeful Cavaliers.
To give you an idea of the leverage here, consider that Calipari took $52.5 million from Kentucky, for seven years, loaded with bonuses that will earn him millions more.
If there’s a glitch in Thibs’ wagon, it’s that he’s so intense, he sometimes burns a hole right through his team. ‘‘Thibodeau is a great coach,’’ former Bull and current Spur Marco Belinelli said the other day. ‘‘But maybe Pop is more like a cool guy. He wants to speak with you, have a conversation . . . not just about basketball.’’
Well, focus is focus.
We’ll see if Thibs keeps his in Chicago.