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Firing of Bulls’ assistant triggers discord between Thibs, Gar

Bulls assistant coach RAdams (left) with head coach Tom Thibodeau December 2012.  I Sun-Times Media

Bulls assistant coach Ron Adams (left) with head coach Tom Thibodeau in December of 2012. I Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 2, 2013 3:11AM



Is the firing of Bulls assistant coach Ron Adams a sign of a fracture in the relationship between general manager Gar Forman and coach Tom Thibodeau?

Maybe. Maybe not. But when Forman insisted that ‘‘Tom and I have a very good working relationship,’’ it’s worth nothing that he did so at a press conference alone, with Thibodeau — who had just shared a table with Forman for a press conference to introduce draft picks Tony Snell and Erik Murphy — suddenly nowhere to be found.

If this were a true team decision, it would behoove the Bulls to show some unity and have the coach and the general manager address side-by-side the most obvious question the move elicited.

‘‘There’s a number of decisions that have to be made, sometimes in a day,’’ Forman continued. ‘‘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 is what our goal is. We unite and we move forward.’’

That may be so, but the issue of discord between Forman and Thibodeau is well within bounds for Bulls fans and the media, especially considering that Thibodeau was hired in the first place as a result of a GM/coach relationship that turned sour in the worst way — with John Paxson physically confronting Vinny Del Negro over a decision they disagreed with, but somehow did not unite and move forward.

Smaller disagreements than the firing of a head coach’s lead assistant have started coaches and GMs on a path toward toward such an irreconcilable difference. So the concern is real. And unfortunately, Forman’s contention that everything is fine between himself and Thibodeau is of dubious merit.

Just moments before speaking those words, Forman insisted at hastily called press conference that ‘‘I don’t mind talking about it,’’ when in fact he tried to avoid it at all costs and was prepared to let a three-paragraph statement on a press release say all he wanted to say about the matter.

In fact, the Bulls played a little dirty pool with the media to try to keep Forman from having to address the Adams issue. Prior to the press conference for Snell and Murphy, reporters were asked to not ask about Adams and that the issue would be dealt with “later.” Only after incensed reporters vehemently complained about the ploy when the team announced that ‘‘later’’ meant the press release and not an interview did Forman agree to the later press conference.

The Bulls officially announced Monday that they would not rehire Adams, whose contract expired after the 2012-13 season.

Forman said in a statement: ‘‘We want to thank Ron for everything that he has brough to this organization in his role as assistant coach, and we wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors. After assessing the situation, it was my decision that this was in the best interest for the Bulls organization.’’

The Bulls added only a short comment from Thibodeau that said more than perhaps it intended: ‘‘Ron is a great friend, an outstanding coach and I will miss him.’’

Asked at the press conference to elaborate on the statement, Forman said, ‘‘I really can’t. I think with any type of personnel decision, it’s best left unsaid as far as why decisions are made. So I don’t think it does anybody any good to go into specifics.’’

But it was clear that Thibodeau did not agree with the decision — and more importantly, in the big picture, that Thibodeau does not have final say on his assistant coaches.

‘‘Tom is going to recommend who he wants hired,’’ Forman said. ‘‘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.’’

Forman would not go into any specifics regarding his decision to fire — or not rehire — Adams.

‘‘When we make a decision like this, I don’t think it serves anybody well to go into detail of why the decision was made,’’ Forman said. ‘‘The decision was made by me because I felt it was the best decision for the Bulls moving forward.

‘‘And at the end of the day, those are the decisions I have to make. Whether it’s personnel or players or whatever it may be, there’s a process in place, there’s obviously a lot of talk and communication with our staff and then I’ve got to make decisions I think are are best for the Bulls moving forward.’’

But the real issue is how this will affect the relationship between Forman and Thibodeau. Forman clearly was uncomfortable with aspect of the decision — when he was asked if Thibodeau agreed with the decision, it took him 169 words to say the obvious: ‘‘No.’’

‘‘Tom makes the decisions on the floor. He’s our head coach,’’ Forman said when asked if Thibodeau was on board with the decision. ‘‘I think he’s as good a coach as there is in the NBA. He does a great job. Do I agree with absolutely every decision he makes? We’ll communicate. Probably not. But at the end of the day. I’m going to support decisions he makes and I think he’s going to support decisions I make.’’

As it stands, Forman and Thibodeau are united and moving forward. But the situation bears watching. Forman compared his decision to not rehire Adams and Thibodeau’s disagreement to decisions husbands and wives make all the time. And he’s right about that. But the fact of the matter is that nearly 50 percent of the marriages in the U.S. end in divorce — often because one disagreement leads to another.

So stay tuned.



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