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The time has long come for the Bulls to pay the piper.
For Chicago, that should mean rewarding Tom Thibodeau in the way in which by now he should have become accustomed given his varied accomplishments. During his first four full seasons in town, Thibs has arguably done more with less than anyone the game has ever saluted.
That was never more on display than during the 2012-13 season when with Derrick Rose sidelined for the duration and both Joakim Noah and Luol Deng hobbled for significant stretches, Thibodeau still managed to lead the Bulls past the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs and to a respectable showing in the second against the eventual champion Heat.
The next season, when Rose again went down early with yet another season-ending knee injury, Thibodeau staged his encore by rescuing the Bulls season and salvaging D.J. Augustin’s career in anointing him the league’s youngest ever MVP’s replacement and again master-minding the Bulls’ improbable Eastern Conference playoff run.
Thibodeau is now averaging 51 wins per season during his Chicago tenure and in 2010-11— the last year he had a fully healthy Rose for the entire season— led the Bulls to a conference-leading 62 wins.
And still, the 56-year-old veteran coach seems to be struggling to find common ground with the only franchise he’s called the shots for. Thibodeau’s pact with the team expires after the 2016-17 season and what comes of his relationship with VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson and other senior management execs after that almost seems left to chance.
‘‘What the hell are the Bulls doing with Thibs?’’ one former NBA coach recently told ESPN, noting that even now Thibodeau is still paid less than such rookie coaches as Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher. ‘‘Stand back and let him do his thing.’’
In now trying to sway most recent convert Pau Gasol, Thibodeau may be facing one of his stiffest challenges of all. Over his 13-year career, the four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion has never been known for his defense, but you don’t consistently take the floor for Tom Thibodeau without doing the basics.
And with the hard-nosed, grizzled coach that all starts and ends with defense. “He’s got great length, he’s got great timing,” Thibodeau said of his raised demands for his seven-foot center. “He’s smart. He can anticipate. He’s still not communicating as well as he’s capable of. He can do better.”
And the genius that is Tom Thibodeau now has Pau Gasol believing and vowing that he will do better. “I’ve always been more of an offensive-minded player… but with this defense I’m going to be in the paint a lot, protecting the paint, protecting the rim. I feel good so I think I’m going to have a pretty good season defensively,” said Gasol.
Pau Gasol’s change of heart and focus is the magic of Tom Thibodeau. John Paxson are you listening?
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