Tom Thibodeau and Gar Forman have had an impressive run of success together.
Thibodeau won 100 games faster than any head coach in NBA history, has posted a 155-75 record in three seasons and has won three playoff series.
In the previous 12 years, the Bulls won exactly one playoff series.
Since assuming the general manager role with the Bulls, Forman has had an excellent track record with his draft picks, landing Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik with low selections.
He also put together the successful “Bench Mob,” then hit again with Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli after the mob was dismantled.
So why wouldn’t Thibodeau and Forman have a smooth relationship?
They should, but they don’t. Forman’s decision to essentially fire lead assistant Ron Adams, one of Thibodeau’s closest friends in coaching, brought the coach-GM relationship into the open.
On Monday, Forman and Thibodeau sat together at the Berto Center as the Bulls introduced draft picks Tony Snell and Erik Murphy. Reporters were asked not to bring up questions about Adams while the draft picks were at the podium, which is a reasonable request.
When the news conference ended, the team passed out a news release with bland statements from both Forman and Thibodeau regarding the decision not to renew Adams’ contract.
Eventually, Forman came back, took questions from the media and did a nice job of glossing things over.
“I really can’t (elaborate),” he said. “I think with any kind of personnel decision, I think it’s best left unsaid, as far as why decisions are made. I don’t think it does anybody any good to go into specifics.
“Tom is going to recommend who he wants hired. At the end of the day, I have final say over the 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.”
Up until now, it appears management granted Thibodeau’s requests for assistants, including when Thibodeau chose not to include Pete Myers on his original staff in 2010.
Thibodeau did not comment on the topic Monday. According to a source, Thibodeau tried to convince management to retain Adams but was unsuccessful. The rest of the coaching staff will stay intact.
So one question is, why did Forman decide now to make a change in the coaching staff, which Thibodeau apparently did not support?
Money might have been a factor, and it’s possible Adams’ spot will not be filled.
Based on multiple accounts, Adams is a passionate coach who wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion if he disagreed with a decision. Over time, Adams might have grated on Forman and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson.
Adams was on Scott Skiles’ staff long before Thibodeau arrived, and friction between he and Forman may have started back then.
Personally, I don’t think Bulls management set out to attack Thibodeau by removing a trusted member of his staff. But at some point, Forman, Paxson and team president Michael Reinsdorf had to ask, “Should we make this move even if it upsets Thibodeau?” The answer obviously was yes.
Thibodeau and Adams have been close friends since working together in San Antonio under head coach Jerry Tarkanian in 1992. Thibodeau and Adams also worked together in Philadelphia under John Lucas.
“There are times where I may make decisions that Tom doesn’t totally agree with,” Forman said. “There may be times where Tom makes decisions that I don’t totally agree with. It’s like that, I think, in any business. I’m sure it’s like that in your family.
“The key thing to me, at the end of the day, I’ve got to make decisions that I feel are best for the Bulls organization. We talk about decisions and once the decision is made, we unite and we continue to move forward.
“We’ve got a lot of positive things, I feel, on the horizon for this basketball team.”
Eventually, this will blow over and the Bulls will move on. Thibodeau just signed a four-year contract extension, so he’s not going to quit. There’s more to it, though. Derrick Rose worked with Adams probably more than any other coach and is said to be upset with the decision.
The question remains, though: Why would a successful coach and general manager have a rough partnership? One prominent national columnist suggested Monday the Bulls have by far the worst coach-GM relationship in the NBA.
“I think Tom and I have a very good working relationship,” Forman said. “Over the course of the year, there are a lot of decisions that have to be made. We’re not always going to agree on everything, but at the end of the day we both have the best interest of the Bulls moving forward, is what our goal is. We unite and we move forward.”
The Bulls’ management team often is referred to as “GarPax” since both men seem to have a say in key decisions. Really, though, Forman has taken the lead ever since Paxson took on a reduced role in 2009.
Forman is an excellent scout, but his ability to manage and lead strong personalities may not be as much of a strength. Paxson is a sharp executive, but his temper still sometimes gets the best of him.
According to a source, Paxson was upset at the end of the Game 5 playoff loss in Miami that Thibodeau didn’t use available timeouts. Despite the team’s success, Forman and Paxson often are critical of Thibodeau’s coaching decisions.
As far as front-office dysfunction goes, the current Bulls have a long, long way to go to match the infamous Phil Jackson-Jerry Krause relationship of the championship era.
The Bulls seem to have a chance to sustain another successful pairing of a coach and superstar. For Thibodeau and Rose to last long term, some relationships inside the Berto Center might have to change.
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