A consensus choice as one of the game’s elite coaches (his former boss, Doc Rivers, and San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich are also in the discussion), Tom Thibodeau proved the worthiness of the long-term contract extension he signed last year with the season the Bulls had, persevering through Derrick Rose’s absence and a litany of other injuries to advance to the second round of the playoffs.
Assuming health isn’t a significant issue for Rose or any other of the Bulls’ key pieces, like the second year of his tenure, Thibodeau is saddled with high expectations, and for all of his skill as a defensive strategist, underrated offensive coach, ability to motivate players and knack for minimizing distractions, including the media, other than Rose’s progress and maybe Luol Deng’s contract, his management of minutes will be the most-discussed topic surrounding the team this season. While his distribution of playing time can’t conclusively be linked to the Bulls’ bad luck — for example, Deng’s spinal-tap procedure began with having the flu, not anything on the court — his image as an unrelenting taskmaster doesn’t do Thibodeau any favors.
Neither does the specter of a behind-the-scenes feud with team management, specifically Bulls general manager Gar Forman, in the wake of lead assistant coach Ron Adams’ offseason departure and other issues, regardless of whether perception always matches reality. It won’t matter if the two parties butt heads or not, however, if the Bulls’ organization-wide goal of winning a title is met, as Forman will get the lion’s share of credit for assembling the roster, while the job of Thibodeau and his players is to handle business on the court.
If that doesn’t occur this season, things will almost certainly change, as players he’s relied on since arriving in Chicago — Deng and Carlos Boozer, for starters — could be off to new destinations next summer, while the front office will almost positively look toward the 2014 free-agent class and securing the future services of young players like Jimmy Butler and fellow 2011 draft pick Nikola Mirotic, in addition to the trade market (which could feature impact players set to be 2015 free agents) as the Bulls look to capitalize on the remaining years of the long-term deal of Rose and to a lesser extent, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. The Bulls know what they have in Thibodeau, and after all of his years as an NBA assistant, he understands the opportunity he has in a major market like Chicago and with a superstar like Rose, so making the most of it this season is of the utmost priority to the basketball savant.
Make sure to check out all the Bulls previews, each spotlighting this season's expectations for individual players and head coach Tom Thibodeau: