Thibodeau-to-Lakers intriguing, but Bulls unlikely to cooperate

Thibodeau-to-Lakers intriguing, but Bulls unlikely to cooperate
May 1, 2014, 5:30 pm
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More than likely, it's much ado about nothing--at least at this point--but the Lakers' reported interest in Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to fill the head-coaching vacancy created by Mike D'Antoni's surprise resignation Wednesday night has captured the attention of the NBA landscape.

Of course, the Lakers' initial list of prospective candidates includes everyone from former players such as Byron Scott, current Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis and veteran Thunder backup point guard Derek Fisher to college coaches John Calipari of Kentucky and Connecticut's Kevin Ollie, who just won a national championship last month.

But Thibodeau, for a variety of reasons, is the name that brings the most buzz with it.

His style of coaching would be a distinct departure from the famously offensive-minded D'Antoni and he has a connection with Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant going back to the future Hall of Famer's teenage years outside of Philadelphia, when the then-76ers assistant coach used to work out the prep-to-pros phenom. Probably most significant for a Lakers franchise coming off one of its worst seasons, Thibodeau brings both the cache and track record that would make a splash in Los Angeles.

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Thibodeau is no longer regarded as simply the guy who worked hard for 20 years before getting his first opportunity to run his own show, but a legitimate superstar coach. From his first two seasons in Chicago, when the Bulls had the best regular-season record in the NBA, to the last two campaigns, in which an undermanned team built around Derrick Rose remained competitive despite the former league MVP playing a total of 10 games, even without substantive playoff success, the USA Basketball assistant coach is viewed as one of the game's elite in his profession, someone the hard-charging Bryant would instantly respect.

Although the Lakers don't currently have a roster that's anywhere near championship-contending status, the deep-pocketed organization can both make him an offer he can't refuse and back up a promise to pursue the best available NBA free-agent talent moving forward. Coupled with the long-standing speculation about a rift between the coach and the Bulls' front office, even with Rose set to return, the organization having a big summer ahead of them--including the potential courtship of Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony--and strong core molded in the culture he's created, it's reasonable to believe that Thibodeau would at least be intrigued with relocating to Los Angeles.

There's only one problem with that scenario: Thibodeau is under contract and the Bulls, while they know he isn't perfect, don't have a better alternative if their plan to compete for a title next season is still the course. Part of Anthony's desire to play in Chicago, one would imagine, has to do with Thibodeau--and that's without reading too much into his reported wondering about "what it's like to play for Thibs" last month--and for Rose, All-Star center Joakim Noah and the rest of the Bulls' holdovers, getting a new coach now would certainly represent a dramatic shift.

If the Bulls did happen to consider parting with Thibodeau and allow the Lakers permission to start discussions with him, the precedent set by his close friend Doc Rivers last summer--coincidentally, Rivers is in Los Angeles himself, coaching the recently embattled Clippers--would be in effect, meaning they'd seek compensation. The Lakers have both assets and cap space moving forward, in the form of free-agent big man Pau Gasol and a high lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, not to mention the fact that the Bulls could suggest that they take Carlos Boozer, heading into the last year of his contract, in the deal, enabling them to not have to use the amnesty clause on the much-maligned power forward.

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That highly-coveted draft pick is the most realistic form of potential compensation and would dovetail with a youth movement the Bulls would likely have to enact, one that Thibodeau, who coaches as if a title is at stake from training camp on, is less equipped to handle. A core featuring Rose, Noah, sixth man Taj Gibson, swingman Jimmy Butler and up to three rookies would be perfect for a more patient coach, such as Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg, a former Bulls player, member of the Timberwolves' front office and one of the hot names in coaching circles.

But all of this speculation is premature, just as the rumors of Thibodeau heading to New York were--though the Knicks hiring Phil Jackson had something to do with that--and talk of somehow acquiring All-Star power forward Kevin Love from Minnesota will be. It's definitely fun to discuss now, but it would be surprising if the Bulls acquiesced to the Lakers' wishes of negotiating with their top-tier head coach, who again, is under contract.

That doesn't mean Thibodeau and to a lesser extent, the Bulls, won't think about it, but with the planning that's gone into the upcoming summer following Rose's season-ending knee injury in November and the Luol Deng trade in January, changing course now, isn't quite as appealing to a more unknown alternative.