Tom Thibodeau is viewed in coaching circles and the NBA community as a coaching savant. He has done wonders during his five-year run with the Bulls, winning Coach of the Year his first season and leading Chicago to three 50-win campaigns. But in the end, because let’s be honest, this is the end of the Thibs era in Chicago, the perception of Thibodeau’s success was always greater than the reality. Ultimately, the Thibs era was a failure.
There’s no denying Thibodeau’s regular season success in Chicago. The Bulls never won less than 45 games under Thibs and at least tied for the league lead in wins during his first two seasons. Thibodeau worked wonders with some players, with Luol Deng becoming an All-Star, Joakim Noah winning Defensive Player of the Year, Jimmy Butler turning into a superstar and Pau Gasol having a rejuvenated season. Not to mention, Thibs helped Derrick Rose turn into an MVP-caliber player. The Bulls compiled an awful lot of regular-season accolades during the Thibs era, but when it mattered most they couldn’t deliver. Not even close.
Thibs’ postseason record with Chicago is 23-28, for a disappointing .451 winning percentage. That’s a far cry from his outstanding 255-139 record (.647 winning percentage) during the regular season. Thibodeau’s coaching philosophy just didn’t work in the playoffs.
The Bulls were of course unlucky during Thibodeau’s run in Chicago. Rose tore his ACL in the first game of the postseason in 2012, and Thibs wouldn’t have another chance to coach him in the playoffs until this season. There was also myriad other unlucky instances that had nothing to do with Rose. Noah missed the last three games of the Sixers series, Deng’s spinal tap kept him out of the 2013 Heat series, Carlos Boozer was, well, Carlos Boozer, Gasol’s hamstring this playoffs … really I can go on and on with some of the stuff that didn’t go Chicago’s way the past five seasons. But even when everything went Chicago’s way like it did this postseason, Thibs and the Bulls still couldn’t deliver.
Chicago couldn’t have asked for more help to make the Finals this season. Kevin Love‘s shoulder injury and Kyrie Irving‘s banged-up lower body created a path for the Bulls to finally knock off that pesky LeBron James. That same LeBron James that beat the Bulls in five games in 2010, 2011 and 2013. That same LeBron James that reached the NBA Finals for four straight seasons with the Miami Heat as Chicago watched from home. Finally, FINALLY, the Bulls had a chance to dethrone the King, but once again Thibs and the Bulls couldn’t deliver.
After being 12 minutes away from a 3-1 series lead, the Bulls dropped the final three games of the series against the Cavaliers and looked completely lifeless. These weren’t the heart-hustle-muscle Bulls that Chicago has come to love. These were the tired, overworked, offensively-inept Bulls that Chicago has come to hate.
Thursday’s 94-73 defeat in Game 6 epitomized the Thibodeau era in Chicago. Even with a home crowd behind them and the possibility of being eliminated breathing down their necks, the Bulls still laid an egg and really never had a chance. Thibs had everyone on his roster to play with, even Rose, but the Bulls were still overmatched by a hobbled Cavaliers squad. A LeBron miss in Game 4 and a Butler make in Game 5 could have changed this series, but the ball didn’t bounce the Bulls’ way. It hasn’t ever since Thibodeau has come to Chicago.
The Thibodeau era in Chicago will be viewed by many as a success. The regular-season accomplishments are nothing to sneeze at, neither are the miracles he pulled by turning bit players into studs. He also turned solid players (Deng, Noah, Butler) into All-Stars. Thibs deserves credit for all of that, but ultimately his tenure in Chicago will be remembered for it’s failures. It’ll be remembered for the heartbreaking Eastern Conference Finals loss in 2011, and the even more heartbreaking loss this postseason. It’ll be remembered for the stellar regular seasons and underachieving postseasons. It’ll be remembered for the exhausted players who should have got more rest in meaningless games.
Tom Thibodeau is one heck of a coach, but he was never the right fit in Chicago with this front office. Because of that, he’ll be coaching another team next season.