By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago senior columnist
(CBS) What mattered was who was speaking and that it was official comment on team letterhead.
This wasn’t information uncovered by reporters from one side of the conflict or the other or a friendly proxy with a microphone taking potshots. This was the Bulls chairman himself laying wood to a coach after he was fired, showing lock-step support of his management. Anybody assuming that Jerry Reinsdorf wanted to play peacemaker for the cold war between Tom Thibodeau and his bosses is now disabused of that fanciful notion after Thibodeau was fired by the organization on Thursday.
Uncharacteristic bluntness was everywhere in Reinsdorf’s long and detailed statement that reinforced the need for a properly functioning workplace — something impossible when involving the obsessive, compulsive, uncommunicative, often paranoid Thibodeau.
“There must be free and open interdepartmental discussion and consideration of everyone’s ideas and opinions,” Reinsdorf said. “These internal discussions must not be considered an invasion of turf, and must remain private.
“When everyone is on the same page, trust develops and teams can grow and succeed together. Unfortunately, there was a departure from this culture. To ensure that the Chicago Bulls can continue to grow and succeed, we have decided that a change in the head coaching position is required.”
The typical language for such a common move, this was not.
Nor was the decision particularly difficult. After five seasons that made Thibodeau the longest-tenured NBA coach without a title, it was clearly time for him to go. Playoffs matter more than games in January, long-term health merits attention and care, offense matters as much or more now than defense and players should never be avoiding their own practice facility because they feel suffocated by their coach.
Thibodeau’s Bulls run ended with a desultory season marked by inexplicable losses to bad teams, and with a playoff path finally gifted to them by the good fortune of injuries, the team responded by quitting meekly in the biggest game yet, a Game 6 blowout loss to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals. It was an inecxusable embarrassment that resonated badly in the hallways of team offices, all the way up.
This didn’t come from executive vice president John Paxson, general manager Gar Forman or even increasingly involved chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf. The mere fact that Jerry Reinsdorf is the one providing the commentary is meaningful, but the fact that it’s so pointed tells us just how bad things became. He doesn’t do this unless he feels he or the organization was somehow wronged in a way that deserves public rebuke.
The last time Reinsdorf even came close to something like this was upon the sour departure of Horace Grant in 1994, after which Reinsdorf openly accused Grant of backing out of a deal and of sitting out games in “blue flu” protest.
“I believe we failed to achieve the best record in the Eastern Conference because we lost the games that Horace failed to play,” Reinsdorf said then. “I think you might conclude that he cost us the championship.”
Until now, that was the only time Reinsdorf seemed so motivated to slam a door like this.
His message Thursday was simple and a long time coming for a coach whose game-planning and tactical skills were eventually overcome by his quixotic stubbornness, territorial neuroses and socialization problems.
The very top of the Bulls organization has had enough.