Kap: Loyalty played major role in Thibodeau's fallout with Bulls


Kap: Loyalty played major role in Thibodeau's fallout with Bulls

A week has passed since the Bulls fired Tom Thibodeau and replaced him with Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. Much has been made of the relationship between Thibodeau and the Bulls front office, specifically John Paxson and Gar Forman. A relationship that has been strained for a long time and one that was public knowledge well before the 2014-15 season even began.

It takes two sides to make a relationship work and it takes two sides to make a relationship fail. On that account both parties deserve some culpability. However, after dismissing Thibodeau the Bulls took the unusual step of releasing a statement that was highly critical of their former coach and painted him as someone who is extremely tough to get along with in the work environment.

Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has long had a reputation for being great to work for and someone who is extremely loyal to his employees. For him to be as critical as he was in the Bulls press release opened eyes around the NBA and especially here in Chicago. So why did the Bulls take what some feel was an unnecessary shot as they were kicking their highly successful coach to the curb?

[MORE: Tom Thibodeau, on Bulls firing: 'I have no regrets']

After Jeff Van Gundy ripped the Bulls organization during a nationally televised game on Jan. 23 and called into question the lack of support for previous Bulls coaches, the front office was livid. In fact, Reinsdorf felt Thibodeau was exceptionally disloyal because it was one of his closest friends (Van Gundy) doing the ripping and Reinsdorf spoke to Thibodeau about the on air incident demanding that it not happen again.

However, the sniping continued on multiple fronts and for Reinsdorf that was the end. He could put up with the intense coaching, some front office friction, and the lack of support from Thibodeau in some areas of the Bulls organization who felt that the coach was difficult to work with. However, the relationship between Reinsdorf and Thibodeau was now beyond repair. The two men had been reasonably close and Reinsdorf had taken the coach under his wing. Loyalty is the one quality that the owner demands and when he feels it is gone he is done with the relationship. The statement from Reinsdorf that the Bulls released on May 28 spoke volumes about their position on the strained relationship. This part of the press release was especially telling: “While the head of each department of the organization must be free to make final decisions regarding his department, there must be free and open interdepartmental discussion and consideration of everyone's ideas and opinions. These internal discussions must not be considered an invasion of turf, and must remain private.”

The Thibodeau situation was much like Horace Grant who found himself on the outside after meeting with the owner to negotiate a new contract in the early 90’s. After being cautioned by Reinsdorf to make sure Grant wanted to do a new deal without his agent’s approval and agreeing to terms, Grant went back on his word. That ended things with the Bulls and eventually he found his way to Orlando.

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Thibodeau’s perceived disloyalty broke Reinsdorf’s cardinal rule. That combined with the difficult working environment that many inside the organization complained about and the Bulls failure to advance past a beatable Cleveland Cavaliers team made the decision to change coaches a very easy one for Paxson and Forman. The statement that was highly critical of Thibodeau was the owner finally saying he had had enough.

Thibodeau is an outstanding coach and he will work again in the NBA. He compiled a resume of success that no one can argue with. He is one of the winningest coaches in NBA regular season history, he is a tremendous student of the game and he has a tireless work ethic. However, his ability to coach his team was never a point of contention with his bosses. It was the lack of a harmonious relationship with his superiors and the one mistake that Reinsdorf could not overlook, a perceived lack of loyalty to his ultimate boss and to the organization that did him in. Say what you want about the Bulls not taking the high road when they announced his firing but after taking repeated punches from the coach’s supporters the owner finally punched back and his was a knockout blow.

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch the series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?


Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.