With Bulls' season over, Thibodeau watch begins

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CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Bulls' season ended. And the Tom Thibodeau watch began.

The Bulls headed into the offseason Friday with one big issue hanging over them — the future of their coach.

There is heavy speculation that Thibodeau will not be back because of a rift with management despite a 255-139 record and playoff appearances in each of his five seasons. But there was no word from the Bulls on Friday.

"If it was up to me, he'll be back," Derrick Rose said Thursday night after a season-ending loss to Cleveland in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Thibodeau said Thursday he expects to be back unless he's told otherwise.

If he's not going to resign — and the relationship is broken beyond repair — the Bulls could fire him. But with two years left on his contract, a more desirable option for them would probably be a trade.

Thibodeau no doubt would rise to the top of the list of available coaching candidates. New Orleans, coming off a playoff appearance and with one of the game's brightest young stars in Anthony Davis has a vacancy after firing Monty Williams. The Orlando job is open, too, and Denver finished the season with an interim coach.

"I haven't really thought about it. Haven't thought about it," he said.

Thibodeau's .647 winning percentage ranks seventh in NBA history among coaches with at least 200 games. He led the Bulls to the top seed in the playoffs his first two seasons and was the NBA's Coach of the Year in 2011 — the same year Rose became the league's youngest MVP.

Chicago advanced to the Eastern Conference finals that season, but it's the only time the Bulls have made it past the second round under Thibodeau.

That was expected to change with the signing of Pau Gasol and return of Derrick Rose after missing most of the previous two years because of injuries to each knee.

Instead, Rose was inconsistent. The Bulls fought through injuries and lacked continuity. Their effort wavered at times, and they wound up with 50 wins — not bad, but not what they anticipated.

"I think this team has more potential," Gasol said. "We showed at times our potential. But in order to be a great team and a championship-caliber team we have to be a little more consistent than we have been. Injuries are always a factor, but I think that happens to most teams out there. We just have to mature and take the opportunity to grow as a team, kind of digest the pain of losing against the Cavs and being eliminated from the playoffs. Just take it all in and work this summer and get ourselves ready for the next run."

The question is who will be coaching them for that run.

Friction between Thibodeau and general manager Gar Forman and John Paxson seemed to mount. The coach chafed at minutes restrictions placed by management on Rose and Joakim Noah, who was coming off knee surgery, along with veteran Kirk Hinrich.

The idea was that the Bulls would be in better shape for the playoffs and not run out of steam, the way they seemed to the previous two years. But it also went against Thibodeau's belief that good habits are developed through repetition.

Adding to the tension, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy accused the Bulls of undermining their coach during a game at Dallas in January. It wasn't the first time he had criticized the organization. But to many, whether it was true or not, it seemed he was serving as a messenger for Thibodeau.

After all, he was an assistant to Van Gundy in New York and Houston.

If this is the end for Thibodeau in Chicago, he is certainly not the first successful coach to lose in a clash with management. For that matter, he would not be the first successful Bulls coach to lose in a clash with management. Just ask Phil Jackson.

Thibodeau has also lasted five years, an eternity in a league where some teams burn through coaches.

Did the speculation take a toll on the team?

"In this league, if you're a pro, it's easy to get sidetracked," Thibodeau said. "You always want to guard against that. If you want to find an excuse, you can. If you want to make good, you can."

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