There may not be a next year for Tom Thibodeau in Chicago.
No head coach in NBA history won more games in his first two seasons than Tom Thibodeau.
In his five years as the Chicago Bulls coach, he’s made the playoffs every year, won at least 50 games three times, and managed to win a playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets without Derrick Rose or Luol Deng, and Joakim Noah playing on one leg.
Nate Robinson was his best player in the series and somehow they won a game seven on the road.
From the start of the 2011 season to the end of the 2013-14 season, Rose played a total of 49 games. And yet Thibs still had a record of 143-87. That’s a winning percentage of 621.
Much more likely than not, this was his best chance at taking down LeBron James in the NBA playoffs. And even more possible that this was Derrick Rose’s best chance of beating LeBron.
Assuming Chicago does max-out the contract Jimmy Butler this off-season as he enters restricted free agency, the Bulls will return with mostly their entire team with the exception of Mike Dunleavy.
But even if Thibs returns, who’s to say this team will actually be better?
Butler emerged as the team’s best player this season and maybe he can still get better as he grows, but Pau Gasol will be 35 years old entering next season. As encouraging as it was to see Rose stay healthy and perform in the playoffs, there’s no guarantee he doesn’t get hurt again next season.
Joakim Noah has looked incredibly banged up this year. As if he’s been completely run into the ground. Taj Gibson is what he is at this point. A nice rotational defensive forward without much of an offensive game.
If they couldn’t beat James without Kevin Love the entire series. J.R. Smith suspended the first two games and Kyrie Irving virtually playing on one leg and missing a little more than half of game six, then how do they expect to take him down next season and beyond? With or without Thibs.
Chicago would need a vast improvement next year from Nikola Mirotic. Much like the leap in Jimmy Butler’s game. That’s the only conceivable way to think they can pass LeBron with largely the same group.
Shooting is another glaring need for this team. I hated the Doug McDermott trade in last year’s NBA draft but if he shows any progression next season then he needs to be out there to spread the floor. But if they lose Dunleavy then he’s essentially just a replacement as opposed to an addition.
Regardless of age, sometimes a team or a player’s window for a championship slams shut much sooner than expected. This may not have been MVP-type Rose, but it was the best D-Rose we have seen in three years and this was easily his best supporting cast during his time in Chicago. If you can’t beat “King James” with the banged up supporting cast he had this year, you never will.
There’s nothing wrong with being one of the top teams in your conference and competing every season. Teams like the Chris Webber Sacramento Kings and the Alonzo Mourning Miami Heat had some excellent years. They just couldn’t get over the hump.
Neither will the Bulls.