He’ll might have to add an “X” at the end of his name. And fans will have to learn to throw in an “H” where they never have before.
But doesn’t every new relationship require making adjustments?
Tom Thibodeau is the new leader in the clubhouse to become the new coach of the New Orleans Pelicans. And should the current coach of the Chicago Bulls (a status that’s extremely shaky) wind up at 5800 Airline Highway, any spelling and pronunciation differences no doubt will be quickly resolved.
Especially if he could win here like he has in Chi-Town.
Thibs (who insists that the “H” isn’t silent, a violation of every know rule of articulation, although he claims to have no idea why not), who’s from the Cajun capitol of New England — New Britain, Connecticut — has averaged 51 victories in his five seasons with the Bulls.
That’s five more than the Hornets/Pelicans ever won in a season under the recently fired Monty Williams.
And if Thibodeau has only gotten the Bulls past the first round two times and saw his team humiliated by 94-73 by Cleveland at home in Game 6 on Thursday, well, the Hornets/Pels won only two playoff games under Williams and couldn’t hold a 20-point fourth-quarter lead at home against Golden State.
Throw in the fact that Thibodeau is considered among the premier defensive minds in the NBA and that the Pels had a serious defensive decline this season despite improving their victory total by 11, and you’ve potentially got the hottest commodity on the coaching market since Phil Jackson decided to unretire a few years ago.
Small wonder that Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps likely has Thibodeau No. 1 on his speed dial, with finger poised to strike the second Thibs and the Bulls part company.
How tempting it must have been for Demps the past few days while was attending the draft combine in Chicago to have dropped by the United Center to check things out.
What he would have felt was a quickly deteriorating relationship between Thibodeau and the Bulls brass — in particular vice president of basketball operations John Paxson, who confronted Jeff Van Gundy, Thibs’ old boss at New York and Houston, after Van Gundy had an on-air ripping of the team’s organization for undermining the coach.
Among the issues were Thibodeau being so physically and mentally demanding of his players and his refusal to hire an assistant with more of an offensive mindset than Thibodeau, who looks more like undersized nose guard than the undersized point guard he was at Division III Salem (Mass.) State.
So why would Demps, who just emerged victorious in a power struggle with his coach (although there’s no indication of Demps undermining Williams, either through leaks or with the players), be enamored with a coach who is likely to arrive with an anti-management chip on his shoulder, not to mention having a defense-first philosophy while Demps prefers an up-tempo offense that can overcome defensive deficiencies?
Well, it might just be that this offense vs. defense thing is overrated.
The Bulls actually scored more than the Pels this season, 100.8 to 99.4, while still managing to finish fourth in field goal percentage defense to the Pels’ 23rd and allowing 97.8 points per game to the Pels’ 98.6.
Ultimately you’ve got to both develop your players, understand their personalities and mesh their skills in game-planning while making in-game adjustments and making the right late-game decisions.
Getting along with your boss?
Well, you’re never too old to learn. Plus the Bulls have a tradition of uneasy relations with their coaches. Just ask Phil Jackson.
Of course, Thibodeau has to free himself of the Bulls first. He has two years left on his contract.
Nobody in need of a coach — the Pels, Orlando (which has held off hiring one supposedly to wait on Thibs) and maybe even Cleveland — is going to be willing to give up draft picks and/or players to nab a coach who wants out.
And Thibodeau, who after Thursday’s game said he planned to stay until somebody told him he couldn’t, may need a week or so to resolve things.
He need not worry about the Pels waiting for him.
Demps has indicated he’s going to take his time on this, his first coaching hire. He knows his job security depends on it.
And Thibodeau has let it be known that he has interest in the Pels, especially since he got a chance to coach Anthony Davis as an assistant on the U.S. team at last year’s world championships.
Five years ago, Thibodeau was in a similar position,
Both the Bulls and Hornets wanted him, but Thibs, then an assistant with the Boston Celtics, wanted to wait until the end of the playoffs — which for the Celts was a six-game loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals.
The then-New Orleans ownership wouldn’t wait and hired Williams, then an assistant at Portland.
Wrong move? Hindsight is always 20/20.
This time, Demps, who wasn’t yet in New Orleans when Williams was hired, will let Thibodeau weigh his options while still exploring his own. There’s no lack of quality coaches wanting this job.
And some of them don’t insist on special grammar and pronunciation privileges.