Over Zach LaVine’s seven years in the NBA (I know, I can’t believe it’s been that long either), he’s played for six different head coaches – three with the Bulls and three with the Timberwolves. Technically, however, LaVine has played for four former Bulls head coaches: Billy Donovan, Jim Boylen, Fred Hoiberg, and Tom Thibodeau (just not in Chicago).
LaVine played for Thibodeau during the coach’s first year in Minnesota. The 47 games (ACL injury) LaVine played that season were the fewest he played for any of his six head coaches, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t leave a lasting impression on the now Knicks head coach.
In a conversation with reporters on Monday, Thibodeau was asked about his former player, and didn’t hold back an ounce of praise (via New York Post).
“He’s continued to grow I think each year. I think sometimes we tend to forget the steps that players take to get to the point to where they are today. and for Zach, he started off, I think he scored around 13 or 14 points a game his first year. Then there was another four-point jump. Now he’s up to 26, 27. He’s shooting 50, 40, 90. He’s an elite shooter. He’s a great athlete. … But he’s a great guy, a hard worker. So you knew he would continue to improve. He’s playing at a very high level.’’
I couldn’t agree mor…Wait a minute. What are you trying to pull Thibs!? He’s ours!
Thibodeau’s comments are probably little more than a round of applause for a player he used to coach. But we can’t just ignore the context. Indeed, it’s not all that hard to look at these comments and tie in reports that have connected the Knicks to LaVine since the summer. In fact, just the other week, SNY’s Ian Begley reaffirmed that New York was still monitoring LaVine’s situation and in this very article citing Thibodeau’s praise, author Marc Berman reaffirmed their interest in the Bulls guard (emphasis mine).
The biggest edge the Knicks would have over many teams interested is they have $18 million in cap space to absorb a big contract without giving away much salary. He’s one of many players on the Knicks’ radar, sources contend. Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf could be hesitant to deal LaVine to Thibodeau considering his Bulls’ breakup was ugly.
So LaVine is one of many players the Knicks would be interested in getting their hands on and his coach is not shy with his praise. Noted and filed away. But that’s not the only interesting part of this story. Did you catch the next line after the bolded rumor? The one that reads: “Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf could be hesitant to deal LaVine to Thibodeau considering his Bulls’ breakup was ugly.” Oh.
It’s no secret that Thibs’ departure from Chicago was all kinds of brutal. He butted heads with the organization numerous times, and it all boiled over when Jerry Reinsdorf and Gar Forman announced his dismissal is a disgustingly immature press release. Reinsdorf practically blamed Thibodeau for the organization’s deteriorating success, while former-GM Gar Forman diminished Thibodeau’s accomplishments by simply saying the Bulls experienced “some” success with Thibodeau at the helm. Look, Thibs wasn’t free from error in his role in the Bulls’ inner turmoil, but that still doesn’t justify such a classless farewell by Reinsdorf and Co.
In any case, that rocky exit is why it feels appropriate for Berman to mention Reinsdorf as part of a trade equation here. We know how important relationships are to the Bulls owners, and we also know he’s dipped his toe into the Bulls’ decision-making process far too many times over the years. At the same time, I highly highly doubt that Reinsdorf would insert himself into the conversation to veto a worthy package for Zach LaVine simply because Thibodeau is coaching on the other end of the line. At least I REALLY hope not. Business is still business. And perhaps more importantly, basketball operations must operate autonomously from ownership.
To be fair, the organization has done a decent job of demonstrating recently that this is Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley’s team, and I think that’s the bigger takeaway from this conversation. The Bulls have entered a new era. Roster reconstruction and big-time decisions will be left to the Bulls new brass, and I’ll believe that until I’m proven wrong. For now, I don’t expect Reinsdorf to sneak into decisions at the trade deadline or in free agency. The Bulls are on a better path at the moment, and hopefully, he realizes that has come without his hand on the wheel.