Three coaches who may replace Tom Thibodeau in Chicago

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It was time.

But now the Bulls have to do better than the guy they had. That is not going to be easy.

Tom Thibodeau is one of the better, more successful coaches in the NBA. He’s also a hard-driving guy who physically and mentally wore out his charges, guys who did not want him back as the coach. Thibodeau changed the NBA game with his defense, but his offense was conventional, lagging far behind what innovative teams — Golden State, San Antonio — had done to counter his defenses. The blood was bad in Chicago, time for everyone to move on.

That doesn’t excuse the quiet smear job Bulls management has been doing to Thibodeau — up to and including his firing — but there’s a ring of truth to all of it.

Thibodeau will land on his feet somewhere. He’s sought after, and as a classic workaholic he incapable of taking a year off to backpack through Thailand. Or whatever.

Now what direction do the Bulls go?

Bulls GM Gar Forman tried to play his cards close to his vest Thursday at the press conference. (From PBT’s Sean Highkin, who was at the press conference.)

“I just don’t think we’re going to put ourselves in a box. I know that’s kind of an easy thing to say, but we’ve got certain criteria, some of which I’ve already said, but we’re not going to put ourselves in a box that it had to have been a head coach, an assistant, what level they’ve coached at. We’re really looking for the right fit. I went through some of those things that I talked about, obviously someone that could lead, someone that can communicate at a high level, has a great knowledge of the game. Obviously experience is a plus, as far as coaching is concerned. If they’ve been a head coach, even more so. But we’re not going to limit the search in any way.”

Sure. That is a PR crafted statement. The truth is they pretty much are limiting their serious search to these three guys:

1) Fred Hoiberg. The current Iowa State coach — and former 10-year NBA player and front office executive with Minnesota — has long been on the top of the Chicago Bulls list. He’s considered the most NBA-ready of the college coaches by GMs around the league, there will not be as much learning on the job as with most college coaches. The question is does he want to make the leap to the NBA right now? Hoiberg grew up in Ames, Iowa, the hometown of Iowa State. That’s where he played his college ball. He’s called the mayor there for a reason. Plus, he recently had a heart procedure — is deep-dish pizza and NBA hours/stress what he wants in his life right now?

2) Alvin Gentry. He’s sort of the anti-Thibodeau — a player-friendly coach whose strength is on the offensive end. He was the lead assistant in Golden State this year where his fingerprints are all over the Warriors’ prolific offense. The season before he was Doc Rivers’ lead assistant in charge of a Clippers’ offense that has been the most efficient in the league for a couple seasons. There is plenty of talent in Chicago — Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Jimmy Butler (who will re-sign in Chicago), Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, Tony Snell, Doug McDermott, plus Mike Dunleavy. If the Bulls want to change course, this is the best call.

3) Adrian Griffin. The Bulls current lead assistant keeps the job in house but promotes a guy a lot of the league sees as an assistant ready for the move to the big chair. He’s a former NBA player who is credited with the development of guys like Jimmy Butler (who just one Most Improved Player). The guys in the locker room love him.  He’s not a bad choice, but he is Plan C — if Hoiberg and Gentry both pass on Chicago, Griffin’s phone will ring. 

Kevin Durant keeps building up superstar accolades with second All-Star MVP

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CHARLOTTE – When Kevin Durant won All-Star MVP in 2012, he was asked whether he considered himself a star, a label he had resisted.

“I wouldn’t say that just yet,” Durant said. “Hopefully. Hopefully soon I can say that.”

The notion was silly then. Durant had already made two All-NBA first teams and finished second for MVP.

But that All-Star MVP started to change how Durant presented himself. He made another All-NBA first team, again finished second for MVP and led the Thunder to the NBA Finals that season.

“In 2012, I started to feel like I started to hit that elite level,” Durant said. “All that stuff in one year was pretty exciting to me.”

The hits have kept rolling since.

Durant has added an MVP, two titles and two Finals MVPs. Tonight, he claimed another All-Star MVP. The Warriors star scored 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting to lead LeBron James‘ team to a 178-164 win.

“I just keep trying to rack them up, I guess,” Durant said.

That’s seven years between his All-Star MVPs. Few players sustain that elite level – starring among stars – so long. Only LeBron James (12 years), Michael Jordan (10 years), Kobe Bryant (nine years), Oscar Robertson (eight years) have gone so long between their first and last All-Star MVPs.

Durant, 30, appears to have plenty left in the tank.

Of course, the impending question: Where? Durant can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and this weekend included plenty of speculation.

Tonight’s game gave Knicks fans reason to fanaticize. New York’s presumed targets with its double-max cap space, Durant and Kyrie Irving showed strong chemistry. Half Durant’s baskets were assisted by Irving, who sent five of his six assists to Durant (the other an alley-oop to former teammate LeBron).

Asked which of his All-Star teammates he best meshed with, Durant refused to name one.

“You don’t really have to do too much when you’re playing with so many great players,” Durant said. “You can do what you’re just best at.”

Team LeBron starts playing defense first, comes from 20 down to win All-Star Game

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s All-Star Game, Team LeBron started to care.

Down 20 at one point early in the third, Team LeBron came out of a mid-quarter timeout with a different energy. The “bench” guys on the court started defending with the kind of relative intensity usually reserved for the final minutes of this exhibition (when it’s close), the players on the bench were standing and cheering like it was a playoff game, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal started knocking down everything, and the game just shifted. It culminated when Damian Lillard tied the game up with a 35-foot three.

Team LeBron kept up the momentum, owned the fourth as Durant went 3-of-3 from beyond the arc in the quarter, and Team LeBron got the win 178-164.

“It was our second unit that came in — Dame, Klay, Brad Beal, LaMarcus, Ben Simmons, KAT,” LeBron said after the game about what turned the momentum. “They came in and just changed the whole complexion of the game. We got stops, and, obviously, Dame and Klay caught fire from beyond the arc, and that allowed us to get back in the game.”

Durant was named MVP, a clear choice with his second-half play in particular.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 38 points and 11 rebounds, while Paul George showed anyone that hasn’t seen him this season how well he’s playing — MVP conversation level — on his way to 20.

This All-Star Game opened with the level of defensive intensity we have come to expect in All-Star Games. Which is to say none.

Well, except when Stephen Curry was guarding Klay Thompson.

The one guy who was intense from the start was Antetokounmpo, who scored the first six points for Team Giannis. He didn’t slow down on his way to 20 first-half points, plus he had one of the game’s great highlights on a bounce pass alley-oop from Curry.

Antetokounmpo wasn’t the only Buck hot to start, Khris Middleton entered the game midway through the first quarter and drained three shots from beyond the arc in a row. In the first nine minutes of the game, the Bucks were beating Team LeBron 28-27.

The favorite crowd moment of the first half was when future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki walked on the court and splashed a couple of threes.

Dwyane Wade was the other Commissioner addition to the game, which means for one last time we got Wade throwing the alley-oop to LeBron.

Curry struggled late, going 3-of-11 in the fourth, but he still got to rub it in Thompson’s face a little.

“It was good to see Steph knock that shot down over Klay, because Klay is always talking trash to him,” Durant said after the game.

Team Giannis was in control most of the first half and was up 13 (95-82) at the half, not that 13 points is much of a deficit in the All-Star Game. Not when one team started to care.

Stephen Curry gets four-point play after Klay Thompson foul, Curry does some taunting

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Stephen Curry is enjoying going against Klay Thompson. Maybe a little too much.

In the first half, Curry was matched up on his Warriors’ backcourt mate and enjoyed that Thompson missed the shot.

Then in the fourth quarter, with the game tight, Curry drained the contested three and drew the and-1 on Thompson — and did a little taunting.

That’s some All-Star fun.

Stephen Curry bounces alley-oop way above rim, Giannis Antetokounmpo slams it down (video)

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CHARLOTTE – Stephen Curry bounced this so high!

I suppose it helps that Giannis Antetokounmpo has such ridiculous reach.