Rumor: Jimmy Butler, other Bulls concerned by coaches ‘spying’ for front office

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Bulls general manager Gar Forman admonished Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo for speaking publicly about the team’s problems. Butler said he regretted nothing.

Was that a simple disagreement or the latest in a fractured relationship between Butler and the Bulls, particularly Forman?

The latter has become the popular theory, with rumor following rumor.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

Butler and other Bulls have had issues with the “spying’’ that goes on in the locker room. He warned new players that if they didn’t want Forman to hear criticism, they shouldn’t talk in front of certain assistant coaches such as Randy Brown.

The belief is that the Bulls love to gather as much ammunition as they can on players, so they can win the news conference when the breakup comes, whether it’s a trade or free agency.

“They did it with [Luol Deng], and they did it with [Joakim Noah] and Derrick [Rose],’’ a source said. “That’s how they operate.’’

Another spin: The coaches collaborate with the front office to build the best team possible by sharing what they’ve observed. More information should only help Forman. Unless he specifically asks to speak to a coach in confidence — and Cowley provides no evidence that’s the case here — why would a player expect coaches to hide his words from management?

Many of the NBA’s best-run organizations feature strong connections between the front office and the bench. A communication breakdown between departments was cited as a key reason for firing Tom Thibodeau.

I’m also not sure whether they won the press conference after seeing Deng, Rose and Noah depart, but the Bulls won each transaction:

  • Chicago traded Deng, whose best years were behind him and was heading into free agency, to the Cavaliers for a potentially valuable first-round pick. The protected Kings pick has yet to convey, and if not sent this year — it’s top-10 protected — it converts to a second-rounder. But betting on Sacramento having one decent year in three was a savvy gamble considering the upside.
  • Rose hasn’t been worth the trouble this season. Jettisoning him has given Butler room to spread his wings. And Robin Lopez, acquired in the trade with the Knicks, has provided steady production at center.
  • The Bulls watched Noah sign a four-year, $72.59 million deal with New York — arguably the worst contract in the NBA. Noah turns 32 in a few weeks, and the next three years won’t be pretty.

But if Butler and current Bulls believe the front office is “spying” through coaches, that’s a problem in itself. Hiring Hoiberg, with deep ties to Forman, probably fueled that perception. And Butler and Hoiberg have had differences.

This distrust is not healthy, whether or not it’s grounded in reality. It’s on Forman to set a culture that quashes it.

Still, most importantly: Butler is playing great. He’s locked up for two more years, and the new veteran-designated-player rule will give Chicago a huge advantage in re-signing Butler.

Whatever problems exist, Butler and the Bulls are working through them. But if those underlying issues fester, there’s always a risk things go south.