fire Tom Thibodeau

Tom Thibodeau has Bulls players’ support despite uncertain future

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CHICAGO — In all likelihood, Tom Thibodeau has coached his last game in Chicago. All season, reports have persisted of a strained relationship between the former Coach of the Year and the Bulls’ front office, and following the team’s second-round elimination at the hands of an incredibly shorthanded Cleveland Cavaliers team, it’s tough to picture him being back.

Not that Thibodeau will speculate on that. As ever, he likes to stay in the moment, avoiding hypotheticals.

“Unless they tell me I’m not, I expect to be here,” he said after the game.

The process of separation may be long and messy. Thibodeau’s clashes with management, over issues of minutes and rest, are at such a fundamental level that it’s hard to imagine either side budging much. Thibodeau has two more years on his contract. It’s highly unlikely that the Bulls will fire him outright. Not when they could potentially get something in return from a suitor.

And there will be many suitors. Already, the New Orleans Pelicans and Orlando Magic have been widely linked to the coach.

The unusual part of the Thibodeau-Bulls power struggle is that he hasn’t lost the locker room at all, despite his notoriously hard-driving style. On the contrary, players overwhelmingly voiced their support for the coach in the locker room.

“If it was up to me, he’d be back,” said Derrick Rose.

Added Joakim Noah: “I think Thibs is a hard worker who always had us prepared.”

Said Taj Gibson: “If you want to be coached and pushed, Thibs is the coach for you. If you don’t want to get better, this isn’t the team for you.”

Those are strong words from three of the most influential players on this team. They’re probably too late. And now, the waiting begins.