- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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SAN ANTONIO -- Team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf might consider the Chicago Bulls a "mediocre" team, but coach Tom Thibodeau says he won't sell his team short as it continues life without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng.
Reinsdorf, in a recent interview with WGN, said that the Bulls are "a mediocre team this year, a middle-of-the-pack team." Thibodeau knows that Reinsdorf, as the owner, can say whatever he wants, but that doesn't change the way the coach feels about his team.
"Jerry owns the team so he's entitled to say whatever he wants," Thibodeau said Wednesday. "If that's the way he feels ... and the way I feel about our team is this: It's that I'm really proud of them and we can do even better. So I'm not selling them short."
After Rose was lost for another season with a knee injury, the Bulls traded Deng, who will be a free agent after the season, to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The move gave the Bulls some salary relief and got them out of the luxury tax. Despite the loss of Rose and Deng, Thibodeau has the Bulls, who beat the San Antonio Spurs on the road Wednesday, within a game of the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
Amid talk by some national analysts that the Bulls are a cheap franchise more concerned with the bottom line than winning, Thibodeau said Reinsdorf and the Bulls are doing what they think is right.
"Jerry with me has been terrific," Thibodeau said. "I don't have any problems with Jerry. There are a lot of decisions that have to be made that are tough decisions, they're not easy ones. And so you do what you think is right. You don't get them all right, but hopefully you get a lot more right than you get wrong. We've taken some hits so we have to navigate around what happened, and that's what we're doing."
Hall of Famer Charles Barkley and former NBA coach, and Thibodeau confidant, Jeff Van Gundy are just the latest to be critical of some of the moves the Bulls have made in recent years. Both have noted the team's reputation as being frugal spenders, compounded by Derrick Rose's injuries, as a reason why the Bulls aren't viewed as a title contender. Barkley, who called the Bulls cheap on the "Waddle & Silvy Show" on Tuesday, suggested that the Bulls should go after potential free agent Carmelo Anthony this summer to be "relevant" for the next few seasons.
"We're not going to respond to every rumor and things that this guy says and that guys says," Thibodeau said. "The only thing that really matters is what we think. So we're going to make the best decisions for our organization, the things that we feel gives us the best chance to have success."
Bulls vice president John Paxson on Wednesday pushed back on the perception that his franchise is cheap.
"What I can tell you about what's happened recently is that we came into this season with a high payroll, in the [luxury] tax for the second straight year," Paxson said on "Waddle & Silvy." "With Derrick's injury and other things, we made the decision to move Lu and get under the luxury tax this year to give us some flexibility going forward. From the business standpoint, we felt like it was the right thing to do and you have to think that way. It's just the reality of the business."