- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- The silence of Tom Thibodeau and Gar Forman regarding the veteran coach's future with the Chicago Bulls spoke much louder than any words could have at Thursday's NBA draft combine.
Both Thibodeau and Forman, the Bulls general manager, declined comment on the matter -- the lingering elephant in any room that both men walk into these days. As much as both men are trying to push past the rumors regarding Thibodeau's status, the reality for the Bulls is that the storyline isn't going anywhere. Once Thibodeau's name popped up as a possibility to take over the vacant Los Angeles Lakers job, any goodwill the pair might have regained after last summer's events -- particularly Forman's decision to let go of Thibodeau assistant and confidante Ron Adams -- was gone.
It's what many around the league are wondering about as executives and coaches converge upon the city for this week's proceedings -- especially given that the Lakers are still expected to ask for permission to speak with Thibodeau in the coming weeks.
Both men are just hoping that the issue goes away, but it will continue to hover over everything the Bulls do until Thibodeau signs another deal to stay in Chicago. That seems odd given that the coach has three years left on the extension he finally signed last spring, but that's how this situation has unfolded.
In the professional sports world, just as in the real world, perception is reality. The league is wondering about the pair's relationship -- which is what made the lack of communication between the two so telling on Thursday.
Bulls executives sat underneath the basket on the near end of the floor, where draft candidates went through their paces. Thibodeau sat near the end of the row with an empty seat to his right. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey and Derrick Rose's brother, Reggie, were among the rotating visitors throughout the day. To Thibodeau's left was a chair filled throughout much of the day by assistant GM Randy Brown or another member of the Bulls staff. Forman sat next to Brown, with Bulls international scout Ivica Dukan on his right. Next came assistant GM Brian Hagen, executive vice president John Paxson and basketball operations assistant Steve Weinman.
The group sat together for hours, getting up intermittently to shoot the breeze with reporters and various basketball personnel milling around the gym. But Thibodeau and Forman never appeared to make so much as eye contact. Behind closed doors it might be a different story -- and both men are media-savvy enough to know what many in the gym were wondering about as people watched the Bulls' table -- but the lack of interaction between the two, given the circumstances, was telling.
Front-office executives and coaches throughout all professional sports disagree many times throughout a relationship. It's part of the process. But both Forman and Thibodeau are too smart to believe that this story is going to magically go away in the coming weeks. Even if the Bulls and Lakers never even discuss a deal for Thibodeau (a possibility that will have much more clarity once the NBA draft lottery is figured out next week), the perception throughout the league appears to be that the relationship between Thibodeau and the Bulls front office is headed to an end sooner than later.
Until Thibodeau and Forman decide to address the issue, the speculation regarding the pair will continue -- and intensify -- throughout the summer and beyond.