- Melissa Isaacson, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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DEERFIELD, Ill. -- If the Bulls are still considering whom to put on the cover of their first game program this season, they might consider the current glue of the organization, the one guy they have been able to count on consistently these past two years.
The face of the franchise, Tom Thibodeau is not. And there isn't a knee brace big enough to make us forget that Derrick Rose is now and for the foreseeable future, that guy.
But with the signing of Thibodeau to a four-year extension that begins after this season and is worth approximately $18 million, according to a source, there is no longer any doubt as to whether chairman Jerry Reinsdorf believes his coach's value is equal to that of at least the upper-echelon, if not the highest-paid coaches in the league.
Though the assumption was that negotiations were less than pleasant as they were drawn out over the summer, Thibodeau said he was always confident a deal would get worked out. And for Reinsdorf, who tends to favor no-nonsense, no-agent negotiations with his head coaches, one thing helped get it done.
"What made it easy," Reinsdorf said Monday, "is that he is an outstanding coach."
Thibodeau ended up where he should be, not yet in the neighborhood of Doc Rivers or Gregg Popovich, but in the same comfy surroundings as Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks, and just down the street from Rick Carlisle and Rick Adelman, Avery Johnson, Mike Brown and Byron Scott.
"It's great, man," Rose said. "Just to know that we finally got a deal done, he got his deal done. I don't know if [he] has been thinking about it. He hasn't said anything [to] me. ... I'm just happy that he's my coach for X-amount of years. He's a guy that we need around this organization, where he's pushing everyone in the entire organization to want to be better and [pushing] to win a championship."
While it won't be entirely fair to judge Thibodeau on the Bulls' level of play this season minus Rose for at least the first half as he rehabs from ACL surgery, there is no reason to think they will not play the same brand of basketball they have played under Thibodeau the past two years.
"Our guys, they know the formula for us is defend, rebound, no turnovers, inside-out, share the ball," Thibodeau said in less time than the average blink. "It stays the same whether Derrick's in or he's out."
The big thing for the team, he said, is to "build championship-caliber habits," and anyone who has watched the Bulls under Thibodeau knows that is right in his wheelhouse and not just rhetoric.
But the biggest challenge, he acknowledged, is to get seven new team members to play together. After arguably the top-performing bench in the league was gutted after last season, one might think this particular task will be impossible, especially with guys only the most ardent NBA fans have heard of.
But as lovable as the old bench mob was, it's useful to take note of the fact that C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer signed with new teams for minimum salaries. While Omer Asik is a big loss, keeping him was not financially feasible. Obviously the Bulls will have to find a way to stretch the floor without Kyle Korver, but it is not unthinkable.
"You have to acknowledge the great job the previous bench did," Thibodeau said. "But from what I've seen so far I'm very excited ... Their strengths are different from the previous bench's ... [But] I think we have the right type of guys as long as we put the work in. ...
"Two years ago, no one really knew about our bench and I think it was a lot more than just their individual talent. It was their willingness to play to each other's strengths, their work ethic. Those are the things that help you build chemistry. On every team, roles are different but work is equal. When you get a team that's committed to playing for each other and playing to win, special things can happen. So that's what we're looking for."
Winning games almost came to be devalued for the most successful team in the NBA the past two regular seasons after consecutive playoffs ended in disappointment. But what will sustain this Bulls team while Rose continues to rehab is winning in the regular season, if not as frequently as the past two seasons then at least with the type of regularity and professionalism that Thibodeau demands.
"The best way to look at," Thibodeau said, "is to say 'We'll see.' Potential is meaningless. You put work into it and you see where you can go. You have to find different ways to win but if you're working the right way, if you're doing the right things, I think good things can happen."
Bulls general manager Gar Forman said one of the things he likes most about Thibodeau is his acute attention to detail and then holding his players accountable to it. It is what Reinsdorf is paying for and what will hold the Bulls together while Rose's knee mends.
"He's somebody who will never be satisfied until we win it," Joakim Noah said. "And that's what you want your leader to be like. Coach Thibodeau is a workaholic ... He's a very demanding coach, but I know that we wouldn't be the team we are today if it wasn't for a guy like that."