Breen first asked Mark Jackson to speak a little about the matter, to set up the main reason he was bringing this topic up on national TV: His partner Jeff Van Gundy, a good friend and former boss of Thibodeau, had famously inserted himself into the story this season.
But in classic Bulls fashion, an injury, this time Jimmy Butler's hyperextending his left elbow while on defense on a DeAndre Jordan screen, delayed things for a few minutes.
After a commercial break, Breen asked Van Gundy if he could discuss his previous comments, which occurred on-air in a January game between the Bulls and Dallas Mavericks and then this past week, to a Chicago media writer.
Van Gundy told Ed Sherman, writing for the Chicago Tribune, that he was asked by Thibodeau's agent to "tone it down" after the Mavericks game, while noting Forman yelled at him at the Dallas game.
“Can you speak about it without sleeping with the fishes?” Breen said.
Van Gundy was happy to, and during his conversation with Breen, the ESPN cameras cut to Forman and Paxson, with the latter staring intently at his phone.
“What I said previously, I stand by,” Van Gundy said. “I think, over the course of time, they’ve been unfriendly and they haven’t been pro-coach.
“I think you go all the way back to Doug Collins’ time here, then Phil Jackson, and go on and on and on. So I don’t really feel the need to reiterate too much. That’s what I said. That’s what I believe.”
But Van Gundy’s relationship with Thibodeau complicates the story.
After the January comments, Thibodeau told Chicago reporters, "My job is to coach the team. That's what I worry about. [Van Gundy] doesn't speak for me. I don't speak for him."
There is certainly some truth to that. Van Gundy is outspoken and typically defends his fellow coaches in a league that shuffles through coaches on a regular basis.
"The only thing I have to be concerned with is that everything I say, unfortunately, is taken like it’s coming from Tom, which is not true,” Van Gundy said. “Because I speak for myself. This is something I believe in.”
Then, Van Gundy being Van Gundy, he slipped in a zinger.
"John Paxson, to be fair, said he thought what I said was ‘pathetic,’” Van Gundy said in reference to a different Chicago Tribune story. “He was so mad at me I thought I had traded LaMarcus Aldridge for Tyrus Thomas and not him.”
The Bulls, naturally, aren’t pleased with Van Gundy’s comments, though Paxson declined to comment when reached by text message Sunday afternoon.
But no one cares if a broadcaster doesn’t like a front office. The concern is the possible breakup between Thibodeau, who has won 242 of 371 games (65 percent) in five seasons -- Derrick Rose has played in 176 -- and the Bulls, who have given him a strong group of players with which to work.
For all the jokes about Tyrus Thomas, the Bulls got ridiculous values late in the first round by drafting Taj Gibson (No. 26 in 2009) and Jimmy Butler (No. 30 in 2011) and trading for the rights to Nikola Mirotic (2011) and Omer Asik (2008) on draft night.
Picking Joakim Noah ninth in 2007 worked out as well.
The funny thing is this isn’t the time for this story. The Bulls and Thibodeau have a lot more to do this season.
The Bulls (37-23) are a half-game out of second place in the Eastern Conference and reeling from injuries. Rose is out for four-to-six weeks after a second procedure on his right medial meniscus. The earliest he will return will be with nine games left in the regular season.
Like any relationship between a coach and his front office bosses, there are the typical conflicts. Like many professional sports marriages that eventually end in divorce, this one could end because of a respect gap between the two parties -- as in, each side feels the other doesn't respect it enough.
Both are probably right, in a sense.
Thibodeau has two years remaining on a contract extension he left sitting unsigned on his desk for months in the 2012-13 season. He's an expert at preparing his teams for games, but he chafes at the narrative that he wears players out.
"While you’re talking Tom Thibodeau, he loves his team, he loves his players,” Breen said. “He wants to coach this team, and he loves this squad."
"He loves -- he absolutely loves -- the city, the fans and his players," Van Gundy said. “You know how ridiculous it is we’re even talking about a coach that’s won I think 65 percent, I think it’s the fifth-highest winning percentage all-time for guys who have coached five years or more. Do you know how silly it is? But it’s obviously true, or they would’ve come out and said it’s not true at all.”
The Bulls, though, believe they’ve supported Thibodeau at every stop. He might disagree.
Because the main problem with tracking this story is that most of the action happens behind closed doors in offices and hallways and through text messages. It is a truly NBA story, one with no winners or losers but a lot of opinions.
alsOnce again -- and painfully, at that -- the Chicago Bulls issued an all-too-familiar statement:
MRI on Monday.
This time, it's Jimmy Butler, the Bulls' leading scorer and best wing defender and probably the NBA's most improved player. He ran into a DeAndre Jordan screen in the third quarter, which is pretty much the same as running into a wall, and his left elbow crashed awkwardly into Jordan. Butler was done for the day with what is for now being called a hyperextended elbow. Once again, a lost basketball game was secondary news to an injured Bull.
To recap: Derrick Rose is out at least a month, and could be psychologically ailing longer than that, following his third knee surgery in three years. Taj Gibson is out for who knows how long with a sprained ankle. And now, Butler is out, pending Monday's MRI. That's three of the team's top five players (with Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol being the others).
You're not going to get a cynic's take in this space or read that Bulls executives, by publicly talking about a four- to six-week recovery for Rose, have somehow put Rose on notice ... even though dozens of active players have had the procedure and all talk about it being a four- to six-week injury. The Bulls' issues aren't about management versus players; they're related to good health -- or the lack of it.
The Butler setback is the latest for a Chicago Bulls squad that has been bitten hard by the injury bug in recent days. Taj Gibson missed Sunday's game after spraining his left ankle in Friday night's win against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Gibson left the United Center on Sunday wearing a walking boot and has already missed time this season because of the same injury.
Derrick Rose is expected to be out for four to six weeks after having a meniscectomy on his right knee on Friday. Rose appears to be in good spirits after starting his rehab on Saturday and was at the United Center early as his rehab process continues.
On top of those injuries, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said that All-Star center Pau Gasol remains under the weather and praised the veteran big man for playing on Sunday despite being sick. Gasol was just 2 for 13 from the field, scoring four points and grabbing 15 rebounds.
"It's tough to lose players to injuries," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "We just got to -- the games keeps coming. It's disappointing that we lost tonight. Hopefully [Butler's] going to be all right, just get ready for the next one."
Los Angeles trailed 86-85 when Jamal Crawford made a 3-pointer with 8:02 left. The Clippers never trailed the rest of the way. After a scoreless first half, Crawford scored 16 points in the final two quarters.
The Clippers extended their winning streak to five in a row in Chicago, the longest in franchise history. They haven't lost there since Dec. 17, 2008.
Bulls rookie reserve Nikola Mirotic scored a career-high 29 points. He accounted for all but one of his team's 17 points in the fourth quarter. Brooks finished with 14 points and Joakim Noah had 13 points and 11 rebounds.
The Clippers improved to 2-1 on their four-game road trip. The Bulls lost for the third time in their last 10 games.
Without Griffin, the Clippers were blown out by the Thunder and suffered their fourth straight loss, dropping to seventh in the West.
Since then, however, the Clippers have won six of eight games, including their 96-86 win over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday. Even more impressive than their record without Griffin, which has helped them move up to the fifth seed in the West, is that the Clippers have beaten playoff teams such as Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Memphis and Chicago in his absence.
In fact, some of their more impressive road wins of the season (Dallas, Memphis and Chicago) have come with Griffin back in Los Angeles. In his absence, the Clippers’ other players have stepped up to the challenge. Chris Paul had 28 points and 12 assists on Sunday, his fourth straight game with at least 19 points and 10 assists. DeAndre Jordan had 26 rebounds and nine points, his eighth straight game with at least 15 rebounds, which is the longest streak in the NBA this season. In fact, Jordan had 17 rebounds in the first half, which was the most rebounds in any half by any player this season.
The Clippers, however, realize they need Griffin back if they’re going to do anything significant this season, and there’s a chance they may get him back as early as next week if the Clippers feel comfortable with the progress he’s made after four weeks.
“We need Blake. Don’t get it twisted: We need him, and we need him bad,” Paul said on Friday. “But what this has done is give everyone else an opportunity to step up a little bit, and I think that will help us when Blake comes back. Everyone will have more confidence, and we’ll really get rolling.”
CHICAGO -- Just one day after having a meniscectomy to repair a torn medial meniscus in his right knee, Derrick Rose was back at the Chicago Bulls' training facility on Saturday beginning his rehab process.
"He's good," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He came in, started his rehab, it's good."
Bulls general manager Gar Forman said Friday the organization expects Rose to be back on the floor within 4-6 weeks. Thibodeau wouldn't divulge exactly what Rose was able to do, but did say the process was moving forward.
"It's just the initial steps," Thibodeau said. "But we're cautiously optimistic, he's in good spirits. He's on it, so it's good."
Thibodeau did acknowledge that Rose's rehab process has already been scheduled with the help of Bulls team doctors and trainers.
"It's mapped out with the medical people," Thibodeau said. "The one thing about Derrick is he's been through a few of them. He'll follow the plan and hopefully everything goes fine."
Like many within the organization, Thibodeau is hopeful that Rose will be able to bounce back from the mental hurdle of this latest setback quicker than he has in the past given that the latest procedure isn't as in depth as the last two. Rose tore the ACL in his left knee on April 30, 2012, and tore the medial meniscus in his right knee for the first time on November 22, 2013.
"He's been through two tough ones," Thibodeau said. "I think he's gained confidence from that. The ACL knee is great and he knew [a re-tear] was a possibility going in. He's in a good place and he'll deal with it. He'll get past this."
Without Derrick Rose (knee) or Pau Gasol (illness), and with Taj Gibson going down with an ankle injury after just nine minutes, the remaining Bulls had to pull together and do a little more. For Noah, that meant he was back in a familiar role as a "point center," a role he played extremely well without Rose on the floor over the past two years. With Noah back at the high post, he looked more confident on the floor, as he racked up 11 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in a 96-89 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
"That's what Jo wants to do -- handle the ball," Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler said. "He makes great decisions when he's passing it, and he's aggressive when he gets it. Whenever you have a big man like that, it's hard to guard all five people on the floor."
Noah had much more space on the floor offensively, without Gasol down on the blocks. The pair know they need one another to reach their ultimate goal, but they have not played well together throughout much of this season. Noah thrives in a situation in which he can pass the ball in various sets from the high post.
"That part I think is innate," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of Noah's passing ability. "He had great vision and decision-making ability. He's got a very unorthodox game in many ways. But he's got great vision, and if a guy's open just a little bit on a cut, he can get it there. So it's a big plus when you have a big guy that can pass like that."
For his part, Noah wasn't biting on how much fun he was having in his old role. He discussed how the Bulls run a read-and-react offense and try to find the open man.
"I enjoy winning," Noah said. "It was fun to win today. We just got to keep improving."
Noah's offensive game has taken a back seat to Gasol's throughout the season. Now that Noah is back to feeling like himself as he continues to shake off the lingering effects of offseason knee surgery, it's going to be interesting to see how his game responds once Gasol and Rose are back on the floor. In the meantime, Noah, like the rest of his teammates, is just hopeful Rose will be back sooner than later.
"It's tough when your best player is out," Noah said. "But I think today was positive news. Derrick's a warrior. He's going to fight as hard as he can to try his best to come back this year. We just got to keep building and keep getting better until he gets back."
Butler had 28 points and 12 rebounds and Chicago won for the seventh time in its last nine games. Mike Dunleavy made five 3-pointers on his way to 21 points, and Joakim Noah finished with 11 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. The Bulls trailed 85-84 before Kirk Hinrich drove inside for a layup with 4:29 remaining, and then Tony Snell made a smart pass to Dunleavy for an open 3 that made it 89-85. Butler added a clutch bank shot to help Chicago improve to 10-1 in its last 11 games against Minnesota.
Given that the Chicago Bulls' shoot-around for Friday’s game against Minnesota was just beginning, it seemed like an ominous sign.
But as it turned out, Gasol is just sick and Rose’s knee is in better shape than we thought after seeing Tuesday night’s apocalyptic press release.
The Bulls predict Rose will be back in four to six weeks, putting the latest “return” optimistically around the end of the regular season.
No speculation this time. Just a goal.
So there’s a chance, a good chance it seems, that Rose won’t miss his fourth-straight postseason since blowing out his left ACL in the first game of the 2012 playoffs.
For the second straight season, the Bulls gave a timeline for Rose’s return, and it’s not an accident.
Cynics would say the Bulls were just trying to control the message. I’d argue there’s truth to that, but given this injury is much less serious than Rose’s previous ones, I’d argue they also just wanted to share the good news.
When Rose previously tore his medial meniscus in Nov. 2013, the Bulls immediately ruled him out for the season after his surgery.
From a public relations standpoint, that was a smart move too.
The previous season, the Bulls, Rose and his advisors all but eradicated the goodwill he enjoyed in Chicago and around the NBA by letting vague, conflicting reports dominate the coverage of his return from an ACL tear that wildly altered Rose’s legacy and the fates of a formidable team.
It started at media day in Sept. 2012, when Forman, while optimistic of Rose’s chances to return, said there wouldn’t be regular updates on Rose’s condition.
Reporters, and the fans, never knew if and when he was returning, and it created a speculative narrative that Rose was selfish and controlled by his brother and agent. Reggie Rose made things much worse for his brother in an amazingly candid interview with our Scott Powers.
What some people don’t get is that Rose, while quiet, is both very pensive and very stubborn. Yes, he hears his agent and his brother, but other people close to him have told me over the years that his intractability is internal. Or as one friend said to me, “He don’t listen to no one.”
In reality, Rose was just being careful with his knee and his body in 2012. Overly careful? Maybe. A little too worried mentally? Perhaps.
But an ACL tear is serious business, and Rose’s game is about explosion. So it made sense to be careful at 24. But the whole situation was communicated poorly, illuminating other problems around the organization. It was also annoying for reporters and fans, who lived in a state of limbo.
Reporters like myself found ourselves lingering around the court before games, watching Rose shoot, never knowing when he’d be back. Once, I made a Vine of him driving to the rim, and it wasn’t much of a drive, and the next thing I knew it was on “SportsCenter” and “Pardon the Interruption.”
That’s how thirsty we were for real news.
The Bulls were proactive this time. They sent out a succinct press release at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, albeit scaring everyone in Chicago with news of another surgery.
Since then, the Bulls let it be known they were optimistic Rose’s injury was minor, in comparison to his previous ones, and that he could return this season.
Forman, like many in his position nowadays, never has much on-record content to share. But this press conference, which lasted around 15 minutes, was fairly forthright.
“I would think when we have news, we’ll update,” he said. “We tried to be really transparent earlier this week on what was going on, when he was having the surgery and now to let you know how the surgery was and where’s he at. We’ll be as transparent as we can be with what’s going on with it.”
That’s not a flare to Rose that he has to come back or else. You can read it this way. But think about it this way: If you were Rose, would you want to sit out again? If you were his advisors, wouldn’t you be aware that his reputation, and yes, his legacy, can’t handle another missed postseason?
When Rose speaks, he should try to be positive about the challenge. Sometimes his words belie his actions.
“You look at Derrick. Derrick’s a basketball player and he wants to play basketball," Forman said. "And what he's had to go through the last few years, take anything any of us don’t enjoy doing and say you have to do that several hours a day, 365 days a year and that’s difficult. But he’s fought through that, and he’s come back. And I thought he showed this year, he came back and was in a good place physically.”
Joakim Noah, who has spent the season working through his own offseason knee surgery, thinks Rose will push himself to return sooner rather than later.
"I'm happy that he's going to be all right," Noah said. "Time will tell. Rehab is no joke. Especially (since) he's been doing it for three years now. I think it's mental at this point, having to put in all this work all the time. It's repetitive, it's very boring, especially when the games are going on. You want to play."
For all the criticism about Rose’s errant shooting this season, he had only missed three games from December until now. He kept telling people his game would come together.
Now, his only goal is to make it back before the playoffs. If he does, it will do a lot to exorcise the bad mojo that surrounds his name.
Until then, I’ll be courtside, aiming my phone at Rose and hoping to capture some truths along the way.