The Chicago Bulls are giving increasing consideration to firing coach Tom Thibodeau and absorbing the corresponding financial hit, according to league sources.
Sources told ESPN.com that the prospect of Chicago simply terminating its highly successful but often contentious relationship with Thibodeau, as the days pass, is growing in likelihood, even with nearly $9 million left on the coach's contract over the next two seasons.
The reality, sources say, is that the Bulls believe there is little chance they would have to pay that whole amount, since league rules on coaching contracts would inevitably see that figure reduced by set-off provisions once Thibodeau lands a new job.
The Chicago Tribune reported late Wednesday that a resolution is expected by Friday.
Sources say the Bulls' dissatisfaction with their coach, beyond the well-chronicled tension between Thibodeau and management, has risen in the wake of Chicago's inability to win a second-round series against the injury-hit Cleveland Cavaliers and a lack of offensive flow to match the Bulls' usual defensive tenacity.
The Bulls, to date, have not been offered the draft compensation they've been seeking for the right to let Thibodeau out of his contract, even with both the Pelicans and the Magic known to be interested in speaking to him about their vacancies. Former Magic guard Scott Skiles is the widely reported front-runner for the Orlando job, while he,Golden State Warriors associate head coach Alvin Gentry and ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy have emerged as the known top candidates in New Orleans besides Thibodeau.
ESPN.com reported last week that Nuggets interim coach Melvin Hunt's odds of keeping that job full time have improved since season's end, but Thibodeau was realistically never a candidate in Denver anyway.
The Bulls' interest in Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg as a replacement for Thibodeau, meanwhile, has been an open secret around the league for months, but it is not yet clear whether Chicago has a commitment from Hoiberg to make the jump to the pros or whether Bulls management is inching closer to parting with Thibodeau under any circumstances.
The Minnesota Timberwolvesalso are known to have a strong interest in Hoiberg as a potential successor to coach and team president Flip Saunders after Hoiberg's work as a front-office executive with the Wolves, so Chicago isn't necessarily alone in its pursuit.
Although there have been no public pronouncements from the Bulls about Thibodeau's status for next season, few league observers believe that the long-deteriorating relationship between the coach and management -- which was chronicled at length last week by ESPNChicago.com-- can continue.