Long before Chicago Bulls general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson shot down speculation of a rift, there were strong beliefs outside of the organization that the differences between the front office and coach Tom Thibodeau were irreconcilable.
There are persistent reports of a continued beef. Accusations and insinuations floating around that there's a need to protect players from Thibodeau's unrelenting approach. Internal battles over minutes restrictions. Public displays of non-affection from both sides. And a rumored replacement for Thibodeau in Iowa State coach and former Bull Fred Hoiberg.
It is all coming to a tipping point, making an already fragile and injury-drenched situation way worse than it needs to be. Especially when there are games left to be played, key injured players such as Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler scheduled to return, playoffs series ahead, a championship left to be won.
But this is what happens when egos enter the room and aspirations turn into vendettas.
Team Forman/Paxson has its beliefs that the players are not being managed correctly, or at least not to Forman and Paxon's specifications. Their players can't continue being run into the ground. Read into that: Who controls whom? Who works for whom?
Team Thibodeau has his belief deeply rooted in a process that has proven to lead to victories and overachievement. It might be at the expense of player health and physical well-being, but there's irrefutable evidence that Thibodeau has been successful. Now in his fifth season, Thibodeau has a .645 winning percentage, seventh all time in NBA history among coaches with at least 200 games coached. And the 41-28 Bulls are 15-4 this season when the intended starting lineup of Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Mike Dunleavy, Butler and Rose has played together. When it works, it works.
Egos also clash when the unspoken contention boils down to who in this conversation has been doing this the longest and who has the rings to back up the way they want things done.
And Thibodeau is the one who has a championship ring as a Boston Celtics assistant for doing in his profession what no one in the Bulls' front office (with the exception of owner Jerry Reinsdorf, of course) can claim to have done in their current positions.
How does this argument hold weight if Thibodeau has never won a title as a head coach? When egos take center stage and neither Paxson or Forman has done the same in their respective positions, it's difficult to tell a coach like Thibodeau how to do his job unless they also have the credibility that comes with winning a title in a front-office position.
That's where the ego usually takes it.
When egos get in the way, petty, philosophical differences overtake the mission that was originally set when all parties agreed that together they could make something special happen.
When egos take over, injuries are no longer excuses when the front office evaluates its coach. The salary cap is no longer an excuse for a coach who doesn't concern himself with the ins and outs of the contracts of his players.
When egos run unchecked, both sides stop taking the other's realistic issues into consideration.
But in this particular case, there's no reason these two camps couldn't have faked like they are getting along for the greater good of a season that is far from over. After all, friction between coaches and front offices is nothing new across all sports.
It is understood by many that under current and past circumstances, Thibodeau can't win. What else is he supposed to do? Should he acknowledge and adjust to the complaints being leveled against him? Should he comply with the issues Forman and Paxson apparently have with him and possibly sacrifice wins today to be in a better position to win later in the season, when it matters most?
Forman and Paxson can't win either, so what are they supposed to do? Should they just let Thibodeau continue to do what seems like the impossible? The Bulls are the third seed in the East, 13 games over .500 with a team that on paper, because of the significant injuries they've had, should probably be in the lottery conversation.
Should they forsake their personal feelings about Thibodeau and at least squash the rumors (even if they are true) that they have their eyes on a replacement while there are still two years left on Thibodeau's contract?
When egos infect a situation like this, front offices become the enemy and head coaches become lame ducks.
What egos refuse to let happen is one side taking the other's set of circumstances into full consideration. Egos feed on inconsideration. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert. Night cap.
Because at this point it just is what it is. The two sides have their beliefs, which are understandable, but they have allowed their private, destructive nonsense to find a home in our public discord. They've simply grown apart and are diametrically opposed. They both know it is time to go their separate ways because more important than proving the other wrong is the determination to prove oneself right.
For the Bulls v. Thibodeau, both egos seem to believe that their method of operation is best. One looking out for the best interest of the team, the other looking out for the best interest of the franchise. And no one wins. Egos have a way of making sure of that.