There has to be something deep inside of Tim Thibodeau that harbors a feeling of passive aggressive relief now that the playoffs have finally arrived. As if he's been waiting for this. The beginning of his end.
That place where his inner voice sings "Only God Can Judge Me" and says to a city-at-large, "You all should have recognized. Now pay close attention to what you won't be able to replace." A comfort in knowing this is his time as well as it is time to show and prove and then move on or be removed.
Because these playoffs more than likely represent Thibodeau's last stand with the Bulls.
And there's a beauty in that. Especially if it proves to be true.
In this embattled regular season that proved to be one of the more structurally imbalanced of the Thibs Era, it's always been known that it was going to be what Thibs did from Game 83 on that would determine how he would be judged and remembered in Chicago.
Which is why he should (and rightfully so) be in his element, internally laughing at all that doubt him, knowing that probably only one or two coaches in the NBA are better built for this than he is.
Is that arrogant? Without question. An arrogance that Thibs needs right now and has earned the right to have. No coach in all of American professional sports over the past three years has made more out of less than he. And with this Bulls team knowing this could be its last run together before the breakup, there's been something below the surface marinating and waiting for this playoff run to begin.
It would be going a little too far to say that Thibs is coaching for his next coaching job. But it would be fair to say that there has to be, more importantly should be, a part of him that is coaching to prove his value. Not to the Bulls, but to the rest of the NBA general managers and owners who might be prisoners of the hate-hard hype or side with the inconvenient knowledge that it's his grinding style that has left the Bulls not at their best late in the season during the last half decade.
It's not much of a stretch to say that Thibs may need to at least get to the conference finals as bad as Floyd Mayweather needs to beat Manny Pacquiao.
And here begins the proving ground. His right versus Our wrong. As there exists no proving ground that connects player injuries to playing time, no statistical analysis, no algorithm, empirical data or admissible in-court evidence. There is unconventional wisdom and widespread public opinion that have overridden fact.
Thibs does not pace his players. That's fact. And that fact is his gift as well as his curse. As Stacey King has often said, "Thibs wants his players to play like he coaches."
Which apparently has worn thin but will also be on full display throughout these playoffs. Because if Thibs is going out, he will go out with this team succeeding -- or failing -- on his terms.
Thibs will be the same coaching genius responsible for a defense that Charles Barkley once claimed was the "best defense [he'd ever] seen."
The nuances: The deny penetration. The funnel penetration. The forcing long 2-point shots instead of allowing 3s. The rim contests. The emotional commitment. The collective pride taken in making stops when one stop can change the trajectory of a game. And even though this year's team finished ninth in opponents' PPG after finishing first, third, first and second respectively the past four seasons, there is a belief that that defense from 2010-14 is still somewhere inside these Bulls because the spiritual leader who orchestrated it is still on the mount preaching the same sermon.
The conundrum is whether the parishioners are still hearing it or even listening.
ESPN analyst and former NBA player Tim Legler believes that with all of the talk about "bad blood" between management and Thibs that the players could be playing for Thibs to secure his job in the playoffs.
"I do think that could be a prevailing thought amongst the players," Legler said. "I've been on teams that openly discussed in the locker room a situation like that. Playing with an added incentive because you believe in the coach.
"[But] As far as Thibs, I honestly think he knows full well how good he is and that he has proven it. If I were him, my mindset would be 'I know I can coach. I know I've given everything I have to this organization. If they haven't seen it by now or don't want me ... I'll be fine. There will be no issues getting the best job available.'"
Here he stands. On the cusp of possibly his last stand coaching the Bulls. And there's no better time (especially with having the healthiest roster he's had entering the playoffs since 2012) for Thibs to let his coaching ability -- and nothing else -- speak for itself while making the front office look suspect for thinking someone else has the ability to do what he can do.
And maybe someone could. But it's Thibs' task over the next month (or the next 12-16 wins) to make that impossible for us (the media), you (the fans) and the three people in control of his future in Chicago (Jerry Reinsdorf, John Paxson and Gar Forman) to believe.
Then again, who are we to judge?