CHICAGO (AP) — Tom Thibodeau, the defensive mastermind who helped the Boston Celtics reach the NBA finals for the second time in three years as an assistant, is the Chicago Bulls' new head coach, a person familiar with the situation said.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the hiring has not been announced. Thibodeau's deal is worth approximately $6.5 million, with two years guaranteed plus a team option, and he will continue to assist the Celtics through the NBA finals.
Several outlets reported Saturday afternoon that Thibodeau was leaving Boston for Chicago.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers would not confirm the reports before Boston practiced the day before Game 2 of the series against Los Angeles, but both he and his players agreed that Thibodeau would be a good choice.
"I hope it's true, but we're not going to comment on it, I can tell you that," Rivers said. "We're focused on the NBA finals. There's two teams. There's the Lakers and the Celtics, and that's what we're going to keep the focus on.
"But on Tom, he deserves the job. I think he's the best candidate out there. I've said that for three years now. So let's hope it's true."
Bulls officials declined comment. The team and the NBA agreed to wait until after the finals are over to make the hiring official.
"We do not have any rules that prohibit a team from announcing a coaching hire during the finals," NBA spokesman Tim Frank said. "In the Bulls case, because they have no plans to consummate any deal before the end of the finals, we agreed that they should defer any announcement to the conclusion of the finals."
Thibodeau, an NBA assistant for 18 seasons with seven different teams, was also a candidate for jobs in New Orleans and New Jersey.
The longtime assistant was the architect of the defense that contained Kobe Bryant when the Celtics beat the Lakers for the title two years ago, and the one that helped them knock off LeBron James and Cleveland during a surprising run to these finals.
"Thibs brings a passion for defense, I think," Kevin Garnett said. "When you think of Tom Thibodeau and what's his strengths, he's obviously a defense guy. He watches an uncountable amount of film. He's a worker. He's a guy that loves his job. He does it with passion. If he is not with us next year, he's well deserving of it, as well as anybody else on our coaching staff."
Thibodeau joins a team that boasts one of the best young point guards in All-Star Derrick Rose and is armed with enough salary-cap room to offer a maximum contract in a star-studded free agent summer that could include James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson. The person said those were two big draws, as was Chicago's front office.
Bulls general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson reportedly flew to Los Angeles on Wednesday on the eve of Game 1 of the finals and came away impressed.
Thibodeau replaces Vinny Del Negro, who was fired last month after leading Chicago to 41 wins and the playoffs in both of his seasons. He also had an altercation with Paxson late in this season.
With no coaching experience, Del Negro was a fallback choice when he was hired out of Phoenix's front office after high-profile negotiations with Mike D'Antoni and Doug Collins fell through.
That widely expected move was the first in the most important offseason in years for the Bulls. Hiring Thibodeau is another big step, with the free agency period starting July 1. He is represented by Creative Artists Agency, the same umbrella organization that includes James' agent Leon Rose.
When the Bulls let Del Negro go, Forman said free agency would play at least a small role in the hiring, although he added: "As we start this search, I don't want it to be about that. I want it to be about finding the best coach to fit this personnel."
He also indicated they were looking for an experienced head coach, although they weren't ruling out assistants or college head coaches. Thibodeau's only other head coaching job came in 1984, when he spent a year at his alma mater Salem State College in Massachusetts after getting promoted from assistant. He then spent four years as an assistant at Harvard before moving to the NBA.
AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney in El Segundo, Calif., contributed to this report.