-- CHICAGO -- Tom Thibodeau says he expects to be coaching the Chicago Bulls next season despite a league-wide belief that he and the team's front office will decide to part ways.
"Until they tell me I'm not [the coach], I expect to be here," Thibodeau said after a 94-73 season-ending loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday night. "So that's the way I'm approaching it."
Thibodeau said he hasn't thought about how he would handle things if other teams started approaching him, but NBA coaching sources tell ESPN.com's Marc Stein that there is mutual interest between Thibodeau and the New Orleans Pelicans in discussing the job that came open this week when the Pelicans fired Monty Williams.
If the Bulls and Thibodeau indeed elect to part company, it remains to be seen how the sides intend to negotiate a divorce with two years and nearly $9 million left on Thibodeau's current contract.
The consistent word in NBA coaching circles for months, sources say, is that the Bulls will seek compensation in the form of a draft pick for letting Thibodeau out of his contract, much like the Boston Celtics and how they extracted a first-round pick from the Los Angeles Clippers to pave the way for the Clippers' hiring of Doc Rivers in 2013.
NBA rules preclude teams from offering anything other than draft picks or cash in such "trades" for a coach. Players cannot be added to such transactions.
Sources say the Bulls have long coveted Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg as their top choice to succeed Thibodeau in the event of a divorce at season's end. But luring Hoiberg out of his very comfortable situation in the college game -- especially after he was forced to undergo another heart procedure following the Cyclones' 2014-15 season -- could prove difficult. ?
For the short term, Bulls players must wait to see what Thibodeau and Bulls executives decide to do. Point guard Derrick Rose is hopeful Thibodeau returns.
"Yeah, for sure," Rose said. "Thibs, we grew a bond together. With him being [an assistant coach] on USA Basketball. Him coming out to L.A. to check up on me after my surgeries when I was working out out there. I think we really have a bond, so it's not up to my decision. I loved him as a coach."
Like many fans, Joakim Noah is uncertain about Thibodeau's future.
"I think Thibs is a hard worker and somebody who's always had us prepared," Noah said. "Now we just don't know the situation [with] anybody. We lost in the second round, but [there's been] a lot of great memories, and that's all I can say."