The Luol Deng trade signifies an end to a core group of players that many thought would at least have one finals appearance by now. The trio of Rose, Deng, and Noah were thought to be the group of players in the East that had the best shot at possibly conquering the Miami Heat. The Basketball Gods, however, had other plans.
It’s the oldest excuse in the book with regards to sports, to resort to using injuries as the sole explanation for a team’s lack of success but if anyone deserves to use it, it’s the Bulls. Season ending injuries to Rose, chronic and persistent injuries to Noah, — who while is still a very good player is not the same destructive force he once was on defense — Butler has suffered some as well. It’s been a never ending streak of bad luck for a team that is just starving for some good fortune.
Now that Deng is gone it seems like they might be headed in a direction that doesn’t have to involve a long and dreaded rebuilding process that sees multiple seasons of mediocrity. A rebuild-on-the-fly type of scenario is actually very possible with the group of players they have right now. A Rose-Noah-Butler trio with the possiblity of adding Mirotic to the mix is a real foundation. Still, the question of whether or not Rose can return and stay on the court for the foreseeable is a worthy question but also one they don’t really need answer at the moment.
The question on everyone’s mind right now is with this group of players is do you keep on chugging along to hold on to one of the last couple of seeds in the East or do you tank and try to grab a lottery pick in what is being hailed as a very talented draft. It’s probably an obvious answer since for the Bulls right now there can’t be any possible downside to trying to grab at least a top ten pick. They might not even need to tank after losing Deng but in a horrible conference the extra “effort” could make all the difference. It’s a scenario that seems almost impossible for a coach like Thibs to go for but he might not even have a choice considering the state of the roster.
Tanking is almost certainly not a foolproof rebuilding method but it has its merits, and where Chicago stands I don’t think you can really rationalize not doing it at this point. The possibility of Chicago actually getting out of the first round is actually quite high, they’d currently be facing the Atlanta Hawks if the playoffs started today — who are definitely not the same without Al Horford — but what exactly does that accomplish? They’d almost definitely get knocked by the Indiana Pacers and then you’re left with nothing. There’s really no incentive for Chicago to make the playoffs while the benefits of getting into the lottery are an enticing possibility.
Chicago is in a state of flux at the moment, where it seems like they don’t need to make an immediate decision. They have all the pieces necessary for a rebuild on hand already. While not tanking wouldn’t hurt them drastically, it certainly wouldn’t help them either. If Sacramento somehow falls out of the top-12 of this years draft Chicago could conceivably have two lottery picks in a very good draft, a luxury that would only be provided to them if they fall out of the playoffs — which again could happen entirely naturally with this roster, but the East is absolutely dreadful so they’re really counting on the New York teams and Detroit to get it together.
What began as a miserable season could end with optimism for the future. In a season where instead of a race to the playoffs, it seems more teams — mostly in the Eastern Conference — are in a race for the ping-pong balls. The Bulls might be foolish to not join in on the tank party. The front office will never publicly state that those are their intentions — nor will any other front office — but you’d be hard press to convince me that they don’t think that it’s their best option going forward this season.