With the trade of Luol Deng, the Chicago Bulls front office signaled its intent to no longer compete for a championship this season.
Of course, realistically, those hopes were dashed back in Portland when Derrick Rose tore his meniscus. But the rest of the team soldiered on, doing their best to put wins in the win column. Trading Deng, though, was the first admission by the front office that it may be better to plan for the future than compete for wins right now.
Thus, all-time Bull Deng was moved to Cleveland for a mix of cap relief and draft picks, instead of resigning him or letting him walk as a free agent at the end of the season.
In the least surprising development possible, though, Bulls’ players and coaches have conceded nothing and continue to play to win, which is the opposite of tanking.
After playing through so many injuries and facing an second meaningless season in a row, I thought that trading the team’s backbone and best do-it-all player would finally break the Bulls. Deng shouldered the greatest load out of anyone on the roster in a season and a half without Rose, and I thought that his departure would cause Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, etc. to finally check out mentally.
Nope! As is normal for a Tom Thibodeau team, the Bulls have continued to
play hard. They have won three straight since Deng was traded, part of a current five-game winning streak. Yea, the five wins have come against Boston, Atlanta, Phoenix, Milwaukee, and Charlotte, but the Bulls aren’t exactly world-beaters right now, so it’s still impressive.
After the Bulls’ most recent game, against the Charlotte Bobcats, Noah finally broke his media silence after the Deng trade and said, “[The front office imparted] that there’s no tanking. There’s no tanking, and that’s it.”
Certainly, the front office wants the players to continue to play hard, despite the trade. Sending away the team’s best player, though, sends a different message.
Either way, we are way beyond the point of the Bulls packing it in. If another Rose injury and the trade of Deng, who was beloved in the locker room, doesn’t get these guys to quit, nothing will.
Surely, Thibodeau was none too pleased to see his most reliable player sent packing, not when Thibs coaches every game like it’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals. But, as he likes to say, they will move on and focus on the task at hand.
Who knows, maybe towards the end of the season, they will be stretched too thin and we will see some letup. But so far, we’ve seen nothing but the customary fighting spirit of these Bulls.
And that, my friends, is the best thing Tom Thibodeau could have ever instilled as a coach. The Bulls will make it out of these dark times, and when they do, Thibs will be the one leading them, and leading them far.