By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Now you have a team bad enough. Or at least general manager Gar Forman’s and Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson’s best effort toward one.
The Chicago Bulls shipped Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers Monday night for Andrew Bynum and three draft picks. A pretty nice haul for the favorite of fans and head coach Tom Thibodeau. The picks are Cleveland’s right to the Sacramento Kings first round draft pick (which is top 12 protected this year, top 10 protected from 2015-17 and then becomes a second-round pick if not used by then) the right for the Bulls to swap their own 2015 first round draft pick with the Cavs own 2015 first round draft pick so long as Cleveland’s pick is not in the range of first overall and 14th, and the Portland Trail Blazers 2015 and 2016 second round draft picks that the Cavs had acquired.
In a cost-saving move, Bynum is expected to be released by 4pm Central on Tuesday—unfortunately for those of us that were hoping to get at least a taste of the fascinating experiment it would have been to watch him play for Thibodeau, basketball’s equivalent to a CrossFit trainer—prior to what remains of his $12.3 million contract kicks in.
In moving Deng, the Bulls lose a guy who logged more minutes than anyone on the West Side save for Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Jerry Sloan and more games played than all but those three and Paxson. Deng ranks in the post-Jordan era first in the franchise in games, minutes, points, field goals made, free throws made, defensive rebounds, and total rebounds, ranks second in offensive rebounds and steals, third in assists, and fourth in blocks and three-pointers made. While necessary, it is sad to see such a player go.
If you were of the more rational faction of Bulls fans that understood the necessary bitter pill to swallow of needing a team that has no chance of winning a title post-Derrick Rose injury to lose in order to help its chances to rebuild in a talent-stocked 2014 draft, GarPax granted your wish. That’s not to say the Bulls will automatically become mere toiletry, though.
Standing in the way of complete futility are two enemies. One is that the NBA’s Eastern Conference being an absolute leper colony where being one of its worst teams is truly something special. Only three teams in the East have a record above .500 as I type this. The Bulls are currently the sixth seed for the playoffs. You hope that teams like the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks who are having unexpected nightmare seasons wake up in the second half of the season and work to squeeze the Bulls into the draft lottery. Obtaining Deng certainly improves Cleveland’s chances of getting the opportunity for a postseason defeat.
The other obstacle to tanking is a man who does not know the meaning of the word, Tom Thibodeau. After he gets over losing his favorite workhorse of a player in Deng, Thibs will certainly maniacally grin in the face of a front office he doesn’t really get along with anyway and make chicken nuggets out of the pink slime he’s left with. He’s just not programmed to lose—not that any coach actively tries to do so—but Thibs is likely to will this team of try-hards to enough victories to keep them in or close to a playoff seed. He cares not for the draft until it actually arrives and always believes he can win now. It’s equal parts noble and frustrating in times like this when the Bulls are entering a new phase of overhauling.
“The moves today will put us in a better position to make the entire roster stronger for the future and to compete for a championship,” Forman said in a statement Monday night, implying that this is a rebuild of sorts, but one that can have immediate results and make the team a contender sooner rather than later, which hopefully appeases Derrick Rose.
On the bright side, the Bulls have a few things working in their losing favor. Besides not being all that good, key remaining players have health issues. Kirk Hinrich is held together by Wrigley’s Spearmint and duct tape, and Joakim Noah is due for a recurrence of his foot issues as Thibs pushes this team as though it were viable. Jimmy Butler is playing through turf toe, and that’s an injury that is always a candidate for reaggravation.
The Bulls also do not have an easy schedule going forward. More than half of their remaining 50 games (oy, 50 more games?) are against teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today.
So the team is a skeleton crew that is going to work its tails off to make the postseason despite that being counterproductive to its future. Bulls fans should be hoping the team is just bad enough for that not to happen.