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Bulls Fri May 02 2014
It only took two days after the Bulls' elimination from the first round of the NBA Playoffs for their offseason to get into full swing. According Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, the Lakers plan on seeking permission from the Bulls to interview Tom Thibodeau for their head coaching vacancy.
The sweat has barely dried on the floor of the United Center, and the Bulls are now being flung into high gear when it comes to setting up their team next season. Instead of focusing entirely on their pair of first round picks, along with the potential pursuit of free agent Carmelo Anthony, Gar Forman and John Paxson have to spend time making sure their coach isn't going anywhere.
According to NBA writer Jeff Zillgitt of the USA Today, the Bulls plan on responding to the Lakers request by reminding them he's still under contract (until the summer of 2017) and therefore not available. Despite that statement, the Bulls shouldn't dismiss a possible deal with the Lakers without vetting all scenarios. Especially for a coach that has butted heads with management on multiple occasions.
You can forget attaching Carlos Boozer's salary, or getting Kobe Bryant in return as possible outcomes. When Doc Rivers was made available by the Celtics last summer, then commissioner David Stern made it very clear that players cannot be involved in a transaction when a coach under contract changes teams. And since the Bulls would never consider letting Thibodeau out of his contract for nothing in return, that only leaves one thing left for the Lakers to barter with: draft picks.
In an effort to make a run at the title a couple of years ago, the Lakers traded first round picks in 2013 and 2015 to Phoenix for Steve Nash, and their 2017 first round pick to Orlando to get Dwight Howard. Despite having protections on those picks, they're considered spoken for, and because of the Ted Stepien rule, no team is allowed to trade away consecutive future first round picks.
End of story, right? There's simply no way the Bulls would trade Thibodeau if the return from the trade didn't come until 2019 (or later). The Stepien rule, however, is very specific in its wording. Once the selection card has been read on draft night, the pick is no longer a "future" selection, and can therefore be traded. Meaning the Lakers and Bulls could consummate a deal in the coming weeks, but then not execute it until draft night. It would be complicated, but the Lakers would essentially pick the player the Bulls want, and immediately trade that player for Thibodeau. Whoops. Did you already forget that you can't trade a player for a coach? But that was in Stern's NBA. With new sheriff Adam Silver in town, he may interpret the rules differently, and could allow a deal (maybe as repayment for nixing the Chris Paul trade?). It's definitely a long shot, but a good front office prepares for all scenarios.
The Lakers are in the lottery for the first time since they drafted Andrew Bynum (whom the Bulls traded Luol Deng for earlier this year) back in 2005, and have a 6.3 percent chance at winning the draw of ping pong balls set to take place on May 20. The draft lottery decides the second and third overall picks as well, and the chances the Lakers have of landing any of the top three picks is a more realistic (yet still unlikely) 21.5 percent.
If the Lakers are picking at their expected spot (sixth) or lower, it's unlikely the Bulls would have any interest in making a deal. Yes, this is the deepest draft in a number of years, but it's hard to imagine the Bulls trading one of the best coaches in the NBA for guys with question marks like Dante Exum, Aaron Gordon or Marcus Smart. But if the pick ends up in the top three, or better yet, the top two, it's something that has to be considered.
This is the scenario that many Bulls fans tried to convince themselves of after Derrick Rose went down, followed by the trade of Luol Deng to Cleveland -- a chance at getting lucky in the lottery to draft another native son in Jabari Parker. He's often compared with current NBA-ers Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce, and would immediately give the Bulls the wing scorer they're in desperate search of (see: Anthony, Carmelo) -- and would do so on a contract that is far more cap-friendly.
Andrew Wiggins is still the top player on many draft boards, and would also fit in perfectly with the Bulls and Thibodeau's defensive scheme. He didn't score as much or as consistently as many thought he would during his one year in college, but a high majority of NBA front office personnel believe he'll be a lethal scoring threat at the next level. His shooting is still a work in progress, but he can get to the rim and finish at the next level already.
After the top two picks though, the waters get murky. Joel Embiid and Julius Randle are the highest rated prospects along with Parker and Wiggins, but they play the post positions where Joakim Noah and Taj GIbson already reside. Does it make sense to trade a great coach for a guy that can't even be projected into your starting lineup? Probably not.
Despite issues that Forman, Paxson and Thibodeau have had with each other in the past, why would the Bulls trade a coach who consistently takes his team to the playoffs for a rookie? Because as I was reminded of yesterday, players win championships -- not coaches. Sure, Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Pat Riley and the other coaches who have won titles are all fantastic at what they did and do, but none of those guys would have rings on their fingers without the likes of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Shaq -- the list goes on. You have to have top tier talent to win NBA titles, and this year's first round loss to the Washington Wizards proved the Bulls are more than just a healthy Rose away from playing in the Finals. If the front office believes Parker or Wiggins have All-NBA potential, and the Lakers are willing to deal, the Bulls should pull the trigger.
The Lakers are in no rush to sign their next coach, and if they want Thibodeau in hopes of luring free agents next summer, and if Silver is willing to interpret the rules differently, and if the Lakers logo ends up in the last or second to last envelope opened up on May 20, the Bulls will have a tough choice to make. A lot of ifs have to fall in place, but anything is possible. And if all of the above somehow happens, the Bulls should bid farewell to their coach in favor of a player who can get them closer to a title.