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Bulls’ future hinges on Derrick Rose and big bang in offseason

Updated: January 15, 2014 11:36AM



It’s been quite the last week for the Bulls. Their season-best five-game winning streak ended Monday night, they’re comfortably back in the mix for a playoff spot in the victory-challenged Eastern Conference, and besides Nazr Mohammed’s sprained finger, they’re about as healthy as they’ve been since Derrick Rose went down for the year with an injured right knee Nov. 22.

In the day-by-day world of coach Tom Thibodeau, it really hasn’t been any better than that this season.

At least that’s what the players and Thibodeau are selling lately.

‘‘Everyone on this team is focused and believes in each other,’’ reserve big man Taj Gibson said. ‘‘And we believe what the locker room says. We understand we can do a lot of great things.’’

Those are all cute phrases that overachieving teams like to throw around. If ‘‘great things’’ means winning a first-round playoff series, then, yes, the Bulls are very capable.

But in the big picture, this season couldn’t have been more disastrous, and the front office might not have a big enough broom for the cleanup.

Forget the rumors of Thibodeau returning to any of his former teams who might want him back. Thibodeau had his differences with Bulls general manager Gar Forman, but the two sat down before the beginning of training camp and ironed it all out. The trade of Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers last week hasn’t changed that because Thibodeau knows all moves of that magnitude must be approved by the Reinsdorf ownership.

‘‘The fact that the Bulls gave Tom a chance to be head coach after 100 years as an assistant carries weight with him,’’ a league source close to Thibodeau said in December.

How much weight? Enough that he’ll ride out at least the next few years of his current contract.

No, the mess is the roster and the question of how to flip it around as quickly as possible when the Miami Heat’s dynasty might be in its final act, potentially leaving the East for the taking.

The biggest leap of faith is Rose. While a growing minority seems to feel the Bulls can’t rely on a player whose knees continue to betray him, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Explaining the Deng trade last week, vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said, ‘‘What we’ve done in the long run is we’ve given ourselves an opportunity going forward to create flexibility and to put together a complete roster, and with depth — again, with the idea of guys that can compliment Derrick and can play well with Derrick. That’s our challenge going forward, and we’re looking forward to it.’’

That means looking forward to meetings with soon-to-be free agents such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and trying to sell them on taking a leap of faith on Rose as well. The upcoming offseason could define the Paxson/Forman era.

If they fail to land a star of the magnitude of Anthony or James, there is a consolation prize. The Bulls would love to nab Lance Stephenson from the Indiana Pacers, move Jimmy Butler to the three and add highly touted Nikola Mirotic after using the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer. That would give them a talented roster, but still not a great one.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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