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Updated: May 16, 2014 11:37PM
The Bulls have followed Tom Thibodeau’s lead for the last four seasons, and they have gone places. Nice places. Distant places. Just not nice and distant enough.
It’s time to follow someone else’s lead — Carmelo Anthony’s — and see how far it takes them.
The Bulls need offense, which ranks a distant third on Thibodeau’s priority list behind defense, rebounding, hustle, film study, eating, scrapbooking, antiquing, his next tattoo . . . OK, make that a distant 30th.
He needs to change. He needs to be given the weapons to change.
That’s where Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman come in. Where common sense comes in.
Where Anthony, hopefully, comes in.
You probably noticed how much more talent the Wizards had than your heroes did in a first-round series that saw the higher-seeded Bulls sink like an anvil in Lake Michigan.
That’s not how it’s supposed to work in Thibodeau’s world, a
world in which effort, grit and stick-togetherness are the only things necessary to win basketball games. One problem: That’s not the real world.
The Bulls’ regular-season success doesn’t mean a whole lot. Thibs’ players too often look like deflated balloons by the time the playoffs roll around. That partially would explain his .657 winning percentage in the regular season and his .436 winning percentage in the postseason.
But we also have learned the hard way that talent rules in the NBA. If there was any other lesson in the Wizards’ 4-1 dispatching of the Bulls, I missed it.
I resisted the idea of Anthony coming to the Bulls, thinking he was a me-first, defense-third-or-fourth kind of player. That opinion hasn’t changed. But the ugly sight of the Bulls trying to score points has opened my eyes. Offense matters. Forgive us, Thibs, our impure thoughts.
Put Carmelo and Derrick Rose together and figure out a way to get them all the shots they need. That should be a good problem for Thibodeau to have. It should be fun for him, though I can’t recall his ever being in the vicinity of fun.
We laugh about him and offense, the oddest of couples, but I think he’s capable of teaching the part of the game in which his team possesses that orange, spherical thing. Who knows? He might find that he likes it.
There are, of course, two huge questions surrounding the scenario I just laid out:
Can the Bulls get Anthony to turn down the big contract the Knicks likely will be offering? Can Rose stay healthy?
If, as expected, Carmelo opts out of his contract and becomes a free agent, the Knicks can give him the most money: $129.1 million over five years. The best other teams could offer him would be $95.8 million over four years. But things got interesting last week when new Knicks president Phil Jackson publicly reminded everyone that Anthony, a seven-time All-Star, previously had said he’d take less money to help the franchise build a contender.
‘‘That’s, I think, a precedent that’s been set,’’ Jackson said. ‘‘Because the way things have been structured now financially for teams is that it’s really hard to have one or two top stars or max players. To put together a team with enough talent, you’ve got to have people making sacrifices financially.
‘‘So we hope that Carmelo is true to his word. We understand what it’s going to take. and we will present that to him at that time.’’
The Bulls face some of the same salary-cap issues, but something clearly needs to change. The route they have gone with Thibodeau, while noble, isn’t good enough. Heart and hustle are great, but the Bulls need more talent, even if that means unloading Taj Gibson and other players/draft picks to make room for Anthony.
A report Wednesday indicated the Bulls hope to trade Carlos Boozer instead of confronting the amnesty issue. Well, of course, they’ll try to trade him. And I’ll try to dunk a basketball. Neither seems remotely possible.
The team has to proceed as though Rose’s two knee surgeries are non-issues. Are they? I don’t know. I just know they have to act as though he’ll be the player he was three years ago. That means getting another superstar to play alongside him. That means getting Anthony.
Could the Bulls win a championship with Anthony and a healthy Rose? They’d have a chance, which is a lot more than you can say about a team whose season already is done.