- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- Tom Thibodeau doesn't do or say anything by accident. Every move the Chicago Bulls coach makes has a purpose.
That's why it was so telling last Wednesday night to read between the lines of Thibodeau's postgame remarks after a victory over the Detroit Pistons. More specifically, to listen to what Thibodeau said after reporters started to walk away and head toward the cramped visitor's locker room inside The Palace of Auburn Hills. After Thibodeau finished his media session, he did something he has rarely done since becoming the Bulls coach more than three years ago -- he added one more nugget for reporters to chew on as he made his way back inside.
After spending several minutes singing the praises of his team and the way they competed down the stretch, Thibodeau added one more quote.
"Did I mention Lu played well?" he said with a knowing smile.
There is no bigger fan of Luol Deng than Thibodeau, especially on a night in which Deng racked up 27 points, six rebounds and five assists. Thibodeau's not-so-subtle message came the same day that Deng's name had been floated in a potential deal to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are shopping second-year guard Dion Waiters, according to ESPN.com's Chris Broussard.
The exchange offered a look into Thibodeau's psyche during the week in which he and his team learned they would be without Derrick Rose for the second straight season because of knee surgery.
Thibodeau has said repeatedly over the past few days that it is his job to coach whoever is on his team. But do you really believe he wants to coach a team without Deng? Thibodeau has always said that Deng is the "glue" of the Bulls because of all the different things he can do on the floor.
Has Thibodeau even considered losing veterans such as Deng and Carlos Boozer, knowing that the Bulls' championship aspirations for this season are gone without Rose on the floor?
"I don't approach it that way," Thibodeau said recently. "I just worry about the guys that are here. This is our team and whoever's here, that's who I worry about. Just concentrate on our improvement, who we're playing next, and keep working towards winning."
Thibodeau wants to win, and he still wants to do it with Deng and his core group in the fold -- which brings up the most important question regarding his future with this organization. If Bulls general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson come to Thibodeau and say that they want to rebuild the roster and veterans such as Deng will be shipped away, will Thibodeau want to be a part of the long-term plan? Having been so close to title contention, does Thibodeau really want to start over with a team built around the uncertain health of Rose?
A crucial part of the answer to this question remains the relationship between the front office and Thibodeau. While both sides have held firmly that they have a strong professional relationship, the idea that the rift between both parties has completely disappeared is not the case. Even if Thibodeau and Forman are on the same page with what they would like to accomplish moving forward, it's hard to believe a scenario in which Thibodeau would stand by and watch idly as the core group of his successful team is dealt away.
To that point, if Forman and Paxson decide to completely rebuild the roster, what would happen if a team came to the Bulls and asked about the availability of Thibodeau in a potential deal? The Los Angeles Clippers gave the Boston Celtics a first-round pick in exchange for Doc Rivers. If Thibodeau was willing to move, the Bulls could likely extract something similar from another team.
Thibodeau still has three more years after this one on a deal that he finally signed last spring. He still believes he can win with this Bulls group and is confident they can have success this season.
But Rose's latest injury has thrown even more questions into an uncertain future for the organization. As players' names come and go in trade rumors, don't forget about the biggest asset the Bulls may have and what any moves might mean to his future as coach.
2dMatt Walks, ESPN.com
2dJason McCallum, ESPN Stats & Info