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Time for Bulls to tank? Don't count on it

1/7/2014

CHICAGO -- To tank or not to tank?

That is the question that has been hovering in Chicago Bulls fans' minds ever since Derrick Rose went down with another knee injury on Nov. 22 and the one that is growing even louder now that Luol Deng has been dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Should the Bulls lose games in order to get a better selection in a draft lottery that is chock-full of college stars? Would Tom Thibodeau ever actually allow a team of his to lose games on purpose?

Consider this: When the topic of tanking came up during a recent conversation I had with noted capologist Larry Coon, he made a very interesting -- and correct -- point. It's not up to a coach to tank, it's up to the front office.

His point being that a coach like Thibodeau only has so much control. It's up to front-office personnel to adjust rosters if they want their team to start losing more games. Thibodeau has noted in recent days that it's his job to get the players he has ready to play. That idea will be tested in the coming days given how much Thibodeau loved having Deng in the lineup.

Now that Deng is gone, it should give rookie Tony Snell more time to develop in the lineup. But will Snell's added minutes, combined with more minutes for veteran Mike Dunleavy, mean the Bulls will slide all the way into the NBA draft lottery?

No. If the Bulls stay healthy and don't make another move, I think they'll still find a way to make it into the playoffs. Thibodeau will sell his players on the fact that everyone has given up on them this season and will motivate them to continue to go out and play hard every night. Plus, the Eastern Conference, top to bottom, is as bad as it has been in years.

Despite their flaws, especially on the offensive end, the Bulls still have Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler, D.J. Augustin, Snell and Dunleavy to pick up the scoring slack. The Bulls may not play as consistently hard as they did in years past under Thibodeau given the circumstances, but this group still has too much pride to roll over.

What becomes even more intriguing is if the Bulls continue to pile up wins over the next few weeks. They have a lot of winnable games on the schedule this month and may be motivated to prove they aren't as bad as people think, or as bad as some fans want them to be.

If that's the case, then what does Bulls management do? Let it ride and hope the Bulls finish as high as they can in the playoff race, or continue to strip down this proud team piece by piece? Deng's deal signifies that the Bulls are looking at the future more than the present, but it may not be the death blow to a playoff berth that some fans are expecting.