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The Bulls will be fine, but is 'fine' good enough?

The Bulls have a strong foundation moving forward. What should we make of it?

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Playoff basketball is an emotionally taxing, anxious investment as is, but the Bulls and Cavaliers seemed to push beyond even the common threshold of tension for their six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

I think it was because that series had something like a dueling dichotomy of torture on each side: Chicagoans thought they deserved to win because LeBron James always kicks their ass in the playoffs; Clevelanders thought they deserved to win because Michael Jordan used to always kick their ass in the playoffs. It added another layer of apprehension for what was already going to be an exhausting week and a half of basketball.

Of course, sports fans don't deserve anything. You don't get a reward for suffering through 105 miserable Cubs seasons; you don't get lucky in the NBA draft lottery because your team once picked Sam Bowie, Greg Oden and Brandon Roy. The Bulls lost because they played poorly too often. For as unsettling as it often felt watching the series, it was also strangely easy to move on from this season once it was mercifully over. If the Bulls didn't give a shit for the final three quarters of Game 6, why should we?

If that sounds like a particularly cold response, so be it. The Bulls had every opportunity and the Cavaliers were just better. The refs didn't decide the series, luck didn't decide the series; nothing decided the series expect for Cleveland playing more consistently for longer stretches. It hurt because it felt like the Bulls had a good chance to finally beat LeBron, but a loss also isn't the end of the world. The Bulls' window for success isn't closing anytime soon.

LeBron may seem like a deity, but he'll also be 31 next year, and it's an old 31 after so many extended runs through the playoffs. The Bulls' core, meanwhile, should be hitting its prime at the same time. Derrick Rose will be 27, Jimmy Butler will be 26, Nikola Mirotic will be 25. That's a damn fine foundation even before you consider anything else.

Successful teams have been firing their coaches more regularly than ever, and the Bulls will be the next team to do so. Tom Thibodeau will be gone, and Fred Hoiberg will be here if he wants the job. If he doesn't want it, the Bulls might tab Alvin Gentry. It's going to be long and drawn out because Thibodeau still has two years left on his deal, but there's no real mystery in the end game here. Next season, the Bulls will have a similar group of players and a new coach.

I deeply enjoyed the Thibs era. 50+ wins every year, an MVP season from Derrick, a DPOY season from Joakim, a Most Improved season from Jimmy, and lots of bad luck sprinkled in between. Still, I think it's time. Thibodeau is a good basketball mind but maybe it takes a different one for this team to reach its potential. Because this season, it didn't happen.

There's something to be said for a new voice in the locker room and all that, but what should excite Chicago the most about a new coach is the tactical possibilities. That starts with a more imaginative offense, which shouldn't be a high bar to clear. Zach Lowe was calling Thibodeau's scheme "antiqued" by the end of his tenure, and he wasn't wrong.

The other benefit will come from getting a coach conceivably less set in his ways than Thibodeau was. Practically, I think this means rookies won't always be buried, stars won't carry such a heavy burden and veterans won't be treated like overly sensitive kings. A new coach should move Gasol to the bench and cut his minutes, so he can eat opposing reserve units and hopefully not miss valuable playoff time like he did this year.

That means committing to Mirotic, who was admittedly downright dreadful in his first playoff appearance, shooting 30 percent from the field and 21.6 percent from three against Cleveland. That's not going to cut it, and it's fair to point out that Mirotic did have a reputation overseas for struggling in big games. Still, the Bulls need to recognize skill set trumps all, and Mirotic has a decidedly modern skill set that should benefit this team greatly. If Pau doesn't like it, I'm sure another team would be happy to take him. No hard feelings, but, you know, it's a business.

There will be a lot of talk about trading Taj Gibson, but from this perspective he's too valuable to move. To put it simply: as soon as you trade him, you need a player exactly like him. Gibson might be starting to fall off, but he gamely played through injuries all season and he'll only be 30. He is the perfect back up big: a player who protects the rim, can switch between center and power forward and gives you something offensively. He's also on an extremely team friendly contract the next two years and the Bulls should consider themselves grateful for that.

The one big question mark moving forward is at center. Thankfully, Noah has a year before hitting free agency, because it would be a disaster if he hit the market after a season as personally trying as this one. Maybe an offseason gets him healthy and productive again, because he'll only be turning 31. Still, I have my doubts.

At 6'11, 235 pounds, Noah has always been among the smallest centers in the league. He's never been able to beat anyone with a consistent jump shot. Essentially, he was good because he was so quick and athletic, and now I worry injuries and age will diminish those qualities. There's only one problem: you don't just replace Joakim Noah. A two-way center is one of the hardest things to find in professional sports, and the Bulls had a damn good one. It's why I'd consider Robert Upshaw in the draft (he told me the Bulls hadn't interviewed him at the Combine). If not him, the Bulls need to figure out a way to get their next starting center, because unfortunately Noah might be able to be that guy much longer.

The fringes of the roster have their own questions: can the Tao of Shrimp Backup Point Guards die the same death as Point Noah? What happens to Mike Dunleavy as an unrestricted free agent? Are Tony Snell and Doug McDermott ready for the spotlight?

I think I agree with Kevin here: as good as Dunleavy is, let's see what the others can do in a bigger role. McDermott better be a starter eventually, because trading two top 20 picks for a one-dimensional reserve is an awfully bad look. I still think Doug can help the team even if the trade will probably always look bad, and I think Snell can contribute more, too. They just need a chance.

In the end, the Bulls will be fine, but is "fine" good enough? It's going to take another stroke of genius and/or luck along the lines of drafting Butler, Gibson and Mirotic to find the next center. It's going to take Rose aging gracefully, McDermott proving himself and Butler remaining the same battle tank he was this season. The foundation is there, but that might only mean more second round playoff losses in the JV conference.

Objectively, I think the Bulls are in a good position moving forward. Building a championship-level team is tough, and even when the stars align you still need good fortune. Look at the Bulls' 2012 as all the evidence you need. It's comforting to know they should be competitive, but the margin for error at the top is so small. Do the Bulls have it in them to get over the hump eventually? It's a safe guess the same anxious feeling you had during the Cavs series won't be gone come playoff time next year or the year after that or the year after that. That's probably a good thing.