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The Bulls' bleak future makes the recent past hurt so much more

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A great era of Bulls basketball is now officially behind us. You won't want to see what comes next.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Let's start with Joakim Noah.

On the day he became a Bull, Noah seemed like the last player Chicago would fall for. I remember his draft day look being aptly describe as "every Batman villain rolled into one" and I remember a heavy chunk of the fanbase earnestly wishing they had selected Spencer Hawes instead. Back then, Noah was among the most reviled athletes in the country as the brash weirdo that powered Florida to back-to-back national championships. Nearly a decade later, he exits the Bulls as the epitome of everything this city demands from its athletes.

For nine years, Joakim Noah gave Chicago everything he had. He fought through injuries, treated his teammates like family and got every ounce out of his talent. If Derrick Rose was the Bulls' heart and Tom Thibodeau was their brain, Noah was their soul.

During seasons sabotaged by Rose's injuries before they ever really began, Noah gave us a reason to care. He was the one-man pick-and-roll eraser, a brilliant passer and an unequaled competitor. He was the rare athlete who could elevate everyone else around him with the shear intensity of his presence.

Before leaving on his first Circus Trip as a rookie, Noah asked 'what's so circus about it?'. By the end of his second year he was streaking down the floor against the Celtics for a dunk that would endear him to the city forever. His Game 7 against the Nets in the 2013 playoffs was the stuff of legend -- without Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich or Rose, Noah went for 24 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks in a road win. The next year, he dragged an overmatched team to a 48-win season on a bum knee. He finished fourth in MVP voting for his efforts, and his career hasn't been the same since.

The dismantling of this great era of Bulls basketball started when Luol Deng was traded, continued when Tom Thibodeau was fired and was solidified with Rose's move to New York. Losing Noah somehow still feels like the death blow, even if we knew it was already over.

For everything that can be so grating about this franchise, Chicago knew it could always ride with Noah. Now that he's gone, it feels like the Bulls are, too.

old bulls

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Deaths are said to come in threes, and Bulls fans experienced it first hand over the past two weeks. First Rose, then Noah. The final blow was the signing of Rajon Rondo on Sunday, a move that leaves the fanbase feeling personally insulted. It isn't hard to see why.

There might not be a player in the NBA who projects as a worse fit for what the Bulls are trying to do, both in the short-term and long-term. A front office that tried to scapegoat its issues on the structural problems of the Rose-Butler pairing just replaced the former with a point guard that will only double-down on those complications. And based on Rondo's recent history, it isn't a stretch to think he might make Fred Hoiberg's life a living hell in the process.

Management invested so much to get Hoiberg in this position. They fired the coach with the sixth best winning percentage in history and paid $9 million to do it. They promised a modern pace-and-space approach to scoring only to see their offensive efficiency fall from No. 12 to No. 25. They gave Hoiberg a Thibodeau team with no alterations and essentially told him to figure it out. The result was eight months of unsuccessfully trying to pound square pegs into round holes.

If Gar Forman and John Paxson accept that they will ultimately be judged by their decision to replace Thibodeau with Hoiberg, why does it appear like they're doing everything they can to undermine him? It all circles back to accountability, a concept that runs counter to the loyalty that defines Jerry Reinsdorf's ownership. Now Bulls fans have to wonder: at what point is "loyalty" a fancier word for indifference?

For as much as it hurt to see Rose and Noah go, Chicago could at least take solace in a new future. The front office showed it had no time for sentimentality when it traded Rose and let Noah walk without a fight. This core had failed the last two seasons and moving on felt like the right thing to do, even if it meant some lean years ahead. The signing of Rondo immediately retracts all of that.

At best, this is the Bulls again showing they just don't know when to let go. At worst, it proves they value the bogus, artificially inflated rhetoric they've been spewing throughout the offseason more than the long-term health of the franchise.

Rondo is a bandage over a bullet wound in place of looking for players who could fit the next core. They could have made a run at Blazers RFA Maurice Harkless, a 6'9 forward just five months older than Denzel Valentine who could have injected some desperately needed athleticism and defensive acumen. They could have explored buy-low options with less name recognition and higher upside. They could have just waited two days to let the point guard market sort itself out after Deron Williams ($10 million) and Brandon Jennings ($5 million) each signed shorter, cheaper contracts.

Instead, the Bulls played themselves, which is just about the only thing they consistently find a way to do.

Forman and Paxson did well to add young talent to this roster over the last two years. The direction of the franchise will be decided by Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis, Cristiano Felicio, Jerian Grant, Spencer Dinwiddie and Valentine. In sum, it isn't a bad start. But when you see Detroit with Stanley Johnson and Indiana with Myles Turner and Milwaukee with Giannis and Jabari, you quickly realize this self-anointed "retool" can only realistically climb so high.

Maybe Rondo really will make the Bulls worse and my Markelle Fultz dreams won't die in vain for a worthless 40-win season. Maybe Mirotic becomes a borderline All-Star in his contract year, Valentine shows out as a well-rounded offensive weapon and Portis and Felicio give us reason to dream of a brighter future. But at this point, it feels like swinging with your eyes closed and simply hoping not to hurt yourself.

It hurts because this franchise's last great core is gone with so much potential left unfulfilled. It hurts because even if a teardown was necessary, it's hard to have much faith in the men who are attempting to build it back up.

You can't fool Chicago when it comes to basketball, especially not after we were just blessed with players like Joakim Noah. Whatever comes next is going to be a lot more joyless.