Dwyane Wade confirmed to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune that the Bulls had tried to work a trade, sending Luol Deng to the Los Angeles Clippers so they could sign Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. In an alternate universe, this really happened, and here are the results.
The NBA world was shocked to learn that the Chicago Bulls were swapping Luol Deng to the Los Angeles Clippers for a No. 1 pick. Could it mean that LeBron James was really coming to Chicago? Much to their shock, it wasn’t just the King who they had in mind. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were coming along for the ride. And all three were taking a slight pay cut to make it work.
The Bulls’ starting five of Derrick Rose, Wade, James, Bosh and Joakim Noah was immediately touted as the best in the history of the league. The Bulls had their young power forward, Taj Gibson coming off the bench after starting in 2009-10. He’d joined fellow second-year player, James Johnson, rookie Omer Asik and new newcomers C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer, who signed for the NBA minimum. The talk was whether the team would break the record for all-time wins.
The “Big Five” hosted a rally with a smoke machine and a rock-star mentality in downtown Chicago; James promised “not six, not seven, not eight” rings to a million cheering fans.
The rest of the league detested Chicago, the most bitter of fans in Miami, who opined it wasn’t “what they did, it was the way they did it.”
When the Bulls started off losing eight of their first 17 games, fans across the league gloated. Tom Thibodeau was a disaster as a coach. There was no way to get three guys who needed the ball to be effective playing together. The NBA community ripped the team incessantly.
But then Thibodeau made a move that shocked everyone but seemed to have an immediate impact, sending Rose to the bench and starting Watson for his three-point shooting. The Bulls took off.
With Wade conceding the primary ball-handling duties to James, there wasn’t a lot of conflict. Noah and Bosh developed a nice inside-outside cooperation on both ends of the court. The frontcourt defense of James, Bosh and Noah and Thibodeau’s defensive scheme had the Bulls looking like one of the best defenses in history.
And with Rose running the bench, the Bulls could still score in bunches as second-units were powerless to stop him. His defensive shortcomings were mitigated by the backing of defensive bulwarks Gibson and Asik behind him. Together with Brewer and Johnson, the transition was devastating. It was a relentless attack which didn’t slow down.
James was the unanimous MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Thibodeau won Coach of the Year. Gar Froman and John Paxon won Executive of the Year. And Rose won Sixth Man of the Year.
The Bulls went on to win 62 games, the most of any team in the league. They won 15 of 16 games in route to the Finals, where they faced Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.
After winning the first two games, a video leaked of Wade and James mocking Nowitzki, who had a cough. As they were laughing, Thibodeau emerged from a door with a blistering 105 decibel, profanity-laced tirade about “not celebrating until the series is over.” While it was never confirmed to be the reason, James and Wade went to Nowitzki’s room with a promise of a lifetime supply of Fisherman’s Friends and a heartfelt apology.
The Bulls won in four.
When the Clippers won the draft, the collective NBA community about lost its mind. The lottery had been established for this sort of occasion, when James Worthy was taken by the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers with the No. 1 overall pick.
When draft night came, though, the Bulls looked to trade down, hoping to save money and deepen their bench instead. Looking for more depth on the wings, they traded the pick to the Indiana Pacers for promising shooting guard Paul George and their No. 1 pick, which they used on the lengthy Kawhi Leonard. With their own pick, the Bulls took another wing, the defensive stopper Jimmy Butler out of Marquette. The Pacers took Kyrie Irving.
Still, the issues pressed, and one of the results of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was the implementation of a new way of establishing a draft order. A new rotating system would replace it, with each team revolving for the No. 1 pick every 30 years. Teams would cycle systematically through the random draft order. The Bulls, much to the chagrin of many, would start with the No. 6 pick.
Their second year together was even better than the first, with the Bulls steamrolling the competition through the year. The second unit had Rose leading the attack, but with George growing dramatically over the summer, and with all talent on the wings, Thibodeau started playing a lineup with Butler, Leonard and George at the 2, 3 and 4 and Gibson at the 5. It was virtually impossible to score on, surrendering a defensive rating of 71.2.
James won another MVP. Rose won another Sixth Man of the Year. And this time, Noah was named Defensive Player of the Year.
After the Bulls had become the first team in history to sweep the playoffs, there was the first sign of trouble in paradise. Rose wanted to be a starter again and wanted his own team. To accommodate him, the Bulls made a risky trade to the Golden State Warriors for a pair of young sharpshooters, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry, who had missed the majority of the previous season and had a reputation for bad ankles and one year left on his contract. It seemed like a risky move, and many fans felt they didn’t get back enough.
For insurance, the Bulls also took Damian Lillard with the No. 6 pick. With George approaching a contract year, the Bulls traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers for their next two first-round picks.
The Bulls starting 5, now consisting of Curry, Wade, James, Bosh and Noah, was unstoppable. Many called the second unit with Lillard, Thompson, Butler, Leonard (now playing a stretch 4) and Gibson, the second-best lineup in the league. The team won their first 53 games. After clinching the No. 1 seed in mid-March, they rested their players in batches, as they lost six games on the season.
No Bulls won major awards that year. The MVP went to Rose, who along with the young Blake Griffin, led the Clippers to the Western Conference Finals. Sadly, Rose tore his ACL in Game 1 of the series.
And so it went for the Bulls. In 2013, they took Steven Adams with their Cleveland pick and Tony Snell with their pick (you can’t get them all right). They won another title, breaking their own record with 77 wins. James won a makeup MVP as people first started to question whether he was the greatest player of all-time. Michael Jordan himself triggered the debate when he said there was “no one as worthy to carry the mantle in Chicago” since he’d retired.
When Chris Bosh developed a blood clot problem, James moved to the 4 and Leonard took over in the starting lineup. When Butler was playing the 2, many called the Curry-Butler-Leonard-James-Noah lineup the “best defensive group in NBA history.” At one time, the group went 29 consecutive minutes against five separate teams without giving up a field goal (though they did give up seven free throws).
The Bulls repeated in 2015 and 2016. After the sixth straight title, Jordan released a line of Air Jordans with a crown on it in homage to James’ six straight Finals MVPs.
However, that’s where the fairytale ends. On Nov. 8, Donald Trump was elected president. On inauguration day, he bellowed “TINY HANDS THIS!!!” and launched nuclear war on the entire world, thereby ending civilization and the NBA as we know it.