Stein's Scoop: Next for Bulls, Thibs?

Five burning questions and answers about the immediate future of the Chicago Bulls in the wake of their six-game exit to LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs:

1. Was Thursday's meek showing in Game 6 really Tom Thibodeau's last game on the bench for the Bulls?

Stein: All signs, at this stage, point to a resounding yes.

Many unknowns remain in the Thibodeau saga, naturally starting with the two years and nearly $9 million left on the coach's contract and the likelihood that both sides will be hoping the other blinks first in the unavoidable standoff forthcoming in terms of how these parties negotiate a divorce.

Yet there's little mystery surrounding what both sides want. The story is the same no matter who you check with: Thibodeau and his front-office superiors John Paxson and Gar Forman, despite their public pronouncements to the contrary, are utterly done with each other.

As one source close to the situation puts it: "Thibs is gone. They know it and he knows it."

The rest of the NBA, furthermore, has the same inclination. It has been widely assumed for weeks by rival teams that Thibodeau would be the first major domino on this offseason's coaching carousel, given that the Orlando Magic have essentially delayed the start of their search for a new coach for a month while waiting to see if Thibodeau would become available ... and with Anthony Davis' New Orleans Pelicans also suddenly in need of a new coach after the ouster of Monty Williams.

NBA coaching sources say there is unquestioned mutual interest between Thibodeau and the Pelicans, with Thibs naturally said to be very intrigued by the possibility of coaching Davis full-time after working with him last summer as a Team USA assistant alongside Williams under Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Now what happens if the Bulls, who don't want to outright fire Thibs, are unable to convince the Magic or the Pelicans or any other interested team to part with a future first-round pick in exchange for Thibodeau being let out of his contract?

And what happens if Thibodeau, as he did after Thursday night's season-ending home defeat, continues to say that he's happy to keep coaching the Bulls as a means of daring his bosses to fire him?

I'm afraid we're going to have to wait for those specific answers, but make no mistake: You'd struggle to find a single credible league observer at this point who thinks that Thibodeau and the Bulls can find a way to save the relationship and make things work going forward.

One well-placed observer we know, for example, is convinced that Thibodeau and Forman have scarcely had a substantive conversation since roughly November.

2. Do the Bulls really want Fred Hoiberg as the replacement for Thibodeau if the sides finally do part company?

It's a scenario we introduced in this cyberspace way back on March 20.

And Hoiberg's name certainly ranks as the closest thing to a reflex answer when you ask folks around the league to pinpoint Thibs' most likely successor should the Bulls job, as expected, open up at last.

However ...

Luring Hoiberg out of his beloved Ames, Iowa, and the tremendous comfort zone he has in the college game doesn't figure to be so simple. Especially not after Hoiberg so recently found himself hospitalized to undergo his second major heart procedure in the span of a decade.

But the Bulls are said to like their chances, presumably thanks to the fact that Hoiberg and Forman -- in stark contrast to Thibodeau's relationship with management -- are said to be good pals.

Friends to the point that, as legend has it, Forman bought Hoiberg's old house in Chicago.

It should be noted that an alternative scenario making the rounds holds that the Bulls, if they can't get Hoiberg, will strongly consider promoting longtime Thibs aide Adrian Griffin, who is often touted as future head-coaching material and who, given the chance, just might be able to preserve the best of Thibs' principles with a good bit less friction between the coach and the folks upstairs.

But let's be clear here: If the Thibs script plays out as so widely anticipated, there's no need to draft a long list of potential replacements unless or until Hoiberg says no to a Billy Donovan-esque leap to the pros.

3. How will all of this coaching uncertainty impact Jimmy Butler's free agency?

Butler will become a restricted free agent on July 1, meaning that he can't leave unless the Bulls let him.

In that sense, then, there isn't a huge connection between the coaching drama and Butler's offseason.

But Butler's situation is a major storyline in itself and will ultimately command the sort of attention reserved for the Thibs saga for now, with the 25-year-old certain to attract four-year max offers after his bold decision in October to reject four-year extension offers from the Bulls in the $40 million range. He emerged looking like a genius after promptly blossoming into an All-Star and one of the league's foremost two-way players.

The New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers, sources say, are only the two teams you hear about most when it comes to making runs at Butler. There will most definitely be others, no matter how often the Bulls say in the coming days -- and you'll hear it a ton -- that they intend to match any offer he gets.

I don't doubt that, either. After the leaps Butler made this season to become the NBA's Most Improved Player, as well as the fits he gave LeBron James at times in the conference semifinals, why would Chicago even think of messing around with Butler's future?

What you can't gauge, at this stage, is what the prospect of a coaching change and any potential roster upheaval do to Butler's appetite for staying a Bull. The questions are out there already about how discouraged Butler would be by the idea of playing for someone other than Thibodeau ... even though his restricted free-agent status means there's not a lot he can do about it.

The Bulls, of course, also rank as the only team this summer with the ability to extend a full five-year offer to Butler. Yet we'll have to wait and see, as with all top free agents in this unprecedented era of a massive salary-cap spike looming in the summer of 2016, what Butler prefers in terms of contract length, since that's an area he does have plenty of say over. Perhaps he'll opt for the maximum amount of long-term security he can muster, or maybe Butler will ultimately prefer to sign a shorter-term max deal that allows him to return to free agency in the near future to try to capitalize on that looming spike.

4. What about the rest of the roster? What happens besides the inevitable re-signing of Butler?

That'll naturally be an easier question to answer when we know the identity of the Bulls' coach in 2015-16.

Or simply when the murkiness emanating from the coaching box that hangs over this franchise is resolved, enabling the Bulls to actually start focusing on roster construction.

Yet there are certainly important decisions to make. Among the priorities:

• Finding a way to expand the role of forward Nikola Mirotic after a rookie season of extreme highs and lows.

• And that could well mean making a trade -- with speculation sure to engulf Taj Gibson as it usually does -- to not only ease some of the frontcourt logjam but also to nudge the Bulls away from luxury-tax territory, which will be difficult to avoid if they max out Butler, re-sign free agent Mike Dunleavy and keep their 2015 first-round pick.

• Offseason improvement will be demanded from the likes of Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, who will certainly be asked to do more starting next season. And the same can be said for the ever-game but clearly hobbled Joakim Noah. As he enters the final season of his contract in 2015-16, Noah didn't hesitate to throw some pressure on himself as he walked away from yet another playoff disappointment, announcing that "I definitely have to play better than I did this year."

5. Did you seriously wait until the last question of the bunch to mention Derrick Rose?

Yes, indeed.

By design.

Because I felt like Chicagoans and Bulls fans everywhere needed the lift.

There will be an unmistakable feeling of deflation in the Windy City in coming days as the reality of a third playoff elimination inflicted by a LeBron James team in Thibodeau's five seasons in charge sets in.

As my esteemed ESPN Chicago colleague Nick Friedell bluntly put it on Twitter in the wake of a 21-point thrashing at home in an elimination game on Thursday, this Bulls squad was built with the intent to win it all but simply couldn't find a way past LeBron's battered Cavs even in their shorthanded state.

"The only way to sum up this Bulls season," Friedell wrote, "is ... failure."

Not for Rose, though. Chances are he'll never be the same Rose we saw in Thibs' maiden season at the helm, winning MVP honors at a mere 22. But if you remember how far away Rose looked from being an impact player as recently as September with Team USA, as I do having watched from such close range covering the team in Spain, it's hard not to be moved by the multiple flashes of the old D-Rose he mustered this postseason.

Especially when so many of us feared that he might really be done for good back in late February, when Rose found himself undergoing knee surgery yet again.

The Bulls, mind you, need more than odd fairy-tale flashbacks from their point guard with more than $41 million invested in Rose over the next two seasons. Yet it doesn't feel quite right to suddenly stamp this season with a blanket F given the hole from which Rose has rallied.

The lopsided manner of the Bulls' Game 6 exit is bound to signal to some that it's clearly time for a new voice in the huddle and maybe a personnel shakeup, too.

Yet we can't help asking: If D-Rose can make it back this far, can't the post-Thibs Bulls?