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After opportunity missed, Bulls stare into uncertain future

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Joakim Noah leaves the Advocate Center after a final Bulls team meeting on May 15th.

CHICAGO – They filed in around 11 AM and they left around 1:30 PM.

They went in casually and left just the same. Many were dressed in sweat pants, sweat shirts and T-Shirts. Some even had a few smiles on their faces.

A casual observer might have thought this was a team preparing to travel for their next playoff game. In this case it would have been the seventh in a second round series with the Cavaliers.

But if any of the cars pulling out of the lot at the Advocate Center on Friday were headed to the airport it was for vacation purposes and not work. That came to an end on Thursday night with a thud.

No really, a thud.

In a season of peaks and valleys which the Bulls persevered through injuries, inconsistency, and uncertainty with their coach to win 50 games, their season ended weakly in a blowout loss to the Cavaliers in Game 6. Friday was all about one final team meeting, exit physical exams and then a vacation should they choose to do so.

No one from the team spoke to the media on Friday, but their disappointment spoke volumes 12 hours earlier.

“It’s tough,” said Taj Gibson of the Bulls losing in the second round. “The guys in this locker room put in a lot of work throughout the year, through ups and downs, the injuries. It’s just tough right now.”

Just how tough? We'll look to just how the stars seem to align for them this season to give themselves a shot to finally beat a LeBron James-led team. Coming into the series the Bulls were 3-11 against the Cavaliers and the Heat when "King James" was on the roster but this time his supporting cast would have some issues.

JR Smith was suspended for the first two games of the series and Kevin Love was knocked out of the entire postseason with a separated shoulder. Kyrie Irving was hampered by leg injuries that slowed him at times through the series and missed the majority of Game 6.

The Bulls had a 2-1 series lead after a buzzer-beating victory on a Derrick Rose three-pointer in Game 3 and had a lead entering the fourth two days later. Yet it still wasn't enough. LeBron answered with his own winner at the horn in Game 4, the Cavaliers held serve in Cleveland in Game 5 and two nights later embarrassed the Bulls on their home floor.

James was 7-of-23 from the floor and Irving missed the second half but it still didn't matter. Matt Dellavedova scored 19 off the bench, the Bulls scored 42 points in the final three quarters and the season was gone with a 21-point loss.

How did this happen?

"I think if anyone was smart enough to figure it out we would have," said Mike Dunleavy of the lull on Thursday night and at times this season. "We just could not for whatever reason. Injuries, chemistry, I don't know, I don't think anybody can-why we couldn't pull it all together."

Now it creates a bit of a fractured future for the Bulls-at least if speculation is to be believed. Head coach Tom Thibodeau, per multiple reports through the season and Friday, is likely to be replaced as head coach sometime in the next month. Could be a straight-up firing, buyout or even a trade but most likely the coach is out.

Who takes over is the subject of just as much speculation. Fred Hoiberg of Iowa State has been rumored as a candidate for a little while now and other names have surfaced over the past 24 hours.

Bulls players like Gibson, Dunleavy, Joakim Noah and others gave support to Thibodeau but didn't know what the future held. While the idea of a coaching change was on many people's minds in 2015, Derrick Rose insisted it didn't affect the team.

"We don't feed into it, I know I don't," said Rose when asked if he heard the speculation surrounding Thibodeau. "I haven't had the conversation with one of my teammates about Thibs or the coach. I haven't had that conversation."

It will probably be happening at the Advocate Center where the Bulls left on Friday for an early vacation. Questions about Thibodeau are certainly there but also about this team and whether it's the one that can bring the team their first championship 18 years.

All of the starts were aligned to do it this year, but it didn't happen.

"Who knows," said Rose when asked what kept the Bulls from reaching their potential in this series. "That was what was so frustrating about this whole year. We had a lot of ups and downs, we tried to battle our way through it and it didn't end the way that we wanted.

"When things happen like that all you can do is learn from your mistakes, learn from the past and just try to adjust and prepare yourself for the future."

First it has to sort itself out a bit, just like the plans of the players leaving the Advocate Center for a long break.

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