Carmelo Anthony is the subplot to everything the Bulls do.
He was during the regular season. He is during the postseason. He will be during the off-season.
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That became even truer during the first two games of the Bulls' first-round playoff series against Washington.
Too often the Bulls looked like elephants trying to spray the ball into the basket.
The Bulls suffered an eight-minute stretch without scoring Tuesday night on the way to a 101-99 overtime loss to the Wizards in Game 2 at the United Center.
"I thought we had some good looks," Bulls' head coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We have to do better."
The outcry again was that the Bulls need Anthony to score some points down the stretch.
"We came up short," Thibodeau said.
D.J. Augustin and Taj Gibson came off the bench to play the role of Anthony in an attempt to keep the Bulls competitive in the game and the series.
Still, scoring remained a struggle as the Bulls' balance couldn't compensate for that one special go-to guy.
In theory, anyway, Anthony would be that guy who can create his own shot from myriad locations on the court.
Bulls management understands the team's deficiency and indications are that they'll pursue Anthony with passion and persistence in free agency this summer.
When the playoffs began I wondered whether there would be a point the Bulls could advance to and change their mind about wanting Anthony.
It won't matter if the Bulls don't rally to beat the Wizards. They'll need Anthony for sure.
It is becoming clear that Bulls' try-hard core isn't enough even if Derrick Rose returns from injury next season and is his old MVP-type self.
Even if the Bulls survive the Wizards and reach the NBA Finals, management's minds concerning Anthony shouldn't change. They'll still need him to go further.
One consideration is that the Bulls play in the Eastern Conference, where only LeBron James is scary and nobody is sure what his future with the Heat is.
If there's an emerging power in the East to replace the Heat, it's difficult to imagine who it is.
The Pacers sure haven't looked prepared to ascend to the top. But the Bulls probably wouldn't be either.
The Bulls would have to get to the NBA Finals this year to prove they can, and that isn't going to happen.
All signs are that the Bulls need to try to build a new team consisting of Anthony, Rose, Joakim Noah and whatever other parts remain after making cuts to accommodate the salary cap.
Rose, Noah, Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Tony Snell, a couple rookies, perhaps Augustin, perhaps European arrival Nikola Mirotic and perhaps some players to be named later just won't cut it.
Decisions made this summer will determine the Bulls' fate for quite a while ... with Carmelo Anthony or without Carmelo Anthony ... preferably with him.
"We have to correct that," Thibodeau said of the Bulls' scoring droughts with Anthony probably dancing in his head.
All this would be moot if Anthony chooses to stay with the Knicks. Even if he decides to escape New York, Chicago might not be his destination of choice or the Bulls might not be able to figure out how to pay him.
Regardless, the Wizards made clear what was suspected: The Bulls need a scorer like Anthony or some reasonable facsimile.
Come to think of it, as the Bulls teeter toward extinction, Carmelo Anthony is becoming the plot during the postseason rather than merely the subplot.