What is the Future for These Bulls Players


May 4

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And so it did have to end. The Bulls’ players had brought clothes with them for a week and had their hotel plans for Orlando late Saturday night. But they had to turn the charter back westward with the Game 7 109-99 loss to the Boston Celtics.

So in what they expect to become an annual rite, the players Sunday voted on playoff shares. The players then met with coach Vinny Del Negro and personnel director Gar Forman, who is expected shortly to assume additional duties within the organization.

Paxson, who Sunday finished tied for fourth in the voting for NBA Executive of the Year with Denver’s Mark Warkentien winning, still is expected to be the major personnel voice for the team.

“We’re disappointed,” Del Negro told reporters at the Berto Center practice facility. “But I’m very proud the way the guys hung together, especially the second half of the year. I’m happy with the direction. It’s not where we’re at right now. It’s where we’re headed. We had great development from our younger players. We had a nice homecourt advantage with our great fans, which is a huge advantage. We have work to do. But my initial thought coming into all this was I want to build a team, a foundation. That takes time. There was some tough love early on to let guys know how things are going to be run. But once everybody got on the same page, even before the trade, we became a team and took off from there. Hopefully the guys will have productive summers with their summer programs that we’ll be monitoring and come back better individually so we’re a stronger team. Obviously with the draft and other decisions, it will be a busy summer.”

Del Negro was often the object of second guessing from fans and media in his rookie coaching season, but he said he expected that as part of the job and has no issues with that.

“As a first-year coach you’re going to take hits,” Del Negro said. “That’s part of the deal. You can’t take this job and think you’re going to come into a market like Chicago with the reputation and tradition of the Bulls and not get second-guessed every thing you do. It’s part of the business. People aren’t very patient. I have the pulse of the team because I live it and breathe it 24-7. There was some tough love early. But I knew once I got some structure and foundation and guys knew how I was going to work, we started playing better.”

Del Negro also said the team obviously needs inside scoring.

Ben Gordon addressed his uncertain future late Saturday night in saying he’d like to stay with the Bulls but doesn’t know what will happen. Gordon said he doesn’t have to be a starter and would hate to leave this group of players.

“That (starting) doesn’t matter,” Gordon said. “I know what kind of player I am and what kind of impact I can have on the game.

I just want to be somewhere where the organization is trying to win a championship. That’s what I’m all about. The guys I was out there with, we gave everything we had. Guys were playing injured. We were playing with adversity. Nobody thought we had a shot. But we gave it our best shot. This team, with what we have right now, with just a few adjustments, we can head in that championship direction. It’s going to be a decision myself and the Bulls will come to as to whether or not I’ll be back.”

Asked if the market will limit his options, Gordon said, “You only need one team.”

Luol Deng said he hopes to avoid surgery and as for playing for Great Britain: “I love playing for the national team. It depends on my injury. Resting my body and getting healthy is important. Ultimately, it’s my decision but I’ll listen to what (the Bulls) say because I value their input.”

Derrick Rose said he was headed back to the gym Sunday.

“My shot isn’t going to get better without me working on it,” Rose said.

So what does the future hold for this group? Here’s a look at what the offseason and next season could look like.

Derrick Rose: He’s the consensus future of the franchise, the ultimate building block. Everything will be done to accommodate Rose and gather his input on the franchise’s direction. He should improve defensively with more of a system expected for next season.

Ben Gordon: He’s been the team’s leading scorer the last four seasons averaging at least 20 two of the last three. He’s an unrestricted free agent and to sign him to a competitive deal, the Bulls would probably have to trade a player without taking back a similar salary, which is difficult in this era. It most likely would be Kirk Hinrich if that occurs. No one among the Bulls can consistently match Gordon’s scoring ability. But with Deng returning from injury next season there’s a question where John Salmons would play. It’s probably less than 50-50 Gordon returns.

Luol Deng: He missed much of the season and the playoff with injuries. He had trouble adjusting early to the offensive system under Del Negro, but he should fit with Rose because he runs the court and can score in transition. It’s possible the Bulls look to trade him to open up the small forward position for Salmons, his natural position. But that seems unlikely given Deng coming off injury and just starting a long term deal. Salmons was picked up, in part, as insurance in case Gordon doesn’t resign. Deng is almost certain to return.

John Salmons: He was the steal of the trading deadine and most continue to ask if anyone knew he was this good. Salmons can opt out of his contract, which pays him $5.5 million next season, after 2009-10. He likely will and the Bulls almost certainly will wrap him up to a long term deal. There is a chance the Bulls could trade him in order to sign Gordon and keep Hinrich, but they seems unlikely. He seems almost certain to return for next season.

Tyrus Thomas: The high draft pick made big strides as a shot blocker and activity player this season, but seemed to lose the faith of Del Negro as the playoff progressed. With both he and Joakim Noah more energy type players, there seems a need, which Del Negro addressed Sunday, for a scorer and perhaps more rugged physical player at that position. The assumption is Thomas will be offered in a deal. The chances of his return are probably 50-50.

Joakim Noah: The often flaky seven footer had his best stretch as a pro in the playoffs against Boston. He rebounded and played smart. He seemed to establish himself as a center the team can move forward with and is virtually certain to return.

Kirk Hinrich: He’s probably the big question mark, though he was one of the team’s best players in the last three games of the series coming off the bench with energy and confident play. It’s the best he’s looked in more than two years. But he’s still owed $26.5 million over the next three years, which is a lot for a backup combo guard. He’s good enough to start in the NBA. Portland is often mentioned as a possibility with their general manager a Kansas product. He’ll likely be shopped to determine his value and the interest. The chances of returning probably are 50-50, obviously depending on Gordon.

Brad Miller: He became Del Negro’s security blanket to finish games and teamed nicely with Noah. He’s a smart, sold veteran with one season left. He’s one of the attractive expiring contracts the Bulls acquired with an eye toward 2010 free agency. He could be in a deal this summer if a big name player becomes available, say like the Hornets’ David West, and the Bulls decide to forego 2010 and fill out their roster this summer.

Aaron Gray: He didn’t get much playing time in the playoffs or after Miller came. He’s a restricted free agent and I doubt the Bulls will match an offer if he gets one. With two first round picks this season, his situation is tenuous. He’ll probably move on as there is a need for backup big men.

Lindsey Hunter: He didn’t get to play much and served most as a veteran voice around the team. He was popular, but the team needs players and he likely won’t be back.

Tim Thomas: Another of the expiring contracts picked up to move Larry Hughes. It was surprising he didn’t get more time against the Celtics after playing briefly in the first game. He handled himself professionally and never complained, but was disappointed and confused. He said after Saturday’s game he doesn’t expect to be with the team next season. He could be bought out as the team doesn’t want to lose his expiring contract status.

Linton Johnson: He hung on as a 10-day contract player and probably will get a chance in camp or summer league to make the roster.

Anthony Roberson: He got in the blowout loss in Game 3 and made some threes, but he doesn’t seem to be in the team’s plans after being a throwin with the Hughes deal to New York.

DeMarcus Nelson: He didn’t get to play, but the Bulls are intrigued by the big guard from Duke. They picked him up to take a look and could have him around in the summer with a chance to make the roster.

Jerome James: The injured center from the Knicks deal also has an expiring contract after next season. He is expected to recover after playing in two games for New York in each of the last two seasons and likely will be on the team’s roster next season and mostly the inactive list unless the Bulls make a deal this summer to include his expiring contract.

Omer Asik: The second rounder from last season is back playing in Europe after a knee injury. He’s an active seven footer whom some believe would be a mid first rounder in this season’s draft. He is not likely to join the team until getting a full season of play in next season in Europe.

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