Although a torn ACL cost the 24-year-old the entire 2012-13 season, the explosive point guard is only one season removed from posting 21.8 points and 7.9 assists per game and just two seasons removed from his MVP season in 2010-11.
But there's no way for the franchise to be completely certain that its fallen star will step right back into MVP form the next time he laces up his signature Adidas kicks. A feeling-out period is likely if not expected for a dynamic scorer who bases so much of his basketball talents around his elite-level athleticism.
A year without Rose, though, did provide more clarity to the rest of the roster.
Chicago knows how valuable Luol Deng is to the franchise. He was a source of inspiration for a team that had its hopes dashed by the return that wasn't, a player who left it all on the line while managing the heaviest workload in the league (38.7 minutes per game).
And the Bulls got a glimpse of a decent bounce-back season from Carlos Boozer. He still won't live up to his contract (two years, $31 million remaining), but he did increase his scoring (16.2) and rebounding (9.8) averages from the previous season (15.0 and 8.5, respectively).
But what Chicago doesn't know, and appears eager to find out, is just how valuable its supporting cast is to the other 29 teams around the league.
Bulls general manager Gar Forman shouldn't have trouble getting calls through to other executives. Deng has been selected to each of the past two All-Star Games and has an expiring $14.3 million contract. Boozer is a former two-time All-Star with career averages hovering around 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Whether Forman will find equal value in return, though, remains anyone's guess. Deng's, and Chicago's, postseason run was marred by injuries, and this wasn't the first time that he's lost playing time for medical reasons. Boozer carries that aforementioned steep price tag through the 2014-15 season.
But where should Forman start his search? Which teams could give Chicago the championship package it needs to surround Rose with?
ESPN.com's Marc Stein was the first to get the rumor mill turning by reporting that the Bulls had "exploratory discussions" with the Washington Wizards about swapping Deng for the No. 3 pick in Thursday night's draft and veteran big man Emeka Okafor.
The thought process here isn't hard to follow.
The Wizards have a potential hole at the small forward spot with Martell Webster officially hitting the unrestricted free-agent market on July 1. Deng could fill Webster's spot, providing veteran leadership, heady offensive play and an unrelenting defensive effort to a potential-laden Washington perimeter led by John Wall and Bradley Beal.
For Chicago, the deal pays off in a number of ways.
For starters, the Bulls have an in into the top of the draft lottery with the chance to add a low-cost, high-potential asset. Chicago has four hefty contracts on the books through 2014-15 (Rose, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson), and only Boozer's expires after that season, so the Bulls need monetary value wherever they can find it.
Okafor has his own expiring $14-plus million contract, so his arrival won't muddle Chicago's finances anymore than they already are. Not to mention he'd be the strong reserve interior force the team has been missing since the Houston Rockets swiped Omer Asik away last summer.
Beyond just the economics, though, Deng's departure would open up even more playing time for up-and-comer (and natural small forward) Jimmy Butler. The sophomore wing piggybacked on a strong regular season with a breakthrough performance in the postseason (13.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game) that included an impressive toe-to-toe battle with reigning MVP LeBron James.
Neither Deng (career 33.4 percent) nor Butler (36.2) is a particularly potent perimeter shooter, so a long-term run flanking Rose (31.0) is probably already out of the question.
Whether they're less than enamored with the 2013 rookie crop or simply looking for more instant returns, the Cleveland Cavaliers are reportedly entertaining offers for the No. 1 pick, according to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated. And the top entry on Cleveland's wish list is a scoring forward.
So it comes as no surprise that Comcast SportsNet's Ric Bucher reports that the Cavs have interest in Deng. His 16.0 career scoring average certainly fits the bill, and he's perhaps even more intriguing as a leader at both ends of the floor and a player capable of showing the youthful roster how to approach the game.
Cleveland has the financial wiggle room to take on Deng's contract, but could sweeten its package with C.J. Miles (38.4 three-point percentage last season) and one of its early second-round picks (31st and 33rd overall).
Deng could solidify the Cavaliers wing and forms a solid perimeter trio with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. He's a far more creative offensive option than either Miles or Alonzo Gee and has the intelligence and athleticism to defend the opposition's strongest offensive player.
It's hard to pinpoint Chicago's target with the No. 1 pick, but it would have to take a long, hard look at Kansas scoring guard Ben McLemore. McLemore reportedly hasn't done himself any favors during predraft workouts, according to ESPN Insider's Chad Ford (subscription required), but the Bulls shouldn't have to hear too many Ray Allen comparisons to be convinced he's worth the gamble.
In the short term, Miles helps to strengthen an already shaky perimeter attack in Chicago that could quickly get even shakier if free agents Nate Robinson (40.5 three-point percentage) and Marco Belinelli (35.7) bolt over the summer. And the Bulls might be able to package their own first-round pick, 20th overall, with Cleveland's early second-rounder to land a second lottery selection to use on a backup big man (possibly Indiana's Cody Zeller, Pittsburgh's Steven Adams or Brazilian Lucas Nogueira).
The Brooklyn Nets are reportedly looking for a new home for their versatile reserve scorer MarShon Brooks, according to Ford and Marc Stein of ESPN.com. While their desired target is an additional first-round draft pick, would they be willing to package Brooks with Kris Humphries in a deal for Boozer?
There were whispers of a rumored deal involving both Humphries and Boozer at the 2013 trade deadline, per Ford (via Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York), but that was reportedly a three-team trade between the Bulls, the Nets and the Charlotte Bobcats.
But why couldn't these teams deal directly with one another?
Deng and Butler might not be the ideal perimeter pairing, but combining that duo with Rose on the outside is a nightmarish prospect for opposing offenses. Throw a rim-protecting tandem of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson behind them, and points would surely be at a premium for the opposition.
But the Bulls would need a creative scorer to help spell that wing combo, and Brooks might be the right man for the job. He hasn't looked entirely comfortable with his role in Brooklyn and has still managed back-to-back seasons with a per-36-minute scoring average of at least 15.5 points. And Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau should be able to harness Brooks' in-and-out focus on the defensive end.
Humphries is nowhere near the offensive weapon that Boozer is, but he could play the hustling role that Gibson parlayed into a contract extension that will pay him a starter's salary starting next season. Plus Humphries has an expiring $12 million contract that's at least as intriguing as the other names being bandied about for Boozer (Andrea Bargnani, according to Stein).
The Nets' financial situation is atrocious through the 2015-16 season, so what difference would Boozer's remaining two years make to the team's billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov? Brooklyn could reunite Boozer with his floor general from his days with the Utah Jazz, Deron Williams, and finally solidify the power forward spot that bordered on (or surpassed) disaster levels last season.
What Should the Bulls Do?
Chicago's in a highly coveted position, because with a fully healthy Rose, the Bulls don't have to do anything to become a championship contender.
The fact that they can just stand pat only strengthens their side of the negotiating table. Chicago has made its players' availability public enough that offers are flowing in, so now Forman and his staff can see which scenario gives them the best starting point for a discussion.
With Butler and Gibson waiting in the wings, the Bulls have the luxury of dangling higher-profile players like Boozer and Deng.
And don't forget they should have a backup plan for Gibson if 2011 draft pick Nikola Mirotic comes stateside next summer. And they have insurance for any position with a first-round pick still owed to them from the Charlotte Bobcats that's top-10 protected for next summer but loses all protection in 2016.
The Bulls' best move is whichever one makes Rose most comfortable. Chicago fans know better than anyone just how important Rose's comfort really is.
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