Though the Bulls' season ended in an exciting series against the Celtics, things weren't always that good. Their defense was poor, their rebounding was at times abysmal, and their offense was streaky.
However, a deadline trade that improved their depth led to a strong run that ended the year. Despite their flaws, the team made the playoffs and went the distance against the defending champs, albeit without the presence of Kevin Garnett.
This is still a flawed team and moves will have to be made to build upon this successful campaign. There are several things the Bulls will have to consider in the offseason.
1) Will Ben Gordon Return Next Season?
The Bulls are in a tough spot with Gordon. After attempts to sign him to a long-term extension fell through the past two years, Ben will finally be an unrestricted free agent. His return is clearly in doubt given the Bulls' past negotiation attempts.
Should he be retained? Personally, I could see the benefit of either course.
Gordon has shown that he can't be counted on to contribute anything but points on a regular basis. Paying a mostly one-dimensional player could be troublesome. If the Bulls let him walk, they'll be in better shape in the cap room/luxury tax department and still field a competitive lineup with Salmons sliding over to shooting guard and Luol Deng returning at small forward. That lineup would have a lot more length defensively and potentially give their rebounding a slight boost.
On the other hand, he's clearly their best scorer and his outside shooting is a big asset when Rose penetrates. Without him, it will be far harder to spread the floor since Deng, Thomas, and Noah are marginal outside threats at best.
Counting on Luol Deng has also been hazardous during the last two years, and the team will need another wing player. They also won't have enough cap space to sign a quality replacement.
The decision will likely come down to the size of his contract. If it costs the Bulls more than $10 million a year to keep Gordon, he will likely move on. However, if Ben finds it difficult to meet his contract demands in this weakened economy, he could end up returning at a reduced price. His status drastically affects the Bulls' other moves.
2) Can the Team Make a Move for An Impact Player?
The chips are there for the Bulls to be a major player on the trade market. They have numerous expiring contracts (Brad Miller, Mike James, and Tim Thomas), two first-round picks and at least seven starting-caliber players, even if Gordon leaves.
The most obvious targets are capable scoring big men like Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire. The Bulls are severely lacking in interior scoring and gave up more offensive rebounds than anyone except the Warriors.
Chicago's coaching staff seems to have little faith in Tyrus Thomas and often went with a small lineup because of their lack of dependable options. If Gordon leaves, they could be interested in acquiring a new shooting guard.
A package of Thomas, Hinrich, Deng, or Miller's expiring contract as well as their two picks could be attractive to teams trying to save money and get value back.
While they have strong depth and numerous solid options, Chicago could definitely benefit from a dependable elite player while waiting on Rose to develop into the true franchise player they hope he will become. In the past, the team has been reluctant to give up their homegrown talent, though it may be necessary for the team to make progress.
3) What Will They Do with Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng?
Both players were big parts of their two previous playoff appearances, but have fallen on hard times.
Even when he was healthy, Deng struggled to adjust to the new system and players. On the other end, between lower production and the arrival of Rose, Hinrich's role has been greatly reduced.
Both players are still effective, but their production no longer matches their contracts. Can the team afford to have $20 million tied up in two players that come off the bench? While the Bulls can't afford to just give them away, there is a possibility that one or both are moved, especially if they intend to keep Gordon.
The team may try to create more cap space while picking up a few useful young players in dealing them. Chicago also may use them to match salaries in a bigger deal. If both are still on the team, Del Negro will have to adjust his rotations to keep everyone happy, which could be difficult.
4) Will They Get Any Help from the Draft?
While the Bulls do have two first-round picks, it doesn't seem likely that they will be able to draft a player that can give them a large amount of quality minutes. This draft is widely considered to be low on impact players, and both picks come later in the draft.
They will likely be looking at role players to bolster their lineup, especially considering that minutes will be hard to get. A tough rebounder like DeJuan Blair would make a lot of sense, as well as a backup wing player like Gerald Henderson or Wayne Ellington. A backup point guard could also make sense if Kirk Hinrich is dealt.
However, it seems that these picks have more value as pieces in a trade to bring in established talent.
5) How Much Development Can They Expect from Their Young Big Men?
This will likely decide their fate if a major move isn't made. Derrick Rose looks like a relatively safe bet to be a difference maker in the backcourt, but if he doesn't get any help up front, the Bulls won't make an impact in the grand scheme of things.
While Noah and Thomas lack scoring ability, if they can at least defend well and rebound consistently, that will go a long way towards helping Chicago become a contender. They were able to do this in spurts last year, but neither could do it on a nightly basis. Any offense they get from those guys is a major bonus. Thomas especially could make a huge difference if he cuts down on ill-advised shots and improves his decision-making with the ball.
It will certainly be an interesting offseason for the Bulls. If things fall properly, they could be a factor in the Eastern Conference in '09-'10.