Time is now for this Bulls core to make run

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
11:33
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Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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Luol Deng, Carlos BoozerMarc Serota/Getty ImagesWill this be the last season for Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer in a Bulls uniform?
Gar Forman has never wavered in his thinking.

The Chicago Bulls general manager has maintained over the past few years that his team is in the midst of a championship window because of its young talent and coach Tom Thibodeau, who meshes it all together. When Derrick Rose went down with a knee injury during the first game of the 2012 Eastern Conference playoffs, Forman and his staff understood that those championship aspirations may have taken a hit for a while, but they were always confident that the window, described by Forman as open for five to seven years, was not shut.

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As the Bulls get set to begin this season, one in which they expect Rose to return to his old form, they would be wise to take another long look at that window and do everything they can to reach the mountaintop this year.

That's because the window, at least the one with the current Bulls core, will be closing after this season if they can't make it happen. Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler are locked up for a few more years, but players such as Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich could all be gone next summer.

With Rose in the fold, the Bulls will always be competitive, but the argument could be made that this roster, as constructed, gives the Bulls their best opportunity to win a title for the next few years. The Bulls don't have the second primary scorer to take the pressure off their superstar, but they do have a talented group that sees the financial writing on the wall. In all likelihood, the final year of Boozer's contract will have the amnesty clause used on it next summer.

Deng's status remains up in the air. The Bulls reportedly told his agent that they would table any extension talks until after the season, and Deng will explore free agency. There's been no indication that the two-time All-Star would be willing to accept a hometown discount, and there's little chance the Bulls would bring him back at his current salary of more than $14 million a year. According to ESPN's free-agent Big Board Insider, he won't earn anywhere close to $14 million a season on the open market.

There's a much more likely scenario that Boozer and Deng won't be back next season, which would leave the Bulls with cap space and plenty of uncertainty.

While it's unclear how much the Bulls will have to spend next summer, even if Boozer and Deng leave, the organization still won't have enough space to sign a max-level free agent if it kept the rest of its current team in place.

Forman has talked about the assets the Bulls have in former first-round pick Nikola Mirotic and the Charlotte Bobcats' pick that could become unprotected in 2016. But as the Bulls look at their roster for the future, would they really be closer to a championship next season by losing Deng and Boozer and adding Mirotic, assuming he'll come over from Europe, and an unknown free agent?

If they decide to re-sign Deng, the Bulls might have enough cap space to also bring Mirotic over -- but any notion of signing another free agent would be gone. There wouldn't be any space left.

It's a quandary for Forman and the Bulls to ponder as they get set to start another season. Like most teams, the Bulls' roster still has some flaws, but are those easier to cover up now than they would be later? Rose will be just 25 once the season starts, but Noah will be 29 in February and has dealt with foot problems for several years. Butler continues to develop, but can he flourish the same way he did during last season's playoffs?

That's the issue for Forman to consider during a year with big expectations. At what point does the window start closing and the time start to run out?

Nick Friedell | email

Chicago Bulls beat reporter
Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Derrick Rose
PTS AST STL MIN
15.9 4.3 0.5 31.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Noah 11.3
AssistsJ. Noah 5.4
StealsJ. Butler 1.9
BlocksJ. Noah 1.5