CHICAGO -- A handshake deal is in place. The NBA lockout will most likely be over in the next few days.
As far as the Chicago Bulls are concerned, here are 10 of the most pressing questions the team must answer heading into the beginning of the new season.
1. Who is the 2?: The question that just won't go away for the Bulls and their fans. In order for the Bulls to get past the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference this season, they've got to bring in a scorer to take some pressure off of Derrick Rose. Jason Richardson is one of many possibilities that Bulls fans have bounced around for months. Will the Bulls have enough money to attract a bigger name? Will Kyle Korver or Ronnie Brewer be given another chance to start? Is there a trade they can make that will upgrade the position? All questions the team must answer before the Christmas Day opener. If Keith Bogans starts another season as the starting two guard for the Bulls, general manager Gar Forman knows he’s going to face more criticism than ever.
2. Another year of Bogans?: The Bulls still have to decide whether or not to pick up Bogan’s option for next season. Coach Tom Thibodeau likes him, but he is not a difference maker. He would be a nice fit at as a reserve who gives a spark off the bench, but not as a starter who gets 15-20 minutes a game.
3. When does Rose get his extension?: More of a formality than anything else, Rose should get his extension once training camp begins. He's the cornerstone of the Bulls and the front office knows it.
4. Amnesty Boozer?: As soon as rumors of an amnesty clause started leaking out during the labor negotiations, plenty of Bulls fans wanted the team to let go of its biggest free agent acquisition last summer, Carlos Boozer. The veteran power forward isn't going anywhere though. The Bulls believe Boozer can still be a difference maker and an All-Star if he stays healthy. For argument's sake, even if the Bulls were to drop Boozer and the almost $60 million he is still owed over four years, there's no guarantee they would have enough to go after another big name given the way the new salary cap structure is expected to look.
5. Howard to Chicago?: Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard doesn't sound like a man who wants to spend the rest of his playing days in Central Florida. The speculation about his next move will be constant throughout the new year and that speculation will lead a lot of people to mention Chicago as a potential destination. The Bulls would love to have Howard and would be willing to part with anyone on the roster not named Derrick Rose to get him. But there are a few problems. First, Magic GM Otis Smith has repeatedly said he won't trade Howard. Secondly, if Smith were to deal Howard, why would he trade him within the Eastern Conference so that the young big man could crush his old team for years to come? The odds of Howard coming to the Bulls are slim.
6. How good can Butler be?: Marquette product Jimmy Butler has kind of gotten lost in the lockout shuffle. Aside from the initial meet-and-greet with team personnel after the draft, Butler hasn't gotten much time to learn Thibodeau's system. That is going to hurt him once training camp begins and it will be hard for him to crack the rotation early on. Unlike many teams, the Bulls roster is already in place for the most part. They will return almost all of the same starters and reserves. Butler is going to have to spend a lot of extra time in the Berto Center with Thibodeau in order to find minutes.
7. What kind of shape will the players be in?: Bulls players have spent time working out on their own most of the summer with their personal trainers. Some guys trained together for a few days at a time (Rose and Joakim Noah in Santa Monica to name one pair), but the team never came together as a whole like a couple other teams tried to do. Given that the Bulls roster will look mostly the same as it did last season, that lack of practice together shouldn't be much of an issue. The bigger question for the Bulls is how seriously did they take their offseason conditioning? The answer will be easy to see early in camp.
8. Can Noah shake "injury-prone" tag?: One of the players who has trained hard over the past couple of seasons is Noah. He spent a portion of the summer playing for Team France in the European Championships and spent a majority of the other free time working with his trainer Alex Paras. Noah's problem over the past two seasons is that he just can't stay healthy. He missed large chunks of both seasons because of plantar fasciitis, a torn thumb ligament and ankle issues. Team France actually sent him home before the European Championships began because of questions they had about his ankle. If Noah can stay healthy, plenty of people around the league believe he can become an All-Star. If he gets hurt again during this condensed season, he may not be able to shake the "injury-prone" tag.
9. How much better can Asik be?: The Bulls love Omer Asik. They believe he can be a top-tier center in the NBA for a long time to come and that's why they didn't want to give him up in a trade last winter. Assistant coach Ron Adams went as far to say last season that he believes Asik can be the best defensive player in the league. In the meantime, the Bulls are hoping Asik takes another leap in his progression this season, especially on the offensive end. He looked uncomfortable in the post at times last year and the Bulls need him to continue to learn and get better. If he does, he not only helps the team as insurance policy in case of another Noah injury, he becomes an even bigger trade chip down the line.
10. How will players respond to the second year of Thibodeau?: As a group, the players generally seemed to respect Thibodeau last season. It was evident in the way they played night after night, on the way to an NBA leading 62 regular-season wins. Now that the honeymoon period has worn off, it will be interesting to see how the players respond. Thibodeau is very demanding and will not give his players an inch when he feels they aren't focused. Will the players' focus continue to be laser sharp? Or will it start to waver ever so slightly? Thibodeau has been around the league for a long time so you'd think he would know when to pull his foot off the gas a little bit, especially in an upcoming season which is sure to see back-to-back games jammed together. Still, Thibodeau's hard-charging attitude and his players' reaction towards it is worth keeping an eye on.