The Bulls were eliminated in five games by the defending champions in the Eastern Conference semis. Was their season a success, and how does their future look? Our 5-on-5 team weighs in.
1. Was Derrick Rose's decision to miss the entire season the right one?
Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Insider: Probably. Only he really knows how he felt, and if there were any physical and/or mental hurdles that might have led to a reinjury, then sitting out was the right call. That didn't make it any easier to watch him on the sidelines during games or working out before them, knowing what the rest of the Bulls were up against.
Nick Friedell, ESPNChicago.com: Yes. If he's not mentally and physically ready to play, he shouldn't. He is the only one who knows his body, and he knows in the end it's his career on the line.
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: Yes, without a doubt. Fans have the hardest time seeing the long-term perspective, but Rose and the Bulls made the right call by not rushing him back against the fully loaded Heat. The risk was just never worth the reward, especially with Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng injured and Joakim Noah hobbled. Now he'll have 18 months off by the start of 2013-14. This was never about this season. It was about a 24-year-old signed through 2016-17.
Matt McHale, By The Horns: Ultimately, all that matters is whether the decision was right for Rose. If Derrick feels it was, and it gives him greater confidence in his body and mind heading into next season, then it was the right decision.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: How can we possibly say? It goes against the conventional modern return time from an injury like this. But there's no way to say how he'll benefit or not benefit next year. I know this will continually be a Bulls rallying cry into the future, much like the Celtics refer to Kendrick Perkins' 2010 injury. But I do not believe the Bulls would have a better record in the regular season than the Heat or win a playoff series against them this season even if Rose was 100 percent.
2. Given Rose's absence, was the Bulls' season a success?
Doolittle: Most definitely. Chicago won over a lot of fans during the postseason, and it was a time for Joakim Noah to showcase just how good he's become. The Bulls also developed Jimmy Butler into a long-term rotation piece, and this is a guy that was taken at No. 30.
Friedell: Yes. For the Bulls to advance into the second round without Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng is a huge achievement. This team wasn't built to win a title this year anyway. This year should be viewed as a huge success and should be even more evidence as to why Tom Thibodeau is one of the best coaches in the league.
Haberstroh: Yes. You think the Minnesota Timberwolves would trade their injury-marred season for Chicago's injury-marred season? In a heartbeat. I mean, seriously, the Bulls reached the Eastern Conference semifinals with Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli starting against the likes of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Then they beat the defending champs on their home floor when not even the Bulls' family and friends gave them a chance. Chicago fans should be beaming with pride on Thursday.
McHale: Absolutely. With Rose out the entire year, the Bench Mob disassembled before the season began and all the other injuries they had, I would say winning 45 games and making it to the second round of the playoffs far exceeded expectations. And consider: This ragtag group pushed the Heat just as far (five games) as the 2010-11 team did with Rose, a fully healthy roster and a stocked bench.
Windhorst: Absolutely. Don't forget this team gutted its bench last summer, mostly for salary reasons, and ended up relying on a bunch of guys who hardly had proven track records. Never before had Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli or Jimmy Butler played roles this successfully. It was a credit to their system and their resolve. And a reminder how fortunate they were with health when they won those six titles.
3. Should the Bulls part ways with Carlos Boozer?
Doolittle: Not just yet. With four eight-figure salaries on the books for next season, amnestying Boozer would have little benefit other than tax savings. And trading him for a player with a comparable 2013-14 cap figure with more years remaining on his deal -- a long shot at best -- would mess up the flexibility Chicago has created for a splash in the summer of 2014.
Friedell: It's not going to happen this summer, so forget it. The amnesty hammer will likely fall on Boozer next summer. Until then, the Bulls will take what they can get from the veteran forward. For the most part, he was pretty consistent -- and healthy -- this year.
Haberstroh: Not yet. Giving him the amnesty ax might sound appealing right now, but let's have some perspective. The Rose-Deng-Boozer-Noah quartet won 62 games in 2010-11 together and the equivalent of that in the lockout-shortened season. The amnesty savings likely wouldn't get them under the cap, and then they'd have to replace him with a pricey talent. Give it one more go-around with this group and then re-evaluate when Deng and Hinrich hit free agency after next season.
McHale: Given their salary situation heading into next season, there wouldn't be much benefit to using the amnesty provision on Boozer this summer. Simply put, it wouldn't free up enough cap room to adequately replace his production or make any other significant moves. Boozer is much more likely to become an amnesty casualty in the summer of 2014, when the contracts of Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich come off the books. That would be the most opportune time for the Bulls to make a move.
Windhorst: Perhaps in a trade if it comes with some talent and savings, but not, as some suggest, by amnestying him. Boozer may be overpaid, but he's a valuable player at a position of need in the league. I think sometimes fans think just because a player doesn't count on the cap that a team doesn't have to pay him when he's amnestied. It makes no sense to pay Boozer to play for another team and I doubt the Bulls will next year.
4. What do the Bulls need to add this offseason?
Doolittle: The Bulls just need to have more hits than misses at the bottom of the roster, especially with their shooters. Marco Belinelli should be more useful with Rose back to attract attention, but Rip Hamilton can be bought out. Even though he played a lot of minutes at the end of the Miami series, Hamilton just hasn't been able to stay on the floor since he signed with the Bulls. With Hamilton, Vladimir Radmanovic, Nazr Mohammed, Malcolm Thomas and Daequon Cook, there were too many idle bodies on the bench at playoff time for a team that was so strapped for production.
Friedell: There's not much they can do unless they make a trade, given their cap situation. All signs point to their waiting one more year until the summer of 2014 in order to make a major move. In the meantime, they must consider trading Deng if they feel he won't sign an extension at a lower rate next summer. If they can get a cheaper asset by unloading him, it would open up even more time for Jimmy Butler and would give them even more ammo to land another star to pair with Rose via trade.
Haberstroh: Add shooters, shooters and more shooters. The Bulls ranked 29th in 3-point makes and attempts this season, and they desperately need to space the floor with Boozer and Noah taking up space in the middle. They'll likely have only the taxpayers' mid-level to float to free agents, but they should take a hard look at trying to bring back Kyle Korver. Martell Webster, Jodie Meeks and Anthony Morrow should also be on their radar.
McHale: Shooters. The Bulls were a terrible 3-point shooting team -- 21st in 3-point percentage and 29th in attempts -- and it really stymied their offensive productivity. Simply put, to be successful in today's NBA, teams need 3-point shooters to spread the floor. And if Rose comes back anything like his old self, floor spacing will be crucial for his drives to the basket.
Windhorst: They're going to have to rebuild their bench again and they're going to have to do it on the cheap again. Taj Gibson's extension has them deep into the luxury tax already. I suspect the likes of Robinson and Belinelli will move on where they can get larger roles and more playing time. Rip Hamilton will be cut. They'll be searching in the bargain bin for veterans whom Tom Thibodeau can try to squeeze production out of.
5. Are the Bulls title contenders next season?
Doolittle: Absolutely. When Rose has played with this core group, they've put up the best record in the league. As long as Rose is himself, there's no reason to think it'll be any different next season. Chicago will be as well-positioned as any team to take advantage of a major Miami postseason injury.
Friedell: No. Contenders to be at the top of the Eastern Conference? Sure. But contenders to knock off the Miami Heat in a seven-game series? No. They still don't have enough guys who can create their own shot. Their offense struggles and sputters out too many times late in games -- and that happened when Rose was healthy. Until the Bulls get another player who can create for himself, they shouldn't be viewed as serious title contenders.
Haberstroh: Sure. It all depends on Rose's recovery. But even so, we tend to underestimate how many legitimate title contenders there are every season. Weird stuff happens every postseason that can open the door for just about any playoff team. Just ask the Memphis Grizzlies. Or the Golden State Warriors, for that matter. The Bulls will be right back in it, if healthy.
McHale: They certainly could be. This is of course contingent on Rose returning (and returning to form), guys like Deng, Hinrich and Joakim Noah being healthy and the addition of some legitimate shooting threats. As depleted and weary as they were, the Bulls put the Heat through five very hard- fought games. And Miami happens to be the best team in the NBA, with the league MVP at the top of his game. A fully stocked Bulls team with a healthy Rose should be able to challenge for supremacy in the East.
Windhorst: Yes, probably. They'll be contenders in the East for sure. When the Bulls are healthy, the only team with a better outlook, in my opinion, is the Heat. The Bulls are younger and, in my opinion, better than the Nets and Knicks when they're intact. The Pacers have a good future, but I'm not sure they can keep their core together.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Bradford Doolittle, Tom Haberstroh and Brian Windhorst cover the NBA for ESPN.com. Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com. Matt McHale contributes to the TrueHoop Network.