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posted: 3/29/2010 12:01 AM

Bulls face some tough questions before free agency begins

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  • Chicago could turn out to be an ideal place for the Raptors' Chris Bosh to continue his NBA career.

      Chicago could turn out to be an ideal place for the Raptors' Chris Bosh to continue his NBA career.
    Associated Press

 
 

The Bulls may or may not slide into eighth place in the Eastern Conference before the season ends.

But their playoff fate shouldn't make much of a difference when it comes to the more important task of spending their money wisely.

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The summer plan isn't limited to hoping LeBron James or Dwyane Wade jumps ship. There are several good players available, and the Bulls will have about $20 million available to make improvements.

With so many possibilities, here are some tough questions management will have to answer before the free-agent chase begins:

What if LeBron shows interest?

This could turn into the worst-case scenario if James' representatives tell the Bulls on July 1 he's very interested but wants to take his time, visit New York and Chicago, then weigh all his options. Do the Bulls wait out the world's best player or move on?

They'll have to read the situation the best they can, but the likely answer is move on. One theory making the rounds is James will re-sign with Cleveland for three years or so, make sure to snap the city's 46-year championship drought, then go save New York or another larger market.

What's the top priority: shooting guard or power forward?

If the Bulls had $30 million to spend, they'd have a great chance of snagging both Joe Johnson and Chris Bosh.

But they'll have closer to $20 million, and teams won't be eager to take on the inflated contracts of Kirk Hinrich or Luol Deng in a sign-and-trade.

The Bulls have been crying out for a low-post scoring threat since Elton Brand left. But they're also not going to reach the Finals with Hinrich and Flip Murray at two guard.

There really is no correct answer to this question. Eventually, the Bulls need to address both spots.

Is Chris Bosh worth a maximum contract?

Let's face it, if James or Wade want to join the Bulls, money is no object. But adding one of those players is a definite longshot.

Bosh should be ready to leave Toronto, though, and Chicago is an ideal landing spot. Big market, talented point guard and maybe the most attractive lure is Bosh wouldn't have to play center on the Bulls.

Teams are allowed to offer 105 percent of his current salary for the first year. So the Bulls could give Bosh $16.6 million to start, then increase all the way to $21.9 million for the 2014-15 season.

Bosh (23.9 points, 11.0 rebounds) already is a perennial all-star. But that's a huge commitment, and the Bulls would likely have to approach those salary numbers to seal a deal.

Johnson could start at $15.7 million and it's doubtful Atlanta would fork over the full amount, but he won't come cheap, either.

Are lower-priced free agents a better idea?

Well, at power forward alone there are two strong candidates who do not figure to get a maximum contract.

Utah's Carlos Boozer is averaging 19.4 points and 11.1 rebounds and shooting 55.6 percent. New York's David Lee, a St. Louis native, is at 20.1 points, 11.9 rebounds and 54.7 percent.

If the Bulls could start one of those players at $11 or 12 million, they'd have plenty of cash left over to add more parts.

San Antonio's Manu Ginobili and Washington's Josh Howard are others options at two guard. Words of warning, though: Ginobili turns 33 this summer, and Howard tore his ACL against the Bulls last month.

How good is Taj Gibson?

It's possible the Bulls already are well-equipped at power forward. Gibson, the No. 26 pick of last year's draft, produced 22 points and 13 rebounds against New Jersey, 20 and 13 against Cleveland, 11 and 13 against Atlanta.

He has gotten better during the course of the season, despite suffering from plantar fasciitis, and is showing confidence with his post moves.

No one can be sure where his ceiling sits, but he has been far more productive as a rookie than Lee, a late first-round surprise in 2005.

Could the Bulls use Gibson as trade bait?

Well, they'd need some sort of sweetener to pull off a sign-and-trade. Could they send Gibson and Deng to Minnesota, while Al Jefferson goes to Toronto and Bosh to the Bulls? What about Gibson and Hinrich to San Antonio for Ginobili?

Obviously, they'll need to explore all the options to make something work. A summer of possibilities certainly beats being stuck with immovable parts.

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