At long last, NBA training camps will begin Friday, when the league officially opens for business. The Bulls are planning to practice at 4 p.m. before launching two-a-days on Saturday.
The Bulls will have 16 days to prepare for their Christmas Day opener against the Los Angeles Lakers and a week to get ready for the first of two preseason games against Indiana.
It's been a long time since the Bulls sulked off the floor, victims of that flash comeback by Miami in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. So here's a refresher for the official first day of practice:
Q: Who's back and who's not?
A: The answer is simple. Just about everyone's back.
Nine regulars from last season's team are under contract -- Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson.
Veteran center Kurt Thomas appears willing to come back. Keith Bogans has been at the Berto Center working out. Brian Scalabrine reportedly left his Italian league team and remains a possibility. John Lucas III is also hanging around.
The Bulls probably won't bring back Rasual Butler or Jannero Pargo, but this team will have very little turnover. The only newcomer so far is rookie forward Jimmy Butler, a defensive specialist from Marquette.
Q: Are the Bulls planning any additions?
A: Well, yes and no. The obvious need is an offensive upgrade at shooting guard. But some in Bulls management are in favor of standing pat and coming back with the same group of players. At least to start the season.
Q: Wait, didn't the Bulls lose to Miami in the playoffs? They need to change something, right?
A: Look at it this way: The Bulls posted the league's best record at 62-20, advanced to the conference finals and certainly played championship-caliber defense against the Heat.
A problem that stood out was the Bulls inability to score late in Games 2, 4 and 5. That's where a better scorer at shooting guard comes in.
At the same time, that was the first extended trip through the playoffs for Rose, Deng and Noah. Better health, better free-throw shooting, a few more spot-up jumpers falling, more calls from the referees -- any of those factors could turn the tables this year.
In theory, of course.
Q: What players are the Bulls targeting in free-agency?
A: The top choice appears to be Orlando's Jason Richardson, who doesn't figure to be asked back to the Magic. But the Bulls are trying to keep their options open by talking to Jamal Crawford, Vince Carter, Josh Howard, Grant Hill, T.J. Ford, Michael Redd and probably others.
Caron Butler, the first free agent to pay a visit to the Berto Center this week, agreed to terms with the L.A. Clippers, while Shane Battier was also snapped up by Miami.
Q: So what are the Bulls waiting for?
A: Probably Richardson. They are hoping he'll agree to play for the $5 million midlevel exception for the privilege of joining a championship contender. The Bulls are convinced he has the makeup and character they're looking for.
One bonus: Richardson hasn't spent much time in the playoffs during his 10 years in the league, but he did average 19.8 points and shot 50 percent from the field when he advanced to the Western finals with Phoenix in 2010.
Q: What is Richardson waiting for?
A: Another interested team. He made $14.4 million last year and would probably prefer a sign-and-trade to the Bulls where he could make more than $5 million.
The teams with cap room are Denver, Indiana, New Orleans, New Jersey, Sacramento and Washington. Most of those teams are chasing Nene, the Nuggets' free-agent forward. So Richardson's camp is likely waiting for that domino to fall.
At the same time, the Bulls appear to be much farther along as a title contender than those teams with cap space.
Q: Will a young team like the Bulls benefit from the compressed schedule?
A: Not necessarily. Older players could suffer less wear and tear with a shortened training camp and 16 fewer games than usual.
Plus, few NBA players work harder and take more hits than Derrick Rose. Having less time for Rose to recover between games could be a concern.
Q: How will the lack of a normal summer affect the Bulls?
A: The team is loaded with hard workers, so having everybody in shape and ready to play shouldn't be much of a concern. Maybe the longer layoff will help guys like Boozer and Noah, who played through injuries during the playoffs.
What might hurt the Bulls is the coaching staff wasn't able to work with the players, either on skills or understanding the system. Plus, there won't be a full training camp to help build unity and don't forget, Boozer missed most of last year's camp with the broken hand. He needs time to get on the same page with Rose in the pick and roll.
Q: What has coach Tom Thibodeau been doing all summer?
A: Watching tape, what else? Not one to golf away the summer, Thibodeau and his staff have been game-planning all summer to help the Bulls get to the top.
What exactly that is, we might discover before New Year's Day.