PHILADELPHIA -- Losing on 2 free throws with 2.2 seconds left in a game is one thing. But the Bulls are feeling the added disappointment of watching a season that carried so many championship aspirations end on May 10 after just six playoff games.
Their exit seemed inevitable when Derrick Rose tore the ACL in his left knee late in Game 1 at the United Center. Losing Joakim Noah for three full games with a sprained ankle didn't help, either.
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It will be a long off-season, but the questions about what to do next will begin immediately.
The management team of Gar Forman and John Paxson could figure that the Bulls would have dispatched the 76ers with ease without the injuries, so why bother making major changes to a team that produced the league's best regular-season record two years in a row?
"That's up to Pax and Gar, but I love everyone in that locker room," Luol Deng said after the contest. "I love my coaching staff. Each night, we had each other's back. It was more than just basketball. We cared about each other.
"If someone was down, we picked them up. We really became a close group. You don't ever have the best record in the NBA during the regular season if your team is not a close group."
Most of the Bulls are under contract for next year. The most significant free agent is center Omer Asik, who is restricted, so the Bulls can match offers from other teams and probably will match anything within reason.
They team holds contact options on C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver. Brian Scalabrine, John Lucas III and Mike James will be unrestricted free agents. So there will be places to tweak the roster if so desired.
Coach Tom Thibodeau has a contract option, controlled by the team. The Bulls are expected to negotiate an extension with their coach.
"I am disappointed in the loss, but I'm not disappointed in our team," Thibodeau said. "They battled all year long. I feel for them because I've seen their commitment. When you have a group to commit to something like that, then you've got something special. I think we had that.
"The end result is not what we would have liked. But in the end there will be one team standing that will be satisfied for the year. So we have to use this as motivation to move forward, to have a great off-season, get ready for next year, approach it all over again and do the same thing -- hopefully better."
After such a tough loss, most players didn't want to think about the future.
"I'm not the GM," Noah said.
"I'm not really worried about it," Watson added. "Hopefully we'll all be here next year to have another run at it. Hopefully we'll all stay healthy and we'll leave it up to the management."
Even before the playoffs, the Bulls had more than the usual share of injuries during this condensed, 66-game season.
"We had so many expectations this season and our ultimate goal was to win a championship," Richard Hamilton said. "We didn't expect me to be out 38 games. We didn't expect Derrick to be out as long as he has. We didn't expect Lu with his hand, but things happen.
"We've just got to figure it out and hopefully come next year and be ready to play. Everybody always says the team that's healthy is going to win it."