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updated: 5/15/2013 10:36 PM

Battered Bulls look forward to next season

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  • Carlos Boozer works the ball between LeBron James and Shane Battier, right, as he attempts to shoot during the first half of the Bulls' Game 5 loss to Miami in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

      Carlos Boozer works the ball between LeBron James and Shane Battier, right, as he attempts to shoot during the first half of the Bulls' Game 5 loss to Miami in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
    Associated Press

 
 

MIAMI -- In 2011, Omer Asik broke his leg in the Eastern Conference finals against Miami.

Last season, the Bulls lost Derrick Rose to the ACL tear and Joakim Noah to a severely sprained ankle.

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This year, Rose never came back, while Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng missed the entire second-round series against the Heat.

So the main theme as the Bulls looked ahead following Wednesday's Game 5 loss to the Heat is a wish for sustained health.

"The thing about our team, this is three years together, we haven't been healthy in the playoffs one year," Carlos Boozer said. "If we are next year, it would be scary."

The Bulls will most likely come back next year with the same nucleus of players, though they will explore plenty of options, especially those that provide payroll relief or flexibility.

They have Rose, Boozer, Noah, Deng, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague under contract for next season. But those eight players combined make around $72 million, which is already higher than the current luxury-tax threshold.

That's why changes are possible and there could be another rotation of new reserves this summer. Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli and Nazr Mohammed are among the team's free agents. Richard Hamilton has a team option that almost certainly won't be picked up.

"We're a young team that's experienced a lot at a young age," Noah said. "I think you see what a guy like Jimmy Butler brought to the table. We're going to come back healthy and we're going to be able to compete with these guys (the Heat) for a long time. I think one day we'll get our shot."

Coach Tom Thibodeau, who agreed to a contract extension just before this season, was a bit more pragmatic when assessing the future.

"If everyone comes back healthy, I think we have the possibility of being very good," Thibodeau said. "I think we'll have quality depth. We're hopeful to add to our team, I think that's important. We have to add the right kind of guys, I think that's important.

"We're optimistic. We're looking forward to the challenge ahead. We can't hope for it. We have to make it happen. You do that with your work."

The work ethic on this team usually starts with Thibodeau. No doubt, he'll be ready and waiting at the Berto Center this summer.

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