Let's get the simple questions out of the way before the Bulls officially open training camp on Friday:
How is Derrick Rose doing?
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There will be plenty of talk about how he supposedly became stronger, faster and a better shooter during his 18-month layoff after ACL surgery. The only proof will be in his performance during preseason, and even then, he might need more time to reach his full abilities. So the best advice is watch and wait.
What's new with the Bulls?
Not much. Rose is back, obviously. Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli and some guys whose names you've already forgotten have moved on. The only newcomers are Mike Dunleavy, plus rookies Tony Snell and Erik Murphy, plus a player or two who survive a preseason audition. Among the expected candidates are former Miami backup center Dexter Pittman and 38-year-old point guard Mike James.
Expect a starting lineup of Rose, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, with Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich, Nazr Mohammed, Marquis Teague and the news guys coming off the bench. The Bulls should be part of an entertaining quintet of Eastern Conference contenders, along with Miami, Indiana, New York and beefed-up Brooklyn.
What does the future hold for Luol Deng?
This is the complicated question, even though nothing has really changed since last spring. Deng's future with the Bulls was uncertain then and it's uncertain now.
What changed during the summer was Josh Smith got $56 million over four years from Detroit and Andre Iguodala went to Golden State for $48 million over four years. Both players are pretty fair comparisons with Deng.
Deng has been an all-star twice, Iguodala once and Smith never. Deng has also had more team success than the other guys. So when the Bulls talked extension this summer, it made sense for Deng's camp to ask for Smith money, or something close to it.
Deng probably feels he owes it to society to get as large a contract as he can. Few professional athletes have given back as much as Deng. He stepped forward to become the face of Great Britain basketball and was a vocal supporter of South Sudan's quest to become its own country. At age 28, Deng's contracts figure to get smaller from here.
On the other side, the Bulls are living proof that it doesn't make sense to have four high-salaried players in the NBA. This season, they owe Rose $17.6 million, Boozer $15.3 million, Deng $14.3 million and Noah $12.1 million.
Only two other teams in league have more than three players making $10 million-plus -- New York (Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani) and Brooklyn, which has five (Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Brook Lopez, Kevin Garnett.
The Bulls want to restructure their payroll. Some of that has to do with avoiding the luxury tax, but it's also about financial flexibility. They want to make a competitive offer to European star Nikola Mirotic next summer, be able to add depth through free agency and be ready to trade when underachieving teams clean house.
The Bulls will probably use the amnesty clause on Boozer next summer, eliminating one big salary. Would they be willing to move forward with a "big three" of Rose, Noah and Deng? Not at $14 million a year for Deng.
It's virtually impossible to confirm negotiating figures, but my guess is the Bulls wouldn't want to go higher than $44 million over four years for a Deng extension this summer. At a higher price, it may not make sense to keep him.
My impression is the Bulls appreciate everything Deng has done since his arrival in 2004, but they don't think he's an essential piece to what they see as the next championship run. Heck, they just drafted a potential replacement in Snell.
Does this mean the Bulls are going all in for another run at LeBron James in 2014? No. Even if they amnesty Boozer and don't re-sign Deng, they're at roughly $52 million in salary commitments for 2014-15 and this year's salary cap is $58.7 million. It would take some creative financing to clear enough room to contend for James or Carmelo Anthony, and both those players have contract options. There is no guarantee either one will even hit free-agency in 2014.
The Bulls will have a tough choice to make before February, whether or not to trade Deng. If he hits free-agency next summer and doesn't get a huge offer, there's a chance he could re-sign with the Bulls.
There is probably a better chance he ends up on a team looking for some veteran stability, while the Bulls keep searching for the final piece to their puzzle.
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