Any evaluation of the Bulls' future begins with this line: "If Derrick Rose can stay healthy ..."
The Bulls have scrapped and overachieved without him, but that won't get a team very far in the NBA playoffs -- which was painfully obvious this week.
With Indiana struggling and Miami running on fumes, this would have been a great chance for a full-strength Bulls squad to make a run at the NBA Finals. Instead, they'll watch the far more talented Washington Wizards take on that quest.
The Bulls' season ended with a 75-69 loss to the Wizards on Tuesday, which completed the first-round playoff series in five games.
On Wednesday, the players met with management at the Berto Center and general manager Gar Forman set the stage for the off-season.
"It will obviously be an active summer for us," he said. "You don't know what direction it could go."
Forman can't provide any concrete answers, so here a quick look at the major questions regarding the Bulls' off-season:
• Will they acquire New York's Carmelo Anthony? Maybe, but new Knicks president Phil Jackson will be an imposing obstacle.
• Will they use the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer? Yes, unless they can somehow trade him.
• Will they sign European rising star Nikola Mirotic? If they can't get Anthony, then probably yes. If they spend their money on Anthony, they'll aim for next year.
• Any reason why Rose won't be back to his old self next season? Sorry, not answering that one.
The Bulls under contract for next season are Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Tony Snell and Boozer. By using the amnesty clause on Boozer, they'd still have to pay his $16.8 million salary, but it doesn't count toward the salary cap or luxury tax.
By keeping the roster intact and using the amnesty, the Bulls could open roughly $10 million in cap space this summer, but that could increase if they trade some of the players under contract or their two first-round draft picks, which are Nos. 14 and 19.
"I think we need to continue to just build our roster," Forman said. "I think we want to have a full roster, a complete roster. That's something under the new CBA we struggled with a little bit because of the salary structures, and I think it's something we'll be able to address now into the off-season.
"If we can get our team deeper and have more depth across the board I think it's going to help us, and of course health is going to help us."
The comment about not having a full roster is an admission that it's been tough to retool the roster or plug holes with so many high salaries on the payroll. The Bulls unloaded one expensive player when they traded Luol Deng to Cleveland on Jan. 6 and Boozer will be the next to go.
"We have valued Carlos. And I think Carlos has had a big part of our success the last four years," Forman said. "Obviously, we still have amnesty is an option. That's something as we go into July, we'll have to evaluate."
So officially, the Bulls have made no decision on Boozer's future, but there is no roster flexibility this summer if they don't trade him or use the amnesty clause, which is why it seems to be a certainty.
Two players who are truly in limbo are D.J. Augustin and Kirk Hinrich. Augustin led the Bulls in scoring at 14.9 points after joining the team on Dec. 13. He'd be a nice guy to have around, both as an extra scoring option and insurance for Rose.
"I think D.J.'s a fit," Forman said. "He's been a fit as far as his makeup and character, how he fit with our others guys and I think his game is a fit, because of his ability to create and to score. We're hopeful we'll be in a position that D.J. will consider coming back and that we're in a position to have him back."
Even if the Bulls succeed in landing Anthony, they should be able to utilize a cap-room midlevel exception of $2.8 million. Maybe that would be enough to interest Augustin. If the Bulls don't sign a major free agent, they could obviously offer more.
Forman didn't rule out bringing back both Augustin and Hinrich. But the Bulls might need Hinrich to accept the minimum salary, and it's not clear whether he would pursue better offers around the league.
As long as there's a chance of Rose being healthy again next season, there is reason for optimism.
"I'm excited about where we are," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said in the lobby of the Berto Center. "Anytime you have an injury like we've dealt with with Derrick ... you have to manage it as best you can. And I thought our guys responded well.
"I thought the growth of both Taj and Jo was huge for our team. But I'm looking forward to having Derrick back also. Obviously, that makes your team a lot different. I think we're positioned well."