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posted: 2/15/2013 9:10 PM

How current Bulls fit into plans for future

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  • Two-time all-star Luol Deng's future with the Bulls is tenuous because he's more expendable than other key players.

    Two-time all-star Luol Deng's future with the Bulls is tenuous because he's more expendable than other key players.
    Associated Press


Sure, the Bulls rolled into the all-star break with a few flat tires.

They went 2-5 in the last seven contests and surrendered 100 points three times after going nine straight games without giving up more than 93.

But look at this way: Including the Jan. 30 game at Milwaukee, the Bulls' last eight opponents all had winning records and seven of the eight games were on the road.

This might be more of a schedule wall than a full-fledged slump, but it's a sign of what's in store.

Coming out of the break, the next four weeks include games at New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Indiana, San Antonio, the Lakers and Golden State.

The first home game after the break is against Miami, where LeBron James is putting together a pretty good 50th birthday tribute to Michael Jordan (31.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 67 percent shooting this month).

The NBA trade deadline arrives a few hours before the Bulls tip off against the Heat on Thursday. The Bulls' primary wish list -- removing the salaries of Carlos Boozer and Rip Hamilton -- doesn't figure to match any other team's goal, so don't expect much to happen.

Maybe Derrick Rose will come back and help lead the Bulls past the first round of the playoffs. But the real task at hand is building another championship contender around Rose.

That process probably will continue into 2014, so here's a look at how the current players, besides Rose, fit in for the future:

Joakim Noah: By refusing to match Houston's offer to Omer Asik last summer, the Bulls' essentially cemented Noah's status as a long-term piece. He's already signed through 2016.

Noah is averaging 11.8 points and 11.4 rebounds, his most consistent effort in six NBA seasons, and he was rewarded with an all-star selection. Where he's really improved is 4.1 assists per game, way up from 2.5 last season.

Those foot problems have returned, and Bulls fans will have to hope his 43 minutes against Boston on Wednesday were a sign that it's under control.

Luol Deng: Now a two-time all-star, Deng has been solid as ever, averaging 16.7 points, anchoring the defense and playing nearly 40 minutes per night.

His future with the Bulls is tenuous because he's more expendable than Rose or Noah, and his contract is more palatable than Boozer's. Deng will be in the final year of his deal next season at $14.3 million.

It's easy to get the impression coach Tom Thibodeau does not favor trading Deng. That may be possible, but his next contract poses a problem.

He probably won't get $14 million again on the open market. A new deal at around $10 million per year would be great for the Bulls, but will another team offer more?

Carlos Boozer: He has calmed down after a hot January, and the overall outlook hasn't changed much. His production (15.7 points, 9.3 rebounds) makes him a valuable piece for the Bulls -- as long as you ignore the $15.3 million and $16.8 million left on his contract over the next two seasons.

The price changes his value considerably, which is why using the amnesty provision is something the Bulls will think about this summer and almost certainly use by 2014 if they can't trade him.

Kirk Hinrich: He hasn't shot the ball well, but Hinrich's defense is still solid and the Bulls' 7-8 record without him says something about how much he has helped.

Hinrich has another year on his deal worth about $4 million. The biggest question, especially considering his history of injuries in Atlanta the last two seasons, if whether he can stay healthy.

Richard Hamilton: His shooting touch has been inconsistent this season, and the Bulls are watching his minutes to prevent another injury.

So there's not much reason to think Hamilton will return next year, although he does have some guaranteed money with a contract option.

Taj Gibson: While filling in for an injured Boozer, Gibson played a ridiculous amount of minutes. But in those five starts, he averaged 16 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and shot 59.7 percent.

It's easy to see why the Bulls felt comfortable giving him a generous contract extension in October.

Nate Robinson: Every team needs someone who can come off the bench and potentially turn a game around. Robinson has certainly done that, but he signed a one-year deal for the league minimum this season.

His demand figures to rise after playing so well for the Bulls.

Marco Belinelli: Overall, he has been a pretty good addition -- even adding some clutch baskets recently -- and a relative bargain at $1.9 million. Like Robinson, though, he could easily escape as a free agent this summer.

Jimmy Butler: He had an 11-game stretch from Jan. 19 to Feb. 4 where he averaged 14.4 points and 7.1 rebounds. Definitely a keeper, especially since he has shown an ability to play the two guard and has two more years left at his rookie-scale salary.

Marquis Teague: The rookie from Kentucky has shown some promise. It's possible he could step into a second-string role in the next two seasons.

Daequan Cook: He could return, since Hamilton and Belinelli are questions, but it's tough to see him as anything more than a 3-point specialist.

Nazr Mohammed, Vladimir Radmanovic: No comment necessary.

Nikola Mirotic: The 2011 Bulls draft pick is averaging 11.1 points and 4.9 rebounds, while shooting 59 percent overall, in the EuroLeague for Real Madrid. So the 6-foot-10 forward is not exactly tearing it up, but he just turned 22, young enough to still be in college.

A likely scenario is Mirotic crossing the Atlantic in 2014, but that's probably reliant on the Bulls clearing some cap space for him.

Tom Thibodeau: No one can argue his effectiveness as a coach. The concerns are whether he will wear down the key guys with a heavy workload or if the players eventually will tune out his defensive demands.

Stay tuned on those topics.

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