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Here we go, Bulls fans. The season that starts Tuesday night feels like the culmination of one era and if not the start of a new one then the opening of a big new chapter.
It is a culmination because it is almost certainly the end of the current core group of players playing together in Chicago.
Luol Deng is heading into his tenth season with the team and he is unlikely to play an eleventh. The forward will be a free agent at the end of the season. And not only can the up-against-the-salary-cap Bulls almost certainly not afford to pay him without incurring a luxury tax, there is also a significant difference between what Deng believes he's worth and what management thinks.
Carlos Boozer, whose struggles at the defensive end often cause the Bulls to seriously shrink his minutes in the biggest games, should be headed out of town as well at the end of this campaign. But it is hard to believe it will happen.
The veteran power forward will be amnestied (the team still pays his salary but it doesn't count against the cap) if chairman Jerry Reinsdorf can bring himself to pay him more than $16 million for not playing for the Bulls. Like I said, "hard to believe." But if the Bulls finally bring in ultra-Euro prospect Nikola Mirotic (drafted in 2011) next year, the team needs to dump Boozer (at the start of what would then be the last year on his contract), move Taj Gibson into the starting lineup and make Mirotic the back-up power forward to ease him into the NBA.
All Mirotic, who hails from Podgorica, Montenegro, did last season was lead Real Madrid to a 30-4 record and earn Liga Association de Clubs de Baloncesta MVP honors. Of course, a fan can never be sure how a guy's game will translate from Europe to the NBA, but the 6-10 Mirotic can bang inside and has serious shooting range.
But enough about next year for gosh sakes.
This coming season, which begins Tuesday evening in Miami and then back home at the UC on Halloween Thursday versus the New York Knicks, is the start of something because it will be the first time that the backcourt of Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler have played together for anything more than a handful of minutes.
Quite simply, Rose is ready to rock. I'm not buying the widely reported revelation that his vertical leap is five inches higher at this point than it was before the knee injury that caused him to sit out for more than a year. But there is no denying Rose has looked great in the preseason.
Due to a nagging knee bruise, Butler didn't spend a ton of time on the floor with Rose this past month. But these two have "great guard pairing" written all over them. Butler established last year that he is one of the league's elite defensive shooting guards and his jump shot has done nothing but improve during his time with the Bulls.
There is no doubt these guys will be great fun to watch and there is every reason to believe that this season they will settle into a long run as one of the NBA's top backcourts.
Deng seems all better after last season's medical fiasco. The forward hasn't filed a malpractice lawsuit or anything but one has to wonder if we've heard the last of the controversy surrounding a botched spinal tap (to check for viral meningitis) by the Bulls' chosen medical personnel that caused Deng to leak fluid and be sidelined in the playoffs after only five games.
Joakim Noah was nagged by a groin pull during the preseason but if there is one player in the NBA fans can count on to do what it takes to play despite whatever might be ailing him, it is Noah. The seven-foot center's run through the playoffs last year despite plantar fasciitis in his foot was the stuff of legend.
Whether individual Bulls are coming or going, where they find themselves now is in title contention.
* Sam Smith's 2013-14 NBA Power Rankings.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
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