- Bradford Doolittle
Around Chicago, it's known as "The 2014 Plan." No one associated with the Bulls has publicly referred to such a thing, nor will they. Coach Tom Thibodeau most certainly is not proceeding as if he were mired in the first of two lame-duck seasons. However, if you connect the dots, everything is pointed toward summer 2014 for the Bulls' big push to put together the franchise's first championship roster since the days of Michael Jordan.
Here's a list of things that will -- or might -- happen between now and the start of the 2014 offseason for Chicago:
• Derrick Rose will return to the court. Really, this will happen, even though it might not always seem like it.
• Luol Deng's contract will expire, opening up what could be a $14.3 million salary slot for the 2013-14 season.
• Carlos Boozer's contract can be lopped off the Bulls' cap number either this July or next with the amnesty clause.
• Richard Hamilton's contract will be long gone.
• The Bulls' two-year deal with Kirk Hinrich for the mini midlevel exception will expire after next season.
• Chicago will have at least two non-lottery, first-round picks. The Bulls have been extremely successful with those selections in recent seasons, drafting Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Marquis Teague.
• European sensation Nikola Mirotic, who was drafted a few spots before Butler in the 2011 draft, might be ready to move stateside and post "Nowitzkian" shooting percentages.
• Perhaps most important of all: The list of players in what could be a loaded 2014 free-agent class will be firmed up.
Given all of that, the Bulls likely will have seven players locked in for the 2014-15 season who will eat up somewhere around $46.3 million in cap space. Those players are Rose, Gibson, Joakim Noah, Butler, Teague and the two aforementioned draft picks. The oldest of those players will be Noah, who will have just turned 29 by then. It's hard to say what a max salary will look like in a couple of years, but it likely will exceed $20 million for a player with 10 or more years in the league, and be a little less for those with less service time. The Bulls would have to move some pieces around, but they could probably swing that. Either way, they will be positioned to make a splash.
Bradford Doolittle writes that the Chicago Bulls, who will be positioned to sign a major free agent in 2014, could very well land either LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. But which player is more likely to come -- and which would fit better with Derrick Rose?