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News » Changes start at the top

Changes start at the top

Changes start at the top
Long after the Bulls' season ended Saturday night with a 109-99 Game 7 loss to the defending champion Boston Celtics, heading home looked like the last thing Joakim Noah wanted to do.

The second-year center sat stone still in the Garden locker room, towel draped over his head, deaf to teammates' words of solace.

But the pain felt by the Bulls in the immediate aftermath of a take-it-to-the-limit series shouldn't cloud what looks like a bright future.

''It's weird how everyone is so positive,'' Noah said Sunday as the Bulls cleared their gear from the Berto Center. ''I went to breakfast this morning, and people started clapping in the restaurant. It was crazy. I was like, 'Man, we lost in the first round.'

''You've got to be really mentally strong in the playoffs and take away the distractions. This is a great learning experience, and I'll remember these moments for my whole life. But as a team, we've got to be hungry for more.''

The offseason moves begin in earnest this week, when the Bulls are expected to make director of player personnel Gar Forman the general manager. John Paxson will be elevated to a new position, akin to team president, overseeing Forman, who will take over day-to-day operations of the front office.

They must decide this summer whether they can afford to keep Ben Gordon, who will become an unrestricted free agent July 1. Gordon declined five-year contracts worth $50 million and $54 million the last two summers, and the Bulls would have to break their policy of not paying the NBA luxury tax for exceeding the salary cap if they offered him a similar deal without moving money by trading Kirk Hinrich.

Gordon -- who also could agree to a one-year, mid-level exception deal -- sees these Bulls as a perennial playoff team.

''The guys I was out there on the floor with gave it everything they had,'' he said of the Celtics series. ''We gave it a great shot. This team we have right now, with a few adjustments, we can definitely head in that direction.''

An intriguing possibility is All-Star power forward Chris Bosh, who becomes a free agent next summer. While the Toronto Raptors have said they intend to sign Bosh to a contract extension, if they don't and Bosh becomes available via trade, the Bulls would be interested.

That would make Tyrus Thomas even more expendable. Unlike Noah, who progressed appreciably as the season went on, Thomas was the same maddeningly inconsistent and often unthinking player in Game 7 as he has been through three seasons. Coach Vinny Del Negro played Thomas only 17 minutes Saturday.

''He's a young player, and he's got to find his niche and continually develop and make decisions on what he wants to be -- inside player, outside player,'' Del Negro said. ''He's got to get stronger. But that's what the summer is all about. He's a young kid trying to find his way, and it's our job to help him.''

With a Bosh-type blockbuster a long shot, more modest tinkering with the roster will come as three players depart. Lindsey Hunter likely will head back to retirement. Linton Johnson III will not be back, nor will Jerome James, whose ruptured right Achilles tendon prevented him from playing a game since coming to the Bulls from New York in the Larry Hughes trade. The Bulls will seek a medical insurance settlement for James.

John Salmons, who played through a groin injury the last two months, will seek advice from specialists in the coming weeks. Salmons is likely to be the starting shooting guard next season, especially if Gordon isn't back, assuming small forward Luol Deng has recovered from the stress fracture in his right shin that ended his season March 3.

Deng said Sunday he likely will have another MRI exam next week. His health, and the ability to get his contract insured, will dictate whether he plays for Great Britain this summer.

Del Negro said he expects his coaching staff to remain intact.

''You put together a run like that, you'd like to bring everybody back to see what you can do for a full season,'' said center Brad Miller, who has one more year on his contract. ''But that's not how the NBA works. The guys that come back will be ready and put some good work in, try to get home-court advantage so if it goes to seven next year, we'll have Game 7 at home.

''We're going to learn a lot from this series. After the trade [that brought Salmons and Miller from Sacramento], once we finally got things figured out, the team played [well] together. We didn't have Lu, so that's a big piece that's coming back, and a couple questions in free agency.''


The end of the season means the work is just beginning for the Bulls' front office. Here are some key upcoming dates:

This week: Reconfiguring of front office. John Paxson will be elevated with a new title, and director of player personnel Gar Forman will become general manager.

May 19: Draft lottery drawing ( Bulls not involved).

June 25: NBA draft. In addition to their first-round pick (No. 16 overall), the Bulls own Denver's first-round pick (No. 26), via Oklahoma City, as part of the Thabo Sefolosha trade. The Bulls traded their second-round pick (No. 46) to Cleveland in the 2008 Ben Wallace deal.

July 1: Free-agent market opens. Ben Gordon becomes an unrestricted free agent.

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Added: May 5, 2009


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