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Content Bulls expected to shop casually in free agency

Obstacles such as Luol Deng’s contract will keep Bulls from being big spenders. | Mike Ehrmann~Getty Images

Obstacles such as Luol Deng’s contract will keep the Bulls from being big spenders. | Mike Ehrmann~Getty Images

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Updated: August 2, 2012 10:40AM

Just because free agency starts Sunday doesn’t mean the Bulls will make any major moves, especially right away.

Despite the need for a veteran point guard and help at shooting guard and perhaps even small forward, depending upon Luol Deng’s availability, vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman will be mostly spectators during the fast-and-furious portion of free agency.

That’s not to say they won’t be making calls and exploring possibilities. If recent history is any indication, expect a rumor a week involving the Bulls making a landmark trade or courting an impact free agent, even if reality says they’ll be involved more in the back end of free agency than the front end.

For the Bulls, free agency could be like picking 29th in Thursday night’s NBA draft in that it involves a lot of finger drumming.

‘‘I’ve said this before pretty consistently, but we like the core group of guys that we have,’’ Forman said Thursday night. ‘‘We like the direction in which we’re headed. Obviously, it was disappointing the way the season ended this year with the injuries. That said, in the short term, we’ve taken a little bit of a hit, we’ve hit a bump in the road. As far as what we’re looking at long-term, we still feel we’re headed in the right direction. The decision [Thursday night] and the decisions we make into July, we’re going to keep the big picture in mind.

‘‘Were we actively shopping our players? Absolutely not. Are their conversations? All 30 teams have conversations about the players on their roster. But we like the core of this team, and it’s our job to continue to try to put pieces around Derrick [Rose] and some of the other core guys and try to continue to trend up.’’

A more punitive luxury tax as a result of the new collective bargaining agreement is the elephant in the room. Under the old agreement, a team going $20 million over the salary cap resulted in a $20 million penalty. This season, the same amount could cost a team as much $45  million, with that figure escalating in coming years.

‘‘The good players will get deals,” Chicago-based agent Herb Rudoy said. ‘‘Teams that complain about the tax are still going to go out and sign players. They’ll learn how to manage it by trading contracts and moving players, but teams are still going to spend money. That’s not going to change.’’ 

Forman acknowledges he has to address several positions in free agency, including acquiring a veteran point guard to run the team while Rose recovers from knee surgery and first-round draft pick Marquis Teague develops. The team holds options on C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver but will look for cheaper alternatives.

In other words, forget about Steve Nash replacing Rose. Nash wants big money and a multiyear deal. It’s more likely the addition will be someone willing to sign a one-year deal for $1.5 million or so — ex-Bull Kirk Hinrich, for example, depending on how things shake out. 

The Bulls are expected to take a similar approach to the two-guard spot, where Brandon Roy is an intriguing possibility, although heading into next season with Roy, who is missing the meniscus cartilage in both knees, and oft-injured Rip Hamilton at the same position seems risky indeed.

Forman said chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has not placed any financial restraints on the team heading into free agency.

‘‘Jerry has been very consistent with us that we want to try to put together the best basketball team we can put together,’’ Forman said. ‘‘Our decisions up to this point and our decisions this summer will be basketball decisions. They won’t be financial decisions. Now, are finances a part of it, going out for the next three, four, five years? It always is with whatever decision you make, but we’re making basketball decisions.’’

The Bulls still feel they can be a playoff team next season, despite Rose’s injury, and a championship contender the year after that, after which they will have some financial flexibility because they could amnesty Carlos Boozer and Deng’s sizeable contract comes off the books. 

There is a strong belief that the time to turn over the roster hasn’t arrived yet. Spanish forward Nikola Mirotic, acquired in a draft-day trade last season, and the first-round pick acquired from the Hornets in the 2010 Tyrus Thomas trade could bring young talent in coming years.

“We have assets into the future with the Charlotte pick, with Mirotic. At some point we’ll have some flexibility again with where we are financially,” Forman said in a recent interview. ‘‘Long-term, I still think we have a real, real good opportunity to continue to improve, and we’ll continue to make our decisions based on that window of opportunity and not a short-term fix. If we hit a speed bump in the short term we hit a speed bump, but it’s too great an opportunity to give up a long-term asset for short-term gratification.”

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