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THE SCOWLEYS: Bulls’ time isn’t now, but it’s soon

Chicago Bulls vs SacramenKings

Chicago Bulls vs Sacramento Kings

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Updated: April 18, 2013 6:54AM

OAKLAND, Calif. — Maybe the Bulls’ immediate future isn’t as dark as Reggie Rose, the older brother/manager of star point guard Derrick Rose, painted it out to be last month. But this season isn’t likely to end well, regardless of whether Rose comes back after rehabbing his surgically repaired anterior cruciate ligament.

With only 17 regular-season games left — and just six against teams with a .500 record or better — the Bulls are still built to finish in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack, maybe get out of the first round of the playoffs and then start making tee times for the summer.

This is a five-team race for the NBA title, and four of those teams reside in the West.

The bigger picture for the Bulls is to start getting younger and better heading into next season while setting the table to be a serious player for a class of elite free agents in the summer of 2014.

Richard Hamilton’s $5  million team option obviously won’t be picked up for next season, with the hope being the Bulls can re-sign Marco Belinelli to be the starting two-guard and then draft his successor in June.

San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin, California’s Allen Crabbe and Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope all would be a good fit for what Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau wants in a shooting guard, so there’s help there.

Where general manager Gar Forman will have his work cut out for him is in rebuilding the bench with a handful of one-year-deal players, much like he did last offseason. Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Marquis Teague will be the core of the bench, and then it’s mix-and-match.

With a healthy Rose and a deeper bench next season, the Bulls might not be good enough to beat the Miami Heat, but they could at least make the Heat sweat.

As it stands now, the Bulls will enter the ’14 offseason with about $60 million in guaranteed contracts and a core of Rose, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Gibson, Butler and Teague if they grab the options, plus players from the upcoming draft class. If they amnesty Boozer, that would make it just $44  million. That’s cap freedom, folks, to grab at least one max free agent and have enough to add some solid pieces.

There’s a reason Forman feels good about the future. He knows his team will have one.

Player of the week

Dwyane Wade, Heat guard: Heeeeeeee’s baaaa-aaacck. After starting the year slowly because of offseason knee surgery, D-Wade looks like the pre-LeBron James version of himself, doing it all on the court. Over a three-game stretch against the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic, Wade averaged 23 points and — more impressive — 4.3 steals.

Team of the week

Heat. When you become just the fourth team in NBA history to win at least 20 consecutive games, that’s saying something. Make that screaming something.

The big five

1. Heat. 2. San Antonio Spurs. 3. Oklahoma City Thunder. 4. Memphis Grizzlies. 5. Los Angeles Clippers.

Big number

10-10The record for the fading New York Knicks since Feb. 1 as they headed into the weekend undermanned and quickly losing swagger.

Key games for
March 18-24

Heat at Boston Celtics,
7 p.m. Monday: Forget streaks and Eastern Conference playoff spots — this is about hatred. The Celtics can’t stand the Heat and would love nothing more than to win at home.

Thunder at Grizzlies, 7 p.m. Wednesday: The Grizzlies have quietly looked like the most dominant team in the West the last few weeks. A possible preview of the conference finals.

Brooklyn Nets at Clippers, 9:30 p.m. Saturday: The Nets are fighting for home court in the first round of the playoffs, and the Clippers are fighting for respectability in the top-heavy West.

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