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Bulls’ best option to make run at Heat is with current roster

The return Derrick Rose (left) court — starting lineup — will give Bulls talent depth necessary challenge Heat. | Sun-Times

The return of Derrick Rose (left) to the court — and to the starting lineup — will give the Bulls the talent and depth necessary to challenge the Heat. | Sun-Times

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Updated: August 8, 2013 6:41AM



The ball might not lie, but it definitely deceives at times, leaving teams with a false sense of security.

Look at the 2010-11 Bulls. They appeared to be the dominant team in the Eastern Conference and manhandled the Miami Heat during the regular season, only to be disposed of in five games by the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.

Then there was the 2011-12 postseason. It promised a rematch of epic proportions, with the Bulls and Heat on a collision course for a showdown.

But Derrick Rose suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the first playoff game against the Philadelphia 76ers, and there went the season. And the season after.

Now the Bulls find themselves at a crossroads. Do they stay as they are, plus the addition of Mike Dunleavy Jr. in free agency, or make a bold move and hope a new-look lineup will close the gap with the back-to-back champion Heat?

According to several sources, general manager Gar Forman’s phone has taken more calls than it has made during free agency, with Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah all targeted in trade talks. From Charlotte to Portland, Bulls players have been popular on the trade-talk circuit this summer.

But Forman seems content to stand pat and has an excellent reason to think that’s a good decision for one more year.

As Forman pointed out several times last season, the Bulls have won 86 percent of their games with Deng, Noah, Rose and Carlos Boozer playing together since Tom Thibodeau took over as coach. That can’t be overlooked, especially with a returning lineup that — at least on paper — is as good as the Bulls have had in trying to go toe-to-toe with the Heat.

Lost in all the angst about whether Rose should have played last season is what he will look like when he steps onto the court next season. His explosiveness around the rim might be a bit tempered, but the outside jumper he worked on for hundreds of hours should be an added weapon.

Midway through last season, the Wall Street Journal looked at 34 NBA players who had torn their ACLs since 2003, then zeroed in on the 20 who were 26 or younger at the time of the injury. Since returning to the court, those players had shot an average of 42 percent from 16 to 23 feet, up from 38 percent before the injury.

Defending Rose before his injury was scary enough for opposing teams. Defending him with a consistent outside jumper in his arsenal? Good luck.

Then there’s the depth. Thibodeau already has indicated Rose, Butler, Deng, Boozer and Noah will be his starting five. That means a bench of Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson, Nazr Mohammed, Marquis Teague, newly drafted rookies Tony Snell and Erik Murphy and Dunleavy, whose signing will be made official Wednesday.

Don’t sleep on the addition of Dunleavy. A 43 percent three-point shooter last season, he’s a smart, underrated defender and can be used at multiple positions.

Is all that good enough to overcome the Heat? Maybe, maybe not. But this isn’t the time for a new look. With a flood of high-profile free agents becoming available next summer, as well as cap space opening up, the Bulls should stand pat and make one last stand.



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