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Bulls Pistons Basketball

Bulls center Robin Lopez, left, could have a reduced role next season.

If you watched the NBA playoffs, it was obvious the Bulls are a long way from contending.

Any farther and they'd be an undiscovered island somewhere in the Pacific.

It's no stretch to predict the only newcomers on the Bulls' roster next season will be their two first-round draft picks Thursday.

Players taken at No. 7 and No. 22 might not have an immediate impact right out of the gate.

So what we have is a Bulls team loaded down with slightly above-average talent, which doesn't equate with championships. That requires superstars.

The Bulls went 27-55, their worst record since 2003-04, and missed the playoffs for the second time in three years.

Their core group of Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn isn't enough firepower in today's star-driven, high-octane league.

And then there's the health issue.

LaVine played in only 24 games while recovering from a torn ACL with Minnesota and is a restricted free agent seeking a max contract.

Dunn appeared in just 52 games and the Sun-Times' Joe Cowley reported the Bulls have not been impressed with their point guard's summer workout routine.

The Bulls' season-finale loss to Detroit was typical of too many nights -- 37.2 percent shooting, 32.4 from deep, and 19 turnovers leading to 23 Piston points.

Let's look inside the cupboard.

Cameron Payne and Jerian Grant are both under contract for next season and neither has a ton of trade value. So it's not out of the question for both to return, but would the Bulls prefer to pick one as the primary backup to Dunn?

Antonio Blakeney led the G-League in scoring, but didn't show enough at the NBA level to prompt the Bulls to give him a roster spot.

Sean Kilpatrick averaged 19 points, shot 49 percent overall and 50 percent from 3-point range in his last five games after joining the Bulls on March 26. He signed for two non-guaranteed seasons but is pushing 30, however.

Recent first-round picks Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine should be back, along with Cristiano Felicio and restricted free agent David Nwaba.

Justin Holiday is signed to a team-friendly $4.4 million contract for next season, but if the Bulls draft a small forward (Mikal or Miles Bridges) he could wind up an attractive trade candidate for a contending team looking for scoring off the bench.

Paul Zipser and Noah Vonleh probably won't be back because of the roster crunch. I'd like to see the ineffective Omer Asik and Felicio join them as well.

Vice-President of Basketball Operations John Paxson listed size, length and the wing position as draft priorities during his season wrap up in April.

The Bulls were last in blocked shots (3.5 pg.) and a minus-180 in defensive rebounds, literally inviting teams to attack the basket.

Chicago could draft its center of the future in 6-foot-10 Wendell Carter Jr. (Duke), 6-10 Robert Williams (Texas A&M), or 6-11 human fly-swatter Mohamed Bamba (Texas) and his 7-10 wingspan.

Classy veteran Robin Lopez is "part of the future," according to Paxson. Lopez told me after the April 11 loss against the Pistons that he would not whine if he was moved to a backup role.

The top potential free agents, like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Paul George, DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus Cousins are not likely matches with the Bulls and most are expected to return to their teams, perhaps other than James.

After them, the top unrestricted free agents are Isaiah Thomas, Tyreke Evans, Derrick Favors, Avery Bradley, Rodney Hood, Brook Lopez, J.J. Redick, Will Barton, Trevor Ariza, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Greg Monroe.

Free agency begins July 1 and doesn't favor the Bulls because no superstar wants to go through a lengthy rebuild with an average supporting cast.

And as patient at team owner Jerry Reinsdorf has been, the futures of Paxson and general manager Gar Forman are uncertain and that could scare away possible candidates.

GarPax will be all smiles on draft night. They have to. Fans need a reason to hope for better days.

Like they say in the military, hurry up and wait.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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