After nearly two years of negotiating, the NBA owners and players reached a handshake agreement on a new collective bargaining deal. If and when approved, it will salvage a 66-game season that will begin with a tripleheader on Dec. 25.
Now, all 30 NBA teams have questions heading into a shortened free agency period and a preseason in which teams will reportedly play two contests.
Let's take a look at how the Chicago Bulls are affected by certain components of the labor deal and questions the team will soon have to answer.
Max contract: Under the new agreement, max deals reportedly increased from 25 percent of the cap to 30 percent. In other words, Bulls star Derrick Rose, if he so chooses, has a chance to earn more in his upcoming max contract than he would have under the old deal. Bulls management has acknowledged that their major need is to acquire a shooter who can take some pressure off the reigning NBA MVP. But locking up Rose has to be a top priority, too. Throughout Rose's three-year career in his hometown -- during which he has earned over $15.5 million, according to basketball-reference.com -- he's repeatedly said he plans to remain a Bull for a long, long time. In the coming weeks, Bulls general manager Gar Forman will get a chance to lock up his point guard, who will become the beneficiary of the new labor deal, and deservedly so. The last thing Rose and the front office would want is for his potential contract extension to become a distraction.
Amnesty clause: With an amnesty provision, each team will be permitted to waive one player anytime during the life of the collective bargaining agreement without his salary counting against the cap. For some teams, this clause will help relieve economic stress and get rid of a player who hasn't been played up to expectations. Although many fans believe the latter applies to Carlos Boozer, don't expect the Bulls to cut their $76 million free-agent acquisition from a year ago. For starters, if the team were to waive Boozer, it would still have to pay him. In addition, who would replace Boozer? There likely won't be a better option available. It's too early to lose faith in the two-time All-Star, whom the Bulls are betting on to have a big bounce back season. Boozer's teammates respect him and felt that he could have played better late in the season if he was healthy. At this point, fans should have the same mentality and hope that Boozer returns to his 20 and 10 form -- averages he put up last season prior to the All-Star break -- because the Bulls need his back-to-the-basket presence, which they had lacked for a while. But it's also Boozer's responsibility to come to training camp, scheduled to start Dec. 9, in shape so that he can stay as healthy as possible during the regular season and be at his finest and sharpest when the playoffs roll around.
Mid-level exception: Having already let other teams know last season about their desire to keep Taj Gibson and Omer Asik, the Bulls' best chance to upgrade at two guard likely comes via free agency. Because of that, management is probably ecstatic to hear the mid-level exception will remain in the new labor deal. Cheap veterans like Tracy McGrady and Anthony Parker -- two players who have been linked to the Bulls in the past year -- will be available on the free-agent market. But neither McGrady nor Parker is much of an upgrade, if at all, over Keith Bogans, Kyle Korver or Ronnie Brewer. If the Bulls want to sign an impact player, they will be banking on Jason Richardson or former Bull Jamal Crawford to accept less money for a legitimate chance to win a title and play starter's minutes alongside Derrick Rose in the backcourt. It's no guarantee Richardson or Crawford will take a discount, although the mid-level exception gives the Bulls at least a puncher's chance. The guess here is that the Bulls will have a good shot at getting Richardson, who said earlier in the summer his first priority is winning, even if it means taking less money.
Bring back Keith Bogans?: Shortly after the deal is ratified, the Bulls will have to choose whether or not to pick up Keith Bogans' team option -- worth $1.7 million, according to HoopsHype.com -- for next season. In addition to Bogans, the Bulls have an option on guard Jannero Pargo. Bogans was the starting two guard last season, but he and his 4.4 points per game became the target for criticism from fans, many of whom believe an upgrade at the position is needed in order to get past the Miami Heat and reach the next level. Although Bogans shot 42.4 percent from beyond the arc during the playoffs, he attempted under four three-pointers per game and was not a threat to put the ball on the floor. Still, you have to remember that locker room chemistry was a key reason for the team's success in 2010-11, and players don't want to break it up and hope that the front office gives them another shot with the same group. With Brewer and Korver signed through 2012-13, keeping Bogans depends on how much confidence Bulls management has in finding an upgrade. However, it could make sense for Chicago to part ways with Bogans and chase after Richardson and Crawford; and if both players sign elsewhere, the Bulls could sign a player such as the aforementioned McGrady or Parker. For players who placed plenty of value in team camaraderie, seeing Bogans let go would be tough news.
Will 66-game season help or hurt?: It's too early to judge whether the condensed season will benefit or hurt the Bulls, but it's clear that the players' conditioning, their level of training during the prolonged offseason, will be something to monitor early in the season. Playing for coach Tom Thibodeau, they will have to be ready for a grueling camp in which the reigning Coach of the Year will preach defense, defense and more defense. Recently, former NBA star and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley told NBA TV that a shortened season is "very difficult on the body." Fans should be confident that Derrick Rose's bunch will come to camp in the proper mental and physical shape for a season in which back-to-back games -- even back-to-back-to-back sets -- will be more prevalent compared to the traditional 82-game season. But it will be interesting to see what kind of shape players, especially ones who have much to prove, like Boozer and Noah, will be in heading into the season. It's safe to say the Bulls won't match last season's league-high 62 wins, though.