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Lowe: What's the Bulls plan?

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Zach Lowe of Grantland puts the Bulls a few tiers below contender as he looks at the upcoming season.

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Zach Lowe (formerly of SI.com) had his debut column at Grantland today, and it's a big one: previewing all of the NBA's teams and setting them into tiers.

The Bulls aren't among the contenders or even listed as a 'puncher's chance' (that'd be the Celtics). They're alongside the Pacers in a tier titled "Solid Playoff Teams, But What's the Plan?"

It's very hard to play defense the way Chicago has under Tom Thibodeau and miss the postseason. The Bulls lost two key defenders in Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer, but both were backups, and this defense should remain stout as long as Thibodeau, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson are around. Gibson and Carlos Boozer functioned well in limited minutes together last season, and the Bulls could lean on that pairing or go small more often to minimize the pain of Asik's departure. If Derrick Rose is playing at 80 percent of his peak level in April, this team will be a tough out.

The 'plan' question is how a possible Taj Gibson extension fits into the Bulls intention to improve their core, given that they're likely never going to have real cap space to do so. There's always trades, but I certainly understand the sentiment...while it's always hardest to improve an already-good team, the Bulls aren't really positioning themselves best long-term (and have shown an unwillingness to go for that move when well-positioned).

As far as this season, I actually used the phrase 'puncher's chance' myself, but admittedly that's under the best-case scenario for this roster. Assuming that it's not the most likely case, then it's likely more correct to have them a class below.

I still think the Celtics would get mauled by the Bulls frontcourt in the playoffs, though.