An 82-game regular season and postseason slog, not to mention Derrick Rose's knees, will determine whether the 2014-15 Bulls are championship contenders.
But at least one thing is certain: The players they pursued in free agency believe they are.
Pau Gasol and Kirk Hinrich turned down more lucrative offers to sign with the Bulls. And when the Bulls were notified of Carmelo Anthony's decision to re-sign with the Knicks, they were told how strong a basketball fit they were and how difficult Anthony's decision became.
Gasol, whose Bulls deal averages $7.3 million over three years, turned down offers of $11.5 million annually from the Lakers and $11 million from the Hawks. Hinrich, whose two-year deal averages $2.8 million, could have made upwards of $4 million annually from the Jazz and Bobcats.
To be fair, there were mitigating factors. Gasol, whose Bulls deal also carries a full trade kicker of 15 percent, did choose the most money of the non-Lakers contending teams that pursued him. He also exited the rugged Western Conference, whose Thunder and Spurs both offered him $5.3 million annually.
And Hinrich long has maintained his desire to remain in Chicago, where he has kept his offseason home even through short stints in Washington and Atlanta.
But with the additions of those two players, along with 2011 draft-day acquisition Nikola Mirotic and rookie Doug McDermott, the Bulls believe they have upgraded a 48-win team. And, oh yeah, Rose is returning.
"We're all very optimistic when we come out of this July period that our team will be stronger," general manager Gar Forman said on draft night.
The key, of course, remains Rose. His participation in USA Basketball's minicamp at the end of July will be his most significant test since November surgery to reattach his right meniscus. Surviving the cut from 19 players to the 12-man roster that will compete in the FIBA World Cup of Basketball in Spain in September would be beneficial for Rose and the Bulls.
"He's doing great," coach Tom Thibodeau. "This is the next step."
Management's next offseason steps will be to use the amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer by Wednesday's deadline. They dealt Anthony Randolph's expiring salary and two second-round picks to the Magic on Monday to pave the way for the free-agent signings of Gasol and Mirotic. The Magic will get the better of the Bulls' second-round picks in 2015 and 2016.
The Bulls received the draft rights to Serbian big man Milovan Rakovic, 29, in the Randolph deal, but they have no plans to use him. The same goes for fellow Serbian Tadija Dragicevic, 28, whom the Bulls acquired Monday from the Mavericks to make the Greg Smith trade official.
The Bulls will have to use veteran minimum exceptions or swing another deal to upgrade at shooting guard.
But shooting in general, so crucial for a team with a healthy Rose, has been improved, at least on paper. Though it's only summer league, Tony Snell appears more confident and poised. McDermott could see rotational minutes as a spot-up shooter. Mike Dunleavy remains on a bargain contract and Mirotic adds an element the Bulls haven't had.
"He's had a terrific career overseas," Thibodeau told NBA-TV. "We think he'll fit well. It gives us something that we don't have, the stretch four that can shoot. We think he'll compliment Derrick and our big guys well, which will open up the floor a bit."
Gasol and Mirotic are both in Spain and are expected to come to Chicago late this week or early next for their introductory news conferences. The two have never met. But a veteran with extensive international experience in Spain can only help Mirotic, a native of Montenegro of Serbian descent.
Gasol has won two championships with the Lakers and been to the NBA Finals three times. The Bulls don't yet know if they're headed there. They need a healthy Rose and depth — the model to arrive at the 2011 Eastern Conference finals — to lead the way.