'Beat the Heat' mission begins for Bulls

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- The Chicago Bulls' unofficial slogan heading into the 2013-14 season will be "Beat the Heat."

The theme already started in earnest Thursday, one day after the team's season ended with an Eastern Conference semifinals defeat at the hands of LeBron James and Co.

Coach Tom Thibodeau made that very case a part of his final address to the team at the Berto Center, especially since the Heat eliminated the Bulls from the playoffs two of the past three seasons.

"That's the only point," Taj Gibson said. "Right now we have a lot of free agents. We had a lot of guys on one-year deals. I think that we had a strong case to beat the Heat. Most of our bench players and starting players had heavy minutes and that's good an all but with the guys we had I think we had a shot.

"I'm looking forward to next year. It just depends on who we have coming in. If we have the same guys back that would be great and we would have a strong case for beating them. That's the main thing Thibs mostly said, just get guys back healthy and motivated to make a strong comeback. He believes we can beat them."

Despite free agents like Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Nazr Mohammed, Vladimir Radmanovic and Daequan Cook, the Bulls will still return a solid starting five. Derrick Rose will be joined by Jimmy Butler in the backcourt, while Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah will line the frontcourt.

"We'll have to see," Thibodeau said when asked if the Bulls can overcome the Heat. "We have a lot of work to do to do with that. Miami, you have to give them a lot of credit. They are the defending champion, they are playing at a high level, and it takes a big-time commitment to beat them."

Which leads to another theme of Thibodeau's final address to the team. This summer will play as crucial of a role as any in next year's success.

"Jimmy, I thought, had a terrific year and it started last summer," Thibodeau said. "His commitment to work and improvement was special. Actually, I spoke to him for a while, and he's already talking about this summer and what he wants to do, and he'll be back here shortly. He'll take a brief vacation. You just love his attitude and approach."

Thibodeau hopes that the next young player to take advantage of the offseason and make himself productive the following year is guard Marquis Teague, who is scheduled to participate in the summer league.

Perhaps good health and improved youngsters will give the Bulls what it finally takes to get past the Heat, because it will take more than they had this season. Thibodeau, though, still wasn't backing off his claim that his team still had enough to beat the defending champs, even shorthanded.

"As I said, I wish we could have played a little better in this series," Thibodeau said. "I thought [Wednesday] night's game was very winnable, couldn't close it out. I thought we played well in Game 3, couldn't win that one, but it gives us something to work toward."