The Bulls are back in town. Hard to believe, but the NBA season is here and in Chicago there is reason for optimism. Considering the poor play of the bumbling Bears, the Windy City turns its lonely eyes to the Bulls with more urgency than usual. They should like what they see.
Heading into the new season, the Bulls are believed to be one of the top teams in the association. A roster filled with returning stars and some new weapons should give Chicago a real shot at a deep playoff run. The health of their point guard and the performance of a familiar foe will go a long way in deciding the Bulls’ fate.
Derrick Rose is a former MVP and the leader of the Bulls attack. But, since the start of the 2011-12 season, Rose has missed 80 percent of Bulls games. After two surgeries, a successful run with Team USA, and a healthy preseason, we are told D-Rose is ready to go. He better be. Obviously any and all chances for the Bulls hinge on Rose’s health. A healthy Rose is a must. If he’s not there, the Bulls championship aspirations are dashed anyway. So, let’s assume he’s good to go.
A Derrick Rose-led Chicago team could very well contend in the new-look Eastern Conference. There’s just one problem. The Bulls must be able to get past a new contender with an old feel about them. While the Miami Heat are no longer the powerhouse they were the last four years, the Cleveland Cavaliers very well may take their place as the Bulls’ nemesis. Instead of the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in Miami, it’s now the Big Three of LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland. This trio may be even more formidable, at least on paper. The Bulls will likely have to figure out a way to oust LeBron and company if they are to make it out of the East. The Cavs don’t play defense, but boy can they score. Will the Bulls philosophy of defense til you drop, coupled with some added scoring punch, be enough to erase Cleveland? Time will tell. First, though, the Bulls need to get to that point.
Signs point to them being able to make a serious run at the Eastern crown. Tom Thibodeau will rely on stars like Rose and Joakim Noah to do what they’ve done in the past, but this time around they have some help. The addition of veteran Pau Gasol, along with some highly touted rookies, will not only help carry the scoring load, but they should also allow players like Rose and Noah to play less minutes. That’s good news for two players who have nursed plenty of injuries over the years.
Noah is one of the best frontcourt defenders around. Along with Taj Gibson, Noah should be able to pick up the slack for Gasol who isn’t known for his defense. Gasol in turn, gives the Bulls an effective inside scorer. That inside presence should open up threes for the likes of Rose, Mike Dunleavy, Kirk Hinrich, and rookie Doug McDermott. The projected starters of Rose, Jimmy Butler, Dunleavy, Gasol, and Noah will get a lift from a seemingly deep bench. Gibson and Hinrich are joined by Spanish import Nikola Mirotic. This group could give Chicago vital production from reserves, something they haven’t enjoyed consistently since the Bench Mob played a pivotal role on those Chicago teams that grabbed the one-seed in back-to-back seasons a few years back.
Tom Thibodeau has shined since taking over the head coaching position with the Bulls. He gets the most from his players. The reason the Bulls have excelled defensively under Thibodeau isn’t because they are doing anything out of the ordinary but simply because they are grinding like no one else. The Bulls play hard…all the time. Their coach demands it.
The defense will be there. Butler can lock up just about anyone. Noah and Gibson are menaces on the glass. Hinrich can come off the bench and immediately fluster the opposing team’s top man. Those not known for defense will at least hustle and work at it under Thibodeau. The question is will the offense be enough to make a serious championship run?
Even when Rose was healthy, there was always a question as to where the other points would come from. Who would be the second banana? Where is the Scottie Pippen of today?
Perhaps the Bulls will have a “Pippen by committee.” Noah and Gasol are both capable of big numbers when needed. The real wild card in all of this is Mirotic. Will he be like a rookie out of college or, because he’s coming from Europe, will he jump right in like a veteran and make the Bulls even better than anyone had envisioned? A big season from McDermott would be icing on the cake. Any combo of extra offense coupled with Chicago’s patented defense would put the Bulls right there at the top of the contenders list.
LeBron James has Love, Irving, the refs, and the NBA on his side. The Bulls, however, are no slouches. A healthy Derrick Rose can do some amazing things on the court. This season he’s joined by a seemingly content, professional group of teammates who put a premium on winning. No egos and no crying over minutes. It’s a year to go for it.
With all due respect to the Wizards, Heat, Hornets, Raptors, et al., it appears the Bulls and Cavs could be on a collision course for Eastern Conference supremacy. Time will tell. A healthy Derrick Rose will go a long way in determining this. It should be fun to watch.