The top seed in the East the past two seasons has been the Chicago Bulls. They have been the model of consistency when it comes to winning regular season games – unfortunately, it has not translated to playoff success. Two year ago, they were ousted from the playoffs in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Miami Heat. Last season they were shockingly eliminated in round one by the 8 seed Philadelphia 76ers after a devastating injury to Derrick Rose in game one. Rose tore his ACL and isn’t expected to play until February or March at the earliest. The Bulls will no longer be an elite team in the East, but rather, one fighting for their playoff lives.
The injury concerns don’t begin and stop with their franchise PG Derrick Rose. Their All-Star forward Luol Deng battled through a wrist injury all of last season that seemingly needed surgery. He played for Britain in the Olympics this past summer, so knowing where he is exactly in terms of durability is very much in the air. He could miss the beginning of the year, meaning the Bulls would be without their two best players. You don’t have to be a basketball expert to know Carlos Boozer is not someone you want your offense to be centered around. Joakim Noah has battled through injuries his entire career, including an ankle injury that knocked him out early in the playoffs and the Olympics. There’s nowhere to begin with Richard Hamilton who seemingly has a new injury every other week, but he’s apparently healthy, so take that with a grain of salt.
The “Bench Mob” in Chicago has been decimated. Their depth was what carried the Bulls to two straight top seeds in the East, but GM Gar Forman decided to trade and let go several key players. C.J. Watson is in Brooklyn, Ronnie Brewer has gone to New York, Kyle Korver is in Atlanta and Omer Asik has moved to Houston. The players added to the team as replacements do not seem like long-term fixtures, but rather band-aids to fill a void until the team is back to full strength. I don't think there are many Bulls fans who expect to see Marco Belinelli, Kyrylo Fesenko, Kirk Hinrich, Marko Jaric, Nazr Mohammed, Vladimir Radmanovic and Nate Robinson on this team when they look ahead to the future.
There are, however, two bright spots remaining on this Bulls bench. If the Sixth Man of the Year didn’t focus on the offensive impact a player brings a team coming off the pine, Taj Gibson would have had a very strong case for the award. His defense and hustle is beyond valuable for this Bulls team that has to struggle through Carlos Boozer trying to “assert” himself in a game. It’s night and day when Gibson is in for Boozer. I like the addition of rookie Marquis Teague in the draft. He was a 29th overall pick, but strangely enough, may have one of the most pressure filled seasons ahead of him of any draft pick. He’s being asked to stop the bleeding and fill in for Derrick Rose until he’s healthy. That’s a lot to ask for from a 19-year-old.
The injuries, lack of depth and mediocre roster all sounds pretty lackluster, I know. The one thing this team has going for it is it’s being run by one of the best head coaches in the league. Tom Thibodeau, who signed a four-year-extension this month, was the NBA’s Head Coach of the Year in 2011 and finished second in voting last season. If this team has any sort of success propelling them to a high playoff seed, he’ll be back in the discussion again. He’s a guy that gets the most out of his players, namely on the defensive end, and if he doesn’t see 100% effort, he’ll bench you. Doesn’t matter who you are or how much money you’re making. See Carlos Boozer. Coach Thibs is adored and respected by his players and the new guys will almost certainly fall into place or they’ll be out of the rotation in no time. I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little curious to see how he and Nate Robinson will coexist.
It’s going to be a roller coaster season for the Bulls. The United Center will sure to be packed for each home game, as it always is. The fans may have to adjust to seeing a new product they’re not used to. They’ll have to be patient and trust in Thibodeau. If the team goes on a losing streak or falls out of the playoffs, there cannot be backlash in the media. The expectations in Chicago have greatly simmered for the Bulls this year as it has become quite apparent, this is a transitional year. Rose, Deng and Noah must get healthy while the team continues to create salary space. This could be a brand new Bulls team a year from now with a notable free agent addition. Don’t be surprised if this is the last year Carlos Boozer plays with Chicago. They still have that amnesty clause sitting in their back pocket.
Season Outlook: The Bulls take a major step back in terms of competiveness, but coach Thibs gets the most of his roster. The playoffs are no guarantee, but lower playoff seeds in the East are up for grabs.
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