The Chicago Bulls aren’t giving up on building a championship team around Derrick Rose. The addition of Pau Gasol to the improving Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler make for the best supporting cast assembled around the former MVP since he won the award. Now all that’s left is actually staying healthy and carrying on his preseason form into the NBA’s regular season.
When Derrick Rose was drafted in 2008, the wheels were set in motion to turn the Chicago Bulls into one of the best teams in the NBA again, a title contender. The plan worked fine and in 2010-2011, the Bulls finished with the best record in the league, losing to the Miami Heat in the conference finals after five games. Rose was the MVP, it was the Bulls first conference finals since 1998, and the future looked bright.
Next season, despite Rose playing just 39 of 66 games, the Bulls finished with the best record in the league (tied with the Spurs). When Rose was healthy, and going into the 2012 postseason he did, the Bulls, statistically, were the best team in the NBA that regular season, only with vital experience they gained the previous season. They had no problem beating the 76ers in that first game of the series. But then Rose got injured, and the downward spiral began.
Unlike other teams that crash and burn without their star player, the Bulls did reasonably well. They got knocked out by the Sixers in that first round, but a year later they beat the Brooklyn Nets in seven games and gave the Miami Heat a lot of problems in the conference semifinals. Last season began with hope when Rose started the season, but after 10 games he tore his meniscus, and it was back to square one – shuffling and trying to make the most of a bad situation. Excellent defense and occasional smart offense was enough to put them in the playoffs, but not past the first round.
So what’s new this season? Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng (traded in the middle of last season) are gone from that core that was supposed to win a championship. Mike Dunleavy, a useful but very limited small forward remains in the projected lineup. Joakim Noah, who had a breakout season in terms of his ability as a passer and point-center last season, might have a slow start because of an offseason injury. Aaron Brooks will be playing the part of D.J. Augustin as the backup the Bulls need desperately in case Rose breaks down again.
Jimmy Butler is back, but he might be a different player than last season. No turf toe injury to slow him down, Butler looked great in the preseason – as a shooter, defender and overall explosive offensive player that’s going to be trying his best not just for the sake of his team, but also for his upcoming contract extension, always an excellent incentive to play a lot better than before.
Pau Gasol should be an improvement to Boozer, even though he is on the decline. Having Noah next to him means he doesn’t have to be too much of a focus on defense. He can stretch the floor a bit, is an excellent passer and probably won’t be the kind of player that is taken off the floor in crunch time like Boozer was. That might be a problem for Taj Gibson, but Thibodeau will find minutes for the guy who should have been starting for the Bulls at power forward last season.
Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott are the rookies who push Tony Snell down the rotation. Mirotic is a stretch four but he might be used as a small forward at times. The Bulls have options of putting on a deadly 3-point shooting lineup and also very big lineups with these players. Thibodeau isn’t exactly an offensive expert, but he has gotten better at making the most of an improved roster, although it might cause him some problems in making defensive adjustments
And then there’s Derrick Rose. For a moment, the best point guard in the NBA. The best player? Probably not, but this season – the championship hopes, hinge on him not just staying healthy, but playing like he has in the last two preseason games. A limited, rusty, badly shooting Rose is still an upgrade than not having him at all because of the attention he takes up on offense, and yet without Rose being an excellent point guard, it’s hard seeing the Bulls having enough to overtake the Cavaliers in the East.