The Chicago Bulls begin another season that’s about hoping to be part of the title race, which can only happen if Derrick Rose is healthy for more than a few games. Coming back with less buzz surrounding him this time, the point guard shouldn’t be relied upon too much, at least not early on.
Rose doesn’t have to be Russell Westbrook, who came back from his knee injury exactly the same. Sure, the Thunder shut him down midway through the season to address some swelling in his knee, but we didn’t see him slow down or any less dangerous. The same Westbrook returned, with his pluses and minuses. The same exciting player, who is just as hard to stop, but is prone to the same mistakes as he was in the past.
Rose’s return last season was different. He looked really good in the preseason, but those games always don’t mean anything. He had only 10 games, showing some improvement and progress through them, but it wasn’t easy or close to looking smooth and comfortable. He averaged 15.9 points with 4.3 assists per game, but shot a terrible 34% from the field. He didn’t seem too slow or missing a step, but he looked rusty and out of sync with a team that’s gotten used to playing without him.
Maybe things will be different this time around. There’s a good chance we’ll see a Derrick Rose that is full throttle and attacks the basket without thinking from the first moment he’s back on the floor, but it would be wiser for him to try and change. Sure, his ability to attack the rim is what makes him special, and was part of what won him the MVP in 2011. But the Bulls are trying to move on from complete dependency on their point guard, realizing he’s too much of an injury risk, and that counting on him to bring them the points isn’t going to win a title.
The concept the Bulls went for when they added Carlos Boozer hasn’t worked out. Who knows, if it wasn’t for Rose’s injury we might be talking a very different tune right now. In 2011 the Bulls reached the conference final, and it feels like the two years after his injury against the 76ers in the playoffs have been all about waiting for him, what if’s and hoping that he comes back sooner than believed.
Adding Pau Gasol is a welcome change. He’s not the superstar he was three years ago, but he gives the Bulls another scoring option in the paint, something they don’t exactly have with Noah, and couldn’t really rely on when it came to Carlos Boozer, who has been one of the more inconsistent players in the league at his position. The Bulls didn’t get the Carmelo Anthony they wanted, but maybe it’ll turn out for the best.
Nikola Mirotic is an unknown. He did very well in Europe and comes over to the United States with plenty of expectations on his back. The next Dirk Nowitzki some say. Other names have been thrown around. Prime time European players aren’t the unknowns they used to be when they come over across the Atlantic, but everyone knows it’s going to take him some time to adjust.
Doug McDermott is on the same train of thought. He’s simply coming from college, with his accolades and awards staying at the door. Things are very different in the NBA, and McDermott is going to try and prove he’s much more than just a shooter the Bulls brought in to help them spread the floor. And even if he is, it doesn’t answer all the team’s needs at the moment, especially in the backcourt.
With the Miami Heat Big Three gone, is the Eastern conference truly wide open? The Cleveland Cavaliers suddenly look like the hot new thing, but we’ve come to learn in the past and last year that it takes more than LeBron James to make a team. The Indiana Pacers are an unknown right now, possibly getting weaker. The Chicago Bulls are in a state where they can feel good about themselves but obviously not get overconfident.
Last year, for a moment, when Rose’s return was hyped up, the Chicago Bulls looked like the best team in the East. But then the season began. Some might think the same way again. I think it was Magic Johnson who said it this time, which means the Bulls need to worry. It’s clear what their goals and hopes are. They’ll probably be fine if Rose isn’t at the center of all that planning. We saw how that worked out before.