When Derrick Rose won the MVP in 2011 and led the Chicago Bulls to the best record in the NBA, the organization was surprised, but suddenly realized they had a title contender on their hands. More than two years later, the Bulls are still waiting for that promise to be answered.
The feeling around the Eastern conference and the NBA for the last couple of years was that if there’s anyone who can stop the Miami Heat (who beat the Chicago Bulls 4-1 in the conference finals back in 2011), it’s the Chicago Bulls. A young squad, with a deep bench, not to mention a superstar at point guard, the youngest ever to win the award.
And then came his injuries. In 2011-2012 he missed around half the season with back problems, but not only. Then in the first game of the playoffs, he tore his ACL, and hasn’t played since. Rose was probably physically ready to comeback last season, but it seemed like the Bulls and he mishandled the situation.
It didn’t make sense for Rose to slowly come back and put himself in risk with the chances of anyone in the East (although the Pacers gave them a run for their money) beating the LeBron James squadron being very slim. Yet the Bulls didn’t make an announcement they’re shutting him down, and Rose made it seem like there’s a good chance he’ll be back before the playoffs.
Without him, Chicago continued playing ugly basketball, winning thanks to their defense, ranking in the top 3 of the league in almost every category. They won a playoff series without home court advantage against the Nets and gave the Heat a tough five-game series in the conference semifinals. No one could have asked for more.
Now Rose is back, and the expectations are rising with him. Even at an average ability; shall we say, something like his rookie numbers (16.8 points, 6.3 assists), Rose should propel the Bulls to a contender in the East. It gives their offense a reliable go-to-guy, making things a lot easier for Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng, and to a lesser degree Joakim Noah (who won’t have to hold on to the ball so much anymore) and Jimmy Butler (who should see a rise in his minutes this season).
But do the Bulls have what it takes to complement Rose? Unless Rose completely botches his comeback and it turns out any chance of him returning to his All-Star level are done, then they shouldn’t finish lower than third in the East. They might use another guard and/or shooter on the bench, but Tony Snell might turn out to be a lot better than people expect him to, and defensively he should fit the intensity of the Bulls’ system quite well.
Nate Robinson is gone, but what he did on the court had nothing to do with Thibodeau basketball. It was improvisation from top to bottom, without the defensive their head coach demands from his team for 48 minutes.
Conclusion? The Bulls are back, with a question mark or two, to challenge for the Eastern crown. They don’t need Rose at his very best, but there’s a minimum bar for his performance level that if he drops off from, all the depth, experience and defensive ability won’t help the Bulls raise themselves from where they’re stuck at, which is a borderline semifinal team in the East.