What’s Next for the Chicago Bulls?

As Derrick Rose took the first step on his way for a better and healthier next season by undergoing a successful surgery to repair his torn ACL, the Chicago Bulls also take their first and early steps into the 2012 summer and a period of trying find a way to make next season one with a later and a happier ending.

Because it would be too simplistic to just look at the injury toll and say that everything else was fine. The Bulls did lose Derrick Rose after the first game which seemed to doom their series against the Philadelphia 76ers after an impressive Game 1 win. Things got worse, impossible even, when Joakim Noah was lost for the final three games. But the overall feeling is that there were mistakes made; players disappointed; Front office and head coach made mistakes.

Carlos Boozer has to be the first name to be addressed. He averaged 14.4 points and 10.4 rebounds during the series. In Game 6, the moment they needed him to step up more than ever? Only 3 points, 1-11 from the field. He wasn’t in the mind of Thibodeau come the fourth quarter, and there’s no doubt the Bulls are thinking of shipping him.

Instead of giving the Bulls that 20-10 upgrade everyone expected, Boozer has been the odd man out. The Bulls have been the best defensive team in the NBA, but Boozer has added nothing to that equation. His offense over the last couple of seasons has been good, but nothing exceptional. He never took over games, and it seemed that in the big moments –  last season’s postseason and this year, he wasn’t the asset his salary suggests he is.

That moment

Taj Gibson is the other side of the power forward coin. A player who does the most with the 20 and some minutes he gets every night. He averaged just over 9 points in the postseason, scoring 14 points twice in the last three games. The Bulls fans love him, but as long as Boozer makes that much more money than him, it’s hard to see Gibson become a starter. It reminds me of Ben Wallace and how quickly his big contract became very unpopular with the Bulls, unable to upgrade them from a first round playoff team.

Chicago look at their bench and think about how they can fix it, because Rose, Deng and Noah are untouchables, for good reason. Rip Hamilton hardly played all season, and is another one falling into that ‘What If’ category, probably getting another chance to impress and prove his worth next season. But Ronnie Brewer might not stay, and CJ Watson was far from impressive in place of Rose during the postseason. John Lucas III didn’t get the chances he got in the regular season.

But Rose will probably miss the first month or two of the regular season. There’s no chance the Bulls rush him back from surgery next season. Giving Watson the reigns to lead the team seems risky. Thibs doesn’t trust Lucas to lead this team, despite some very impressive performances during the regular season.

That brings the questions to Thibodeau himself – Why not use Lucas more in the playoffs? Why not use Gibson more? Did he play Rose and Deng too much during the regular season? Was the chase for the first place in the Eastern conference worth it? The Bulls are an excellent home team, but they’re not a fragile away team, especially with their style of basketball. Same question might be directed at the front office regarding the same players and others – Asik, Korver and what will be with Ronnie Brewer.

Don’t forget bad luck. ACL didn’t tear up because Rose was overused. That as really bad luck. Just like it happened to Baron Davis. Don’t be surprised if he played his last NBA game. But Rose is young and should recover. This season did raise some injury issues. Maybe it was just one of those seasons. A cramped and busy year, in which Rose never had sufficient time to recover.

But no one expected the season to end like this. Finishing with the best overall record in the league, everything seemed set for another Eastern conference finals between the Bulls and the Miami Heat. Maybe it was bad luck that kept this very strong team from finally making their deserved title run. Maybe it was more than that.

Images: Boozer Rose