NBA Preview: Nothing rosy for Bulls
So much is unknown, and that is all we know about the Chicago Bulls.
When will Derrick Rose actually get to play? How severe is his knee injury? Would he be better off to just sit out the entire season?
Mostly, can the Bulls survive without him? Even for just a little while?
Sure they can. At least, we think they can. They did for a long stretch last season. Heck, they won the Central Division last season. But Rose played a role in that. Obviously.
All we really know about this year’s Bulls is they’re the perfect example that, doggone it, life just ain’t fair. Seriously, here was a team that’s ready to make a case as a regular NBA Finals contender … and then Rose blows out his knee in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against Philadelphia.
The Bulls won that one. They barely competed after, getting dispatched in five quick games. Worse, they looked deflated, disorganized, doomed.
But this is a new year, and really, all the Bulls have to do is just hang on long enough. They need to stay average. They need to follow coach’s Tom Thibodeau’s masterful defensive techniques. They need to come together, right now, over Rose.
Then, maybe he’ll return, right in the nick of time, to turn them into something considerably greater.
Can they do it? Can they hang on that thin thread of hope? Can they stay afloat while their set-up man, top scorer and all-around Mr. Everything rehabilitates?
Or will they find themselves looking up at the Milwaukee Bucks?
Man, we just don’t have the answers. Not yet. Maybe not until April.
Last season: 50-16, lost to Philadelphia in first round of playoffs.
Coach: Tom Thibodeau (third year, 112-36).
Top returnees: PG Derrick Rose (when healthy), SF Luol Deng, PF Carlos Boozer.
Key additions: PG Kirk Hinrich, SG Marco Belinelli, C Nazr Mohammed.
X-Factor: Hinrich. Last time around, Hinrich was a key member of a backcourt that included Rose and Ben Gordon and was considered to be on the rise, stretching then-champion Boston to seven games in a thrilling playoff series. But free agency and the like has a way of changing things. Speak of free agency, it’s the reason Hinrich is here yet again. This time, however, his role is considerably larger. Defensively, he’ll fit right in – as that has always been Hinrich’s greatest asset. Offensively, there’s no way to replace Rose. All Hinrich can do is hope to keep things moving forward.
Strengths: Deng has seemingly improved each season, and if you ask opposing small forwards of the superstar variety, they’ll tell you Deng is among their least-favorite matchups. He’s athletic, he can shoot, he defends with a chip on his shoulder. Without Rose, Deng is the Bulls’ greatest chance. Meanwhile, Boozer remains an automatic double-double, and untamed center Joakim Noah isn’t far behind. And there isn’t a better team in the league when it comes to overall commitment (and execution) on defense. On top of that, the Bulls do all of those important little things very well.
Weaknesses: Without Rose, they lose more than a scorer. They’re missing someone who generates confidence in those around him, a winner and fallback guy when no one else can get it going. The only replacements in sight are Hinrich and maybe rookie Marquis Teague. Other than that huge question mark, however, the Bulls should be alright. Although it’s pretty clear shooting guard Richard Hamilton’s days of consistent point-production are but a fading memory.
Outlook: If it’s one thing the Bulls have working in their favor, it’s that they’re members of the NBA’s easiest division. Not that every other team in the Central is a slouch. It’s just that the Bulls aren’t exactly competing with a juggernaut like Miami or Oklahoma City here. Everything appears pretty wide open. So staying around .500 is really all that’s needed here. Even without Rose, they should be able to do at least that much.
Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO