Last year sucked for Derrick Rose. Not only did he have to deal with constant questions about when he’d be able to return to the court, but the superstar point guard seemed to take his year-long benching personally—as though his torn ACL was a slight against him from jealous basketball gods who knew his talent couldn’t be contained. But Rose is finally fully healthy, playing in real games again and ready to tell the b-ball deities where they can shove his knee injury.
What’s even scarier for the rest of the NBA than an angry Rose: The Bulls are a more mature, talented and cohesive unit than when he left. Even without the former MVP (as well as Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich for several games), a team led by coach Tom Thibodeau and all-star centre Joakim Noah managed to beat a fully healthy Brooklyn Nets team in the first round last season. The Bulls saw development from role players, and turned heads with their scrappy play, but the team still felt like it was lacking a scoring centerpiece.
Add a rehabbed Rose to that mix and you’ve got something special. You’ve got a team looking to regain its place atop the East and give the Heat a run for their money.
Additions: Mike Dunleavy Jr., Erik Murphy, Tony Snell, Mike James
Departures: Marco Belinelli, Richard Hamilton, Nate Robinson, Vladimir Radmanovic, Daequan Cook, Malcolm Thomas
A capped-out club, the Bulls didn’t do much this off-season. Dunleavy will help replace the production from Belinelli and Hamilton, and at little more than $3 million per for two years. Chicago may miss Robinson’s scoring punch and fearlessness off the bench (he scored 16.3 points per game as a starter in the playoffs last year), but his talents are less necessary with the return of a certain “Poohdini.” A healthy Rose is the real addition here, and it’s more than enough to immediately push Chicago back into the top tier of the East.
- Rose’s return may just be the biggest storyline in the NBA this season. In the pre-season, he prefaced his comeback by stating this: “It could be my mom on the court. She’s gonna get killed.” When a bonafide superstar says something like that, everybody should be excited. Rose was the NBA’s MVP in 2010–11, leading the Bulls to the league’s best record and the Eastern Conference final, where they lost to the Heat. In 2011–12, he blew out his ACL in the first game of the playoffs, and Chicago’s bubble popped shortly thereafter. After watching from the sidelines as his team bowed out (to the Heat, again) in the second round last season, Rose is coming back with something to prove—and if his knee holds up, he’s probably going to prove it.
- Despite the playoff loss to the Heat, the Bulls were still a good team last year. That’s the most exciting thing about Chicago—even without their superstar they figured out ways to win. The Bulls have a talented frontcourt in Noah and Carlos Boozer that can match up with anybody. Meanwhile, two-way small forward Deng is coming off his second-straight all-star appearance. Off the bench, Taj Gibson is an interchangeable piece, able to fill in at power forward or centre. Beyond Rose, the Bulls backcourt is decent. Hinrich and Dunleavy both bring veteran poise and experience off the bench. Marquis Teague has a lot of promise and will benefit from some time behind Rose. But the most important spotlight surrounds the man expected to start in the two spot…
Breakout Player: Jimmy Butler proved his mettle as a spot starter in the playoffs last season, averaging 13 points per game and becoming a fan favourite for the Bulls. Now all but locked in as the team’s lead shooting guard, the 23-year-old sophomore will need to play even better this season with the return of Rose and the weight of expectations on Chicago. If he can excel on defence and take advantage of the open shots his rejuvenated running mate will create for him on offence, Butler will prove a perfect fit as a two-guard able to shift into a small-forward role when needed. Rose is the story, but Butler will be a key factor in any real success the Bulls have this season.
Scale of Decency: Mad decent. Between Rose and Noah, the Bulls will be a very, very fun team to watch this year. They have talent and swagger to match, and will be gunning for a title. They don’t care about the past and they resent that many people have already gifted Miami the Eastern Conference crown. Angry basketball is always the best kind of basketball. Chicago has something to prove—and that’s good new for Bulls fans.
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