1. Deja Vu
Right now as I’m sitting here typing away on my keyboard I’m listening to OK Go’s “Here We Go Again.” Not just because it’s a good and catchy song, but because I occasionally enjoy listening to music that fits the situation and/or my train of thought. And right now “Here we go again” is just about all I can think of.
As per usual the NBA season comes chock full of intriguing plots and narratives that dominate the headlines. This year we’re lucky to get the return of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James’s return home to Cleveland, the rise of the Unibrow (Anthony Davis), and many others. But while these exciting and new stories circulate around the league, the Chicago Bulls are stuck having to deal with the same old stories- Derrick Rose returns, how will he perform in his return, and how will Chicago, as a team perform with their leader back.
This isn’t to imply I don’t find the story or Rose’s return exciting. I’m ecstatic that we all get to see him on the court again. It is completely unfair to see such an explosive and exciting player forced off the court for what can only be described as freak injuries. And after seeing his steady improvement from the World Championships through the offseason, it’s becoming harder to contain the excitement.
But despite my enthusiasm for his return, I remain fearful… and perhaps that is what is most exhausting. Rose’s return right now brings forth a sense of deja vu. Both a year and a half ago and at this exact point last year everyone discussed Rose’s return and how he would propel them back into the discussion of title favorites and both instances ended with some sort of obstacle getting in the way of Rose’s comeback. Given his now shaky health history (keep in mind the entire 2011-2012 season was filled with various injuries that he played through), it is a little nerve-racking to think about Rose’s and Chicago future since he is such a question mark now.
2. Exit Carlos Boozer, Enter Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic
The Bulls made some minor tweaks to the roster, most notably letting DJ Augustin walk and bringing in Aaron Brooks. The move makes sense really. The Bulls brought on Augustin as a cheap replacement for their former cheap bench player (Nate Robinson) and now they feel they can replace Augustin’s production. Given that Tom Thibodeau’s system heavily features point guards that can create the offense and the excess of point guards in the league now, it’s likely the wise move. Brooks is a very intriguing replacement. In addition to playing better defense than Augustin, Brooks has shown that he can be a much better offensive player. In recent years Brooks has bounced from team to team, but like Robinson and Augustin before him he now has a chance to resurrect his career.
But most importantly the moment all Bulls fans were waiting for for years has finally come… Carlos Boozer is no longer with the the team. The front office finally exercised their amnesty provision and cut Boozer and his salary from the books (they still have to pay him). With the move the team opened up cap space for a potential run at Carmelo Anthony. While it may have been great to land Anthony, the Bulls did end up in a better position than they started off in as they put the newly available money to Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic.
Though sour Lakers fans may say otherwise, Gasol is an upgrade for Chicago at power forward. Not only is Gasol likely going to be able to produce just as much offense as Boozer did in his best years with the Bulls, but Gasol will also actually play defense. Think about it… a power forward not named Taj Gibson who can defend. Crazy concept… right? But the upgrade will be most evident when Gasol flexes his passing abilities out of the high post. By adding him, the Bulls have now created one of the most potent passing front courts in the league. The lineup and production possibilities are astounding… which brings us to…
3. Lineup Flexibility
If by now you haven’t realized Tom Thibodeau is a coach that likes to stick with his lineups, well… Tom Thibodeau likes to stick with his lineups. In previous years he has been incredibly inflexible with who he plays, when they play, and the minutes distribution. And though he is likely to remain rigid this season, adding Gasol gives him room to work with. Gasol can play both center and power forward. This, coupled with his ability to pass out of the low and high post, will give the Bulls a little wiggle room to rest Joakim Noah and his oft-injured feet without sacrificing production.
Like Noah, Gasol will be able to run the pick and roll in the high post with a guard while one player cuts and another spots up. Furthermore most everyone on the team has a similar play style to at least one other person on the team which allows Thibodeau to swap the moving parts of the plays at will.
Admittedly there are some roster issues (where does Mirotic get his minutes with the logjam in the front court and small forward?), but there is nothing that the team can figure out.
4. It’s A Marathon, Not a Sprint
Each year we all hope Thibodeau and the Bulls realize that there are 82 games (plus playoffs). But every season we all see the Bulls exhaust themselves on a daily basis. While an admirable mentality, there is a lot wrong with it when the ultimate goal is to win a title. I get that Chicago wasn’t going to win a title without Rose the past few years anyways, but excessive wear and tear have been added onto the team’s body. Though I don’t expect the “We have enough to win” mentality to go away at all, ideally the aforementioned lineup flexibility will let the Bulls rest up their major players (Rose, Noah, Butler, Gasol) even more. In the most ideal situation, the Bulls would take a page out of Gregg Popovich’s notebook and simply rest the studs against the lesser teams.
5. Avi’s Prediction
It’s hard to make a prediction for the season since there are just so many possible variables. But assuming health it’s hard to imagine the Bulls won’t be up there with the best of them. My guess is that Chicago lands the second seed in the East playoffs.