Going into the season, I felt the Bulls had maybe a 10% chance of losing in the first round, 40% of losing in the 2nd, 30% of losing in the ECF, 10% of losing in the finals, and 10% of winning the whole thing.
The Bulls managed to make it to the ECF which constitutes better than my preseason expectations. In doing so, we saw many important things to be excited about for the future.
Derrick Rose proved he is a franchise player
This should not be minimized. Derrick Rose is a top five player in the NBA, and the Bulls will never be more than one player away while he's on the team (granted that one player might be another superstar, but still).
Without this step, the Bulls would have had no chance to win a title, and Derrick has been so good for so long, that it's difficult to remember that going into this season it was hardly a given.
Going back to his performance in the summer with team USA, Rose didn't look like he was on the same level as Kevin Durant for example. However, Rose has proven that he's the best PG in the NBA, and better than all but a couple of players.
He's 22 years old, and while I think his game is one that might not last much past 30, he still has another eight years or so in his prime for the Bulls to throw something special around him. That's a lot of time for a player this good.
Luol Deng put together perhaps his best overall year
This guy went from "how can we get him off our roster" to "we love you Luol!" in one season. Most importantly, he became a decent three point shooter, and I'm sure with the way he's used in the offense, he'll continue to improve in that aspect of his game going forward.
He proved he could stay healthy while playing massive minutes, including a deep playoff run, and he's again a staple of the Bulls starting lineup going forward. Besides the three point shooting, Deng improved his ball handling while slashing to the basket, and improved his play in the clutch considerably.
He's still not the marquee second option we wish we had, but this was a guy we thought we should get rid of just to do away with his contract, so his comeback puts the Bulls in a much better spot going forward.
Joakim Noah didn't fold after signing a new deal
I certainly didn't expect him to, but he's proven to be an excellent player, and watching him in this Miami series, I can tell he'll be key in our ability to defeat these guys eventually. He can defend LeBron/Wade for stretches in isolation, something perhaps no other center in the NBA could pull off.
Something that will give the Bulls tremendous flexibility to defend them in the future. Noah still needs to work on improving his play in the post a bit, but his strengths are incredibly valuable for Chicago, and he seems to have improved his skill level considerably from the previous season.
Omer Asik is a keeper
Omer has the makings of a starting caliber defensive center. He needs to hit the weight room, and he needs to work on some offensive moves, but here's a guy that you didn't know what you'd get out of, and he's proven to provide tremendous depth for this team's front court rotation.
Taj Gibson had another excellent year of development
Gibson's a solid player, and he's shown increasing skill on knocking down that mid range jumper as well as playing tremendous defense and playing with great hustle. Gibson's also risen to a starting caliber player level this season.
If Gibson can improve his low post moves a bit, he could become a fairly dynamic offensive player as well. Granted, Gibson's fairly old given how early into his career he is, so there may not be that much improvement left in the tank, but what he gives the team is already excellent.
The Bulls are excellently positioned for the future
Besides having an MVP and a young team with room to grow, they also have two future firsts on top of their own. Miami's this year and Charlotte's upcoming. They also have several non guaranteed contracts this year (Bogans, Pargo, Lucas) that they can use to trade to take back salary without giving any out, as well as more similar type deals in the future.
That combination should allow them to make something happen at draft time or in the near future otherwise to fill the few holes they have.
Tom Thibodeau looks like a tremendous coach
I know people will complain about how he was 'outcoached' the last series, complain about some rotation or play call, but the truth is, Tom Thibodeau is a fairly elite coach right now, and he's likely to improve.
Could he wear thin on guys eventually? Yeah, maybe, but we're not locked into the guy for a decade. To go from Vinny Del Negro is like going from a Festiva to a Corvette, and the bitching is like complaining that the Corvette isn't a Ferrari.
Ronnie Brewer looks well positioned to help the Bulls for a long while on defense
Brewer started the season off someone disappointing, but by the end, he was playing quite well. He's knocked down the mid range jumper with a fair amount of consistency, finds ways to get garbage buckets, and he played absolutely tremendous defense for the Bulls.
Chicago still probably wants to upgrade the SG position, but Brewer's a valuable cog in the Bulls rotation going forward regardless of who they bring in.
Carlos Boozer has a lot of flaws, but can still help this team
We noticed in great detail that Boozer's not exactly the offensive creator we'd hoped he would be. He gets most of his baskets with play off of Rose, and when the Bulls just dump the ball into him, the results have been inconsistent.
He also has shown no ability to defend which has cost him crunch time minutes at various points this season.
That said Boozer gave us more offense then we've gotten out of the front court in a long time, and while they clearly need to be careful about how they use him, the Bulls need that kind of punch up front.
Kyle Korver's roll will probably shrink
He can still help the team some, but in the playoffs, Miami easily exploited him defensively, and he was unable to connect on shots. With his age and athleticism likely declining further, things aren't likely to improve for Korver. It's hard to see where things go for Korver from here, but I'd wager it's fewer and fewer minutes per game in an increasingly specialized role.
C.J. Watson needs to find his game
C.J. played well at times this year, but the adjustment from score first open court player to controlled pass first point guard wasn't always smooth. The Bulls would be well served to figure out a way to play to C.J.'s strengths more.
That said, C.J. was a much better defender than I thought he'd be, especially coming from GS, so that was a huge positive, and I think he has plenty of room to improve after playing in the system for a year.
The aging vets gave the Bulls great contributions
I've complained about Bogans for much of the year, but he was outstanding for a 1.8 million dollar signing and while I felt he played too many minutes at times, he always played hard. I'll hope that the Bulls find an improvement, but I'll be happy to have him back on the bench for another season if he stays.
Kurt Thomas was truly incredible for what he gave the Bulls this season. I don't know if he can repeat or if he wants to play another year, but he truly shocked me with the quality of his play relative to the tools he had to work with.
All in all, this was the most enjoyable Bulls season for me ever
No, they didn't win, but it was great watching this team grow and improve. It's great knowing that the arrow is still likely pointing up in terms of team growth. While I suspect they may not match their 62 win pace next season, I also expect them to play much better in the playoffs.
This is a team that needed a lot of deep playoff experience, and it got it. They're well positioned to make a run at the title for the foreseeable future. It may not be a great day for Bulls fans, but it's a great time to be a Bulls fan.