The NBA schedule was released yesterday, and the Bulls will theoretically one of the easiest schedules in the NBA [based on last year's records] largely due to their weak division and the number of bottom feeders in the Eastern conference. I think the schedule makers made it as hard as they could though and more difficult than it appears.
Strength of schedule
In terms of marquee games, with the the typical 82 game season back this year things balance out quite a bit more. They'll play every team in the West twice, once at home and once on the road, so the Bulls won't miss the Clippers, Grizzlies, Thunder, and Lakers at home this season. You can't make the schedule easier or more difficult in terms of western conference play.
In the east, there are a few teams that I view as marquee opponents outside the division. The Bulls could play these teams either three or four times each, and they play all of them four times each.
Miami x4, Brooklyn x4, Boston x4, New York x4, and Indiana is in the division and thus x4 by default. Overall, the Bulls may benefit if the Pistons, Bucks, and Cavaliers continue to struggle, but the Pistons and Cavs appear to be on the rise to me, so the divisional games won't be as big of pushovers as they've been the past two seasons.
Granted, the difficulty of a schedule is often represented more in terms of who has what injuries when you play them than which teams you actually play. There are so many games and the actual difference in terms of opponents is minimal amongst similar tiered teams since elite teams play one less elite team [themselves] while lousy teams play one less lousy team [themselves].
Also, Orlando and Atlanta are in for big drop offs this season most likely making a team like Miami appear to have a much tougher schedule than they are likely to have at the end of the day. All that said the gaps in terms of schedule strength are fairly small and aren't remotely similar to getting a weak schedule in the NFL as an example.
National TV Time
Surprisingly, the Bulls are still strongly featured on national TV despite the likely loss of Derrick Rose for much of the season. Granted their national TV dates are largely backloaded with only five of the 26 dates being prior to January 1st which some have tagged as a potential return date for Rose.
Overall, the Bulls national schedule looks like this:
7 games on TNT
10 games on ESPN
7 games on NBA TV
2 games on ABC
I thought the Bulls might get dinged a bit, but apparently national networks are still banking on the market size if nothing else. However, I wouldn't be surprised to see a very apathetic Chicago Bulls fanbase if things start off slow this season and Rose is unable to play until March.
The circus trip has few teeth
The frequently feared circus trip which has long served as a benchmark for the quality of the team looks like this:
Now the Bulls still might struggle to win any of those games early on in the season without Rose, but it's hardly a murderer's row of opponents to go up against. Unlike most years, the NBA really pushed a lot of the Bulls tough games into the second half. Whether they were just hoping to have Derrick Rose back for the national TV audience in the premier matchups, were doing the Bulls a favor, or it just happened to workout that way is up for debate.
My money is on maximizing the TV dollars and hoping for a Rose return.
In some ways, the schedule laid out that way will make things even more challenging for the Bulls, they'll likely lose plenty of games to the middle class that they'd easily win with Rose while then having to fight through a bunch of the elite teams that might beat them either way.
It probably doesn't ultimately mean much one way or the other, but it's something to philosophize about while we'll have a veritable drought of NBA action for the next month.