The Chicago Bulls concluded an off-season that disappointed many. They weren't able to bring in a second star or a dynamic scorer/shot creator after a frenzied chase for Carmelo Anthony and Cleveland's willingness to give up Wiggins ended any hope of the Bulls pursuit of Kevin Love.
They were able to add a crapload of depth and significantly improve the shooting. They added two rookies and a season vet whom all look to add significant offensive skill to the table even if they aren't shot creators. According to John Schuhmann's initial power rankings, they're also the favorite to come out of the East.
He has the top 10 looking like this:
5: Golden State
It's tough to write overall rankings, so I won't quibble overly much or rip on a writer for throwing his opinion out there. It's my personal belief that that the Mavs and Warriors are too high on this list, but I'd probably also put the Cavs ahead of the Bulls given the significant risk of Rose's health poses.
However if everyone's healthy? It's hard not to pick Chicago to come out of the East. An interesting result in an off-season many wanted to fire the front office over.
Sure, they backed into that role by Miami splitting apart and Indiana likely coming back weaker, but here they are, and if Derrick Rose stays healthy the Bulls are still likely on top even with a Kevin Love trade for Cleveland as Love wouldn't answer their interior defensive problems, and Miami's already proven you can't get good big men at the minimum.
The Pacers/Wizards don't look stronger to me, the other teams that improved don't seem like they did so enough to make any legitimate run at the top. Cleveland looks like it's going to need at least one year to add the pieces it needs giving the Bulls at least a one year window to take the East and make it to the NBA finals.
While I don't think it was designed to take advantage of Cleveland's time to build up the proper pieces, the Bulls off-season is still set to win now.
Pau Gasol just turned 34. He's clearly on the downside of his career. The Bulls signed him for the next three seasons, and he's likely to get notably worse in each of those given his age. This single season though, Pau still has a pretty good chance of making a major impact on this team and playing at a true secondary star type level.
It's not overly likely that he can hit that peak, but he's done it before, and he's probably better suited to do it, even at 34, than anyone else Derrick Rose has played with previously except possibly Carlos Boozer his first season with the Bulls.
Beyond Gasol, Mirotic and McDermott should add the kind of offensive firepower that Rose has never had next to him in the past. While they're both rookies, they're both heavily experienced rookies. McDermott's played four years in college and Mirotic has been playing at the highest level in Europe on one of the best teams for the past few seasons.
I've expressed my serious doubts about Derrick's ability to stay healthy, but should he return to his former self, an offensive lineup of Rose, McDermott, Dunleavy, Mirotic, and Gasol would leave Derrick with a whole crapload of driving lanes.
Jimmy Butler's offensive numbers plummeted last season, but he's got a tremendous chance to kick the NBA in the ass this season. Butler doesn't have the ball handling or shooting skills to dominate on offense in a crowd, but there are enough offensive players around him now that there won't be much crowd.
I expect Jimmy to have a resurgent offensive season as well playing alongside Rose and hopefully getting meaningful minutes next to McDermott and Mirotic at times too. The Bulls should engage in extension talks with him now if they want to keep him for the long haul, because I'd bet his pricetag goes up considerably next season.
I'd really love to see Tom Thibodeau use the flexibility he has this season. I think Tom's done a great job being flexible with his offensive and defensive sets, but he hasn't been all that flexible with switching his lineups around to play match ups. He definitely played his depth in Derrick's first two seasons when he had depth, but he was still very rigid in the lineups he used.
In those two years, the Bulls weren't running guys into the ground so much, but he still basically played only a few rotations. The starting five, the bench five, and the finishing five. Every once in awhile one guy would stay in as the hot hand a bit, but you'd rarely see him mix and match guys even when it was painfully obvious he should (like removing Bogans from the starting lineup and playing Korver alongside Rose more).
The worst thing the Bulls could do this year is to get trapped in a few set rotations, especially if there's too much offense or too much defense in either group and not a good match. The Bulls have the depth and talent at more or less every position to put an offensive or defensive threat on the floor to attack opponents at their weak points and defend their strengths.
To put it bluntly, Tom Thibodeau, this year, actually has more than enough to win. Chicago is easily the deepest team in East and is in the running for deepest team in the league. What they lack in star power they make up in quality depth, and for the first time that depth has the varied skill set to make a bigger impact.
It will take brilliant coaching by Thibodeau, as well as stepping out of his comfort zones, but if he delivers it then Chicago has a legitimate chance to win the NBA championship this season if the roster can stay healthy and are likely the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference.
That's an awfully good spot to be in for a team that many felt didn't have a very good off-season.
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