As Bulls players begin to trickle in to the Berto Center to prepare for what could be a very special season, CSNChicago.com is getting fans ready to hit the ground running, too.
NBA training camps don't open until the end of the month, but from Monday through Friday up until Bulls' media day, we're discussing everything from Derrick Rose's comeback to the top competition in the Eastern Conference—with a twist.
CSNChicago.com has compiled the insights of anonymous behind-the-scenes league insiders (an assistant coach, a front-office executive, a retired player and an advanced scout), to go along with in-depth reporter breakdowns and complementary statistical analysis to ensure that diehard hoops fans are up to speed when the balls officially start bouncing.
Today’s Topic: Is this the year the Bulls finally get past the Heat?
I think LeBron James is going to be as good as ever. Obviously he’s the best player in the world right now, he and Kevin Durant.
But Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are another year older. They don’t have Mike Miller this year. Shane Battier, another year added to that belt. I think they are going to be vulnerable.
Now, they’re going to be exciting, they’re going to be great — don’t get me wrong — but I just think another year of wear and tear on those legs, it’s going to be harder for Miami to get that three-peat. I rate the Bulls as having a great, great chance of being there when it’s all said and done.
Could have cut to the chase from the beginning, right? Maybe a handful or even the majority of people who have been reading this series have been concerned about some of the other issues that have come up, particularly how Rose will fare this season. But even with Indiana and Brooklyn being legitimate threats to the Bulls’ championship aspirations, Miami is the basketball equivalent of Al Capone or more recently, “El Chapo” Guzman — public enemy No. 1 in Chicago.
I won’t completely piggyback Steve Kerr’s prediction about how things will shake out, but it certainly does feel like this could be the Bulls’ year, if only because, as the source mentioned, the Heat seems vulnerable. Expecting Wade to get hurt is irrational and against the spirit of competition, but there’s no denying his recent track record and it would be foolhardy to believe that he stays healthy all season.
I could see Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra dialing things back a notch during the regular season, taking a Spurs-like approach and resting key guys — LeBron, simply because of his workload and not injuries, as the guy seems virtually indestructible — and not worrying about where the team finishes in the standings. Miami, at this point, shouldn’t be overly preoccupied with getting the top seed in the playoffs, since they’re the team everybody else is chasing and equipped with the experience of winning back-to-back titles and going to three consecutive NBA Finals, road games aren’t something to fret about.
On the other hand, I can’t imagine coach Tom Thibodeau taking his foot off the gas during the year. Sure, he might be cautious with Rose to begin the season and try to get Joakim Noah some rest here and there, especially if his plantar fasciitis flares up. But his consistent mantra of trying to win the most regular-season games to secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs isn’t changing anytime soon. That probably infuriates some fans, but if there’s anytime to go for the gusto, it’s now, before the Bulls’ core potentially breaks up, seeing how nobody can predict the future. Indiana and Brooklyn are also all-in, and while those teams — Miami’s the other Eastern Conference squad that I’d pencil in to host a first-round playoff series — don’t have the most daunting home crowds, to paraphrase Thibodeau, you want everything going in your favor.
Assuming the Bulls and Heat are headed for another postseason collision course, it’s safe to say that the one thing we should have learned from these past few seasons is to not glean too much from the regular-season matchups. Besides how Mike Dunleavy fits in and how Rose plays — especially if James is guarding him in end-of-game scenarios — there’s not going to be anything new to find out. There’s no fear factor when it comes to playing the Heat and conversely, regular-season wins don’t translate to postseason success. Looking at Miami’s personnel, it would be a reach to suggest, at least right now, that Mike Beasley or Greg Oden will have a major impact for the Heat, but like Chris Andersen last season, they could be contributors by the playoffs and with Pat Riley running the show, a key in-season acquisition shouldn’t be ruled out either.
This can be dissected to death, but in reality, not much has changed since the 2011 conference finals. The biggest differences are that Omer Asik’s valuable defensive presence off the bench is gone and they finally have a bonafide, healthy starting shooting guard in Jimmy Butler, who we saw in the spring can be effective as a somewhat of a counter to the Heat’s duo of Wade and James, forming the league’s best defensive wing tandem with Luol Deng, while Kirk Hinrich and Dunleavy, to me, are slight upgrades from C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver, in terms of all-around play. All of above is important, but the biggest reason why or why not the Bulls will get past the Heat and/or advance to the NBA Finals is Rose.
The rampant speculation, including in this space, about how he’ll fare in his comeback campaign is nice, but even when Rose describes his improvement, it should all be taken with a grain of salt. Personally, I’m of the belief that he’ll be performing at an All-Star, if not MVP level at some point during the season, but what’s more significant is how he plays when it matters most. As much as his supporting cast has either improved or gained experience, the ball will be in his hands, defenses will be geared toward stopping him as an individual and the decisions he makes, whether or not his shots fall and most significantly, the end result for the Bulls, is how he’ll be judged.
To make a long answer to the initial question short, I don’t know if the Bulls will advance past Miami — or Indiana and Brooklyn, also worthy challengers — and neither does anybody else at the moment, which is why this season could shape up to be one of the best in recent memory. But if this isn’t the season that the team gets over the hump, due to the status of some of the team’s core players, Chicago’s wait for another Bulls title could be extended.