It’s palpable, this sense of anticipation, a feeling usually associated with a music or movie release, not an annual occurrence, especially one in which most of the central characters are already known commodities.
But starting Friday, it won’t be based upon speculation anymore and the high expectations surrounding the Bulls’ upcoming season — mostly because of Derrick Rose’s return to the court after not playing in an NBA game since April of 2012 — can be realized, for better or worse, due to the words of players and coaches related to actual on-court happenings as training camp at the Berto Center opens.
There will be important storylines other than the former league MVP’s comeback campaign, as it has become increasingly apparent that this could be the final season for the team’s core of Rose, the All-Star duo of Luol Deng and Joakim Noah and much-maligned power forward Carlos Boozer, which fully took shape back in the summer of 2010, when the Bulls hired then-rookie NBA head coach Tom Thibodeau and the front office did its best to assemble a title contender through free agency. The Bulls have acquitted themselves fairly well since then, garnering the league’s best regular-season mark in the first two seasons of the era — making it to the conference finals in 2011, then falling in the first round of the playoffs the second year after Rose’s devastating ACL injury — and making the best of a tough situation last season, as a plucky, injury-riddled bunch advanced to the second round before two-time defending champion Miami ended their postseason run for the second time in three years.
Now, entering the 2013-14 season, we won’t know exactly if or when Rose will regain his previous form — though, according to fellow superstar Kevin Durant, an offseason workout partner, the Chicago native “looks better” — but with Deng set to be a free agent next summer and indications that Boozer will also be moving, it’s now or never for the Bulls, at least in their current form. The likes of Noah, coming off his best season as a pro, emerging swingman Jimmy Butler and a bench led by defensive-oriented big man Taj Gibson, veteran guard Kirk Hinrich and the most significant newcomer, sharpshooter Mike Dunleavy Jr., will also play important roles in what’s set to be a competitive campaign with the aforementioned Heat, divisional-rival Indiana Pacers and revamped Brooklyn Nets also in the Eastern Conference hunt.
Whether they’ve been working out under Thibodeau’s watchful eye at the Berto Center for perhaps the last fall (a new practice facility adjacent to the United Center is under construction) — holdovers like Butler, Chicago native Nazr Mohammed and reserve point guard Marquis Teague, newcomers Dunleavy, and rookies Tony Snell and Erik Murphy, as well training-camp hopefuls like center Dexter Pittman and familiar face Mike James, among others who have stopped through for workouts before auditioning for other squads — or preparing on their own, from top to bottom, the Bulls’ internal goal of trying to win a championship has a sense of urgency, because nobody is exactly sure what the future might bring.
Make sure to check out all the Bulls previews, each spotlighting this season's expectations for individual players and head coach Tom Thibodeau: