Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010
By Aggrey Sam
A historic summer for the NBA has passed and for the Bulls, while they didn't acquire quite the star power many expected andor hoped for, optimism runs high, both within the organization and throughout the team's fan base. With the offseason coming to an end, the time to fully delve into the upcoming NBA season is here. Instead of a traditional season preview, issues both throughout the league and in Chicago will be probed daily here on CSNChicago.com up until the squad officially convenes for training camp toward the end of September.
19. How will the Bulls' season end?
Heading into the season, there are certainly some unknowns for the Bulls, many of which have been covered recently in this very space. Some of these variables can be predicted to an extent, but others--such as new head coach Tom Thibodeau's performance and team chemistry after an offseason roster overhaul--cannot.
There will obviously be an adjustment to Thibodeau's system, which will surely prioritize defense. Some of the Bulls--namely Carlos Boozer and Derrick Rose--will have to make a shift in their mentality, as the defensive end is perceived to be among their main shortcomings. Boozer, in particular (Rose, 21, is still a very malleable player), will have to work to change his reputation as a poor defender, as sources with knowledge of Thibodeau's thinking tell CSNChicago.com that the coach doesn't plan to double team opposing post players.
The issue of chemistry will also be an ongoing plot line to be observed in the season's early going. None of the Bulls--whether holdovers or newcomers--are specifically known for being a selfish players; rather, the question of a set pecking order and perhaps who will be willing to take a backseat is more pertinent.
After entering last season as the team's go-to scorer, Luol Deng will likely be the team's third option on offense, behind Rose and Boozer. While this may make him a more dangerous threat and be better for the team as a whole, every player has somewhat of an ego and a more-limited role may initially be tough for Deng to swallow.
While Joakim Noah doesn't necessarily require a lot of shots or set plays run for him to be effective (although Noah, an underrated passer, not getting a lot of touches would be a mistake) and the team's supporting cast seemingly having defined roles to play, it will take some time before everybody is comfortable with each other. Furthermore, Thibodeau, despite all of his experience, is still a novice as an NBA head coach (he did have a stint as a college head coach over 20 years ago) and will need to balance his lauded work ethic with delegating to others on his staff.
That said, the Bulls are a fairly balanced and deep group with a lot of weapons and besides outside shooting, not a lot of weaknesses. The holdovers from last season--including Taj Gibson and James Johnson, along with Rose, Noah and Deng--all have playoff experience, as do the majority of the offseason acquisitions.
A so-so start wouldn't be completely unexpected, but as the season goes on, the Bulls should get stronger, find their groove and enter the postseason as a squad to be feared. Becoming a true contender may be too much of a leap, but a five-game increase from last season's win total--in a much tougher Eastern Conference--isn't an impossibility.
As was written in an earlier edition of this series, Milwaukee should be favored to win the Central Division based on success last season, overall team depth, and not having to deviate much from how they played a year ago. Chicago, however, should be in a two-team Central race until the end, garnering a decent playoff seed--if not the top-four East finish many observers expect--and potentially playing spoiler to a higher-seeded team in the first round of the postseason before bowing out in the conference semifinals.
That might not sound satisfying to fans, but with so many variables going into this season, a marked improvement from the 2009-10 campaign bodes well for the future. After all, it's always necessary to crawl before walking.
Chicago Bulls predicted finish: 46-36, fifth in the Eastern Conference (second in the Central Division), second round of the playoffs