If youve been reading some of the national magazines and websites, you already know there isnt a lot of optimism about this years Bulls team. Most of the so-called experts are picking Tom Thibodeaus squad to finish seventh or eighth in the East, and get drummed out of the playoffs in the opening round. While thats definitely within the realm of possibilities, I think they will do better.
Yes, we know Derrick Rose wont be back until mid-February or early March, and he probably wont return to his peak form until next season. But the Bulls have one big factor working in their favor over the course of the marathon 82 game seasonthey have the hardest-working and best-prepared coach in the league, and that, in itself, could be worth about a half dozen extra wins.
Thibodeau will make sure his team is thoroughly prepared for each team they face, and he wont accept any shortcuts.
Take a look at what happened to the Lakers on Opening Night. They thought they could just put on those gold uniforms and roll to an easy win over a depleted Dallas team playing without Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman. Instead, one of the other top coaches in the league, Rick Carlisle, had his team ready to go, and the Mavs handed L.A.s super-team an embarrassing loss.
Thibs will catch any number of NBA teams napping during the regular season, and that will allow the Bulls to stay within striking distance of one of the middle seeds in the East. Seems like everyones conceding the Central Division title to Indiana, but Im not. The Pacers wont have their top scorer, Danny Granger, for an indefinite period while he seeks a second opinion for an ailing knee, and theyll miss departed point guard Darren Collison more than people realize. Im expecting the Bulls and Pacers to battle for first place all season long, and while I would give Indiana a slight edge, another division title is certainly a possibility for Chicago.
There has been a lot of concern about the Bulls' bench being a lot weaker than its been the last two seasons, and granted, the second unit certainly wont be as strong defensively. But Nate Robinson has the ability to score points in bunches, and Taj Gibson figures to increase his offensive production. Chicago native Nazr Mohammed had a good pre-season, and Jimmy Butler should be ready for regular rotation minutes after serving a rookie apprenticeship last season.
Of course, theres no way to replace Roses scoring, play-making ability and open court brilliance, but Kirk Hinrich will do a good job of running the half-court offense and playing solid defense. The frontline of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer is among the best in the league, and Rip Hamilton came to camp in great shape and figures to have a much better second season in Chicago.
Add it all up, and Im predicting a 47-35 finish, which should be good for the No. 6 seed in the East. And, if Rose starts building his confidence by playoff time, there isnt a team in the conference that will want to face the Bulls in Round 1.