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What an unfortunate end to the year for the top-seeded Chicago Bulls.
They were without 2010-11 NBA MVP Derrick Rose for 28 games over the course of the season in which they were still able to defend their regular-season Eastern Conference crown. D-Rose was seemingly finding his groove in game one of the first-round series, when Tom Thibodeau decided to play his injury-prone star late in a game that was presumably already over (Chicago led by 12 with just over one minute left).
Rose tore his ACL, was ruled out for the playoffs and pretty much turned off the light on any Bulls championship hope. To make matters worse, starting center Joakim Noah went down with an ankle injury in game three, rendering him unavailable for the final three games of the season.
Then, the Bulls were about to steal game six when CJ Watson, Rose's replacement and an 80 percent free throw shooter, made an ill-advised pass to Omer Asik, a 45 percent free throw shooter late in the game. Asik, Noah's replacement, missed both shots as Chicago went on to lose by one point.
That loss to Philly brings up a lot of offseason uncertainties in the Windy City.
True, one could blame the struggles on injuries, but even so, I have trouble seeing the Bulls give Miami that much of a fight in the conference finals.
At full strength, Rose is still one of the premier talents in the NBA and also when healthy, first-year Bull Rip Hamilton looked very good giving Thibodeau's offense another option.
Luol Deng is their glue-guy and a great on-ball defender. Sometimes it would be good to see the Duke alum take more of the scoring upon himself and stop deferring often to D-Rose.
In the frontcourt they seem set, with Carlos Boozer and Noah at the four and five spots. The bench is also beyond solid with energy man Taj Gibson and sharpshooter Kyle Korver providing good minutes in relief of the starting five.
Boozer struggled at times in Chicago, and fans seemed intent on dealing him to New York or LA and bringing in Stoudemire or Lakers big Pau Gasol. Since all three are struggling to find a niche in their current homes, a move could be beneficial, but it is certainly not needed for any of these teams.
One move that should be made instantly is to replace Watson, who despite impressing is his time at the helm, can't lead a team chasing a championship, which the Bulls will do, even if Derrick misses significant chunks of time in 2012-13.
An intriguing option is current Nuggets backup Andre Miller, who returned to Denver after stints in Philly and Portland. Miller may be content back in Colorado where he played from 2003-06, but he would be a good fit, and another veteran presence for the Bulls.
Beyond that, all Chicago can do is keep playing good defense and grow a little more effective on the other end so that next year they come prepared. Best case scenario, they end next season with the Larry O'Brien Trophy.