Chicago Bulls: No Derrick Rose, No Luol Deng...No Problem?
If you’re a Chicago Bulls fan reading the headline of this article, I apologize for causing you to spit beer all over your keyboard and monitor. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Losing the Bulls’ two best players, one being our MVP, and the other being our defensive centerpiece, is NO PROBLEM?!?!” Allow me to bring your highly elevated blood pressure back down to an acceptable level.
The Chicago Bulls injury woes are well documented, but allow me to briefly reiterate them for those that have been living under a rock. Derrick Rose, Chicago’s Golden Child, is out until January or later after tearing his ACL in game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals match up against the Philadelphia 76ers. Luol Deng, a 2011-2012 All-Defensive Second Team selection, spent the majority of the season nursing a left wrist injury.
While he is able to play, Deng’s injury requires surgery, and with his patriotic goal of representing Great Britain in the Olympics this summer, the surgery will have to be postponed. Once Luol’s surgery is taken care of, he is expected to miss as much as the first two months of the NBA season, according to ESPN.com.
As it stands, that’s clearly a very BIG problem for a team that was expected to compete for a title this season. However, despite losing a chunk of their starting lineup for a large part of the season, there are some bright spots to look forward to, as well as some compelling storylines.
I am personally resigned to the idea that Chicago will suffer an early post-season exit, or no post-season at all, thus making it easier to focus on the adjustments this team has the potential to make.
Now that I’ve taken care of all the formalities, let’s delve in to the positive aspects of the Bulls’ upcoming season.
Higher Lottery Selection
For the past two seasons, Chicago has picked at or near the bottom of the first round, selecting 30th in 2011, and 29th in just a couple of weeks. While talented players such as Taj Gibson are still occasionally discovered late in the first round, it is more the exception than the rule.
Bulls executives Gar Forman and John Paxson have done a fantastic job in selecting high quality players the past few seasons, regardless of the selection they are awarded. That being said, I expect them to be able to pull an even more talented player out of the draft next season, as they will have a larger talent pool to scout.
Losing Rose and Deng means losing more games, which essentially provides Chicago with a better first round selection. I expect Chicago to pick anywhere from 13th to 20th, depending on how long it takes D-Rose to return, if at all.
Boozer's Return to Prominence
“Wait…Boozer who? You mean, like, Carlos Boozer?” Yes, that’d be the one. Booz, despite being Chicago’s big offseason acquisition in the summer of 2010, has been often maligned by the Bulls fan base for his lackadaisical defensive efforts, declined production, and gaudy contract. His name has been the punch line of many jokes, as he has overtaken the reigns of Chicago Whipping Boy from the previously perplexing Tyrus Thomas.
Despite all of the fuss, Boozer has been under-appreciated during his tenure with the team, and managed to play the first full season of his 9 year career, starting all 66 games. Some will be quick to point out the fact that it was a compressed season, weakening the credibility of that statement. Although given the myriad of injuries that spread throughout the league, I’m sure few expected Boozer to be one of the last men standing.
If Boozer continues to stay healthy, expect him to shoulder the offensive load for Chicago. He was their third leading scorer last season, dropping in 15 PPG on 53% shooting. As the de facto offensive centerpiece, look for Carlos to do damage from both the low post and mid range, as Tom Thibodeau will allow him every avenue to utilize his offensive prowess.
Now I realize that there are many of you that still want to put Boozer in Federal prison for stealing $75 million from the team, or at the very least, amnesty him. This scenario actually affords us the opportunity to forego both of those scenarios. If Carlos exceeds expectations this season, his lofty pay grade might look slightly more appealing to other teams, which could return him from the Land of Untradeable Contracts, where Brendan Haywood and Emeka Okafor currently reside.
Developing Jimmy Butler
Luol Deng is almost guaranteed to miss the first couple months of the season, as surgery is inevitable to correct the torn tendon in his left wrist. Without their starting small forward for a prolonged period of time, roster shuffling is in order.
Although it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that they trade for someone to fill Deng’s role, I fully expect them to plug in one of their swingmen as a stopgap solution. Conventional wisdom would suggest that Ronnie Brewer or Kyle Korver will assume the task in Deng’s absence, but given that neither man is guaranteed a spot on the roster this season, Jimmy Butler could receive a baptism by fire.
Despite seeing around an average of eight minutes of playing time in 42 contests, Butler showed flashes of brilliance and upside. While he still possesses a relatively unpolished offensive game, Butler showed a tendency to slash through the lane and create contact, as well as a respectable mid-range jumper. Where his true value lies, though, is defense.
Chicago drafted Butler under the premise that he was a hard worker who hangs his hat on defense; and so far he has been as advertised, despite limited playing time. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, expect Jimmy Butler to see a drastic increase in minutes, potentially jumping up to 20+ MPG, depending on the role he is assigned.
Butler could become the Bulls’ inexpensive version of Ronnie Brewer, only with more upside, while potentially providing them with salary cap relief.
Enticing Veteran Point Guards
After his offseason surgery, it is anticipated that Derrick Rose won’t return until January at the minimum, if at all. Chicago is technically only left with CJ Watson, as Mike James and John Lucas III are unrestricted free agents.
Even so, none of those three players, maybe with the exception of aged veteran Mike James, can successfully run an offense. That being said, Chicago should aggressively target veteran free agents to fill the role of starting point guard. With D-Rose’s absence, a starting spot -- albeit temporary, could prove to be a major factor in drawing interest from players like Andre Miller or Jason Kidd.
It would also allow them the luxury of starting for the majority of the season, while also being the primary playmaker for a team that could prove to be a pesky low seed in the opening round of the playoffs.
As much as these Bulls, and Chicago fans everywhere, are used to winning, this is the season where we have to take a step back. With major hits to our starting lineup, it must be understood that this year's team has a small window of hope for title contention.
Even though that may seem like a dreary outlook, the potential emergence of Jimmy Butler, watching Boozer prove the naysayers wrong, Chicago's ability to lure a quality point guard, and a higher draft position to improve our future are enough to keep me watching.
There are many bright spots to next season...Even if one of them isn't a shimmering NBA title.
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