I'm sure you've heard the comparisons of the upcoming 2012-13 Chicago Bulls season to that of the 1996-97 San Antonio Spurs. A championship contender's best player goes down with an injury, setting the team up for a possible tanking situation in order to acquire a high draft pick.
The idea sounds nice in theory. But in reality, it's ludicrous.
The injury to Derrick Rose should not mean a lost season for the Bulls. Based on the Bulls' recent offseason moves (the drafting of Marquis Teague and the courting of Kirk Hinrich), it appears the team doesn't expect Rose to make a return until at least midway through next season. ACL injuries, something you don't mess around with, take time to heal.
But as most sports assumptions are proven wrong, the Miami Heat ran into some speed bumps along the way. The Indiana Pacers were peskier than expected, and the Boston Celtics proved that veteran experience could go a long way. Nothing is a given come playoff time. Just because the Heat outmatched everyone on paper didn't mean they cake-walked their way to the championship.
The Bulls' expected roster for the 2012-13 season doesn't scream excitement. There are a lot of familiar faces returning, including Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson.
There are other key players, though whose, returns are up in the air. Omer Asik recently reached a verbal agreement with the Houston Rockets for a three-year deal worth $25.1 million. Asik is a restricted free agent, so the Bulls can match the offer if they choose.
July 11 is the day new players can sign NBA contracts for the upcoming season. Once Asik signs, the Bulls will have three days to either match the offer or let him walk. Asik is a great defender, but is he really worth that kind of coin?
Then there's C.J. Watson, the player the Bulls expected to step up in the absence of Rose. He did everything but—shooting only 24 percent in the Bulls' first round loss to the No. 8-seeded Philadelphia 76ers.
Watson has a $3.2 million team option for the 2012-2013 season, and the Bulls only have until July 10 to decide whether or not to bring him back. The Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson reported the Bulls hope to sign a veteran point guard for less than $3.2 million—hopefully someone whom they feel is an upgrade over Watson,
With practically the same roster minus Rose and possibly a few other key contributors, how can the Bulls possibly compete for an NBA championship in the upcoming season? It's simple. play as hard as they can and hope for some lucky bounces.
The 2012 postseason is the perfect example. Two Eastern Conference teams, the 76ers and the Celtics, went out and played hard and took advantage of the Bulls' misfortunes. Both teams benefited from the Bulls' injury issues.
The 76ers beat a weakened Bulls team, which allowed them to move onto the second round. The Celtics had an easier road to the Eastern Conference Finals because of the injury to Rose. If the Bulls were at full strength, the Celtics and the 76ers likely wouldn't have made it that far.
Just because the Bulls don't appear to be the favorites on paper, doesn't mean they should tank for a good draft pick that they might not even get.
The 2013 NBA draft is not expected to be as deep as the 2012 draft. And besides, it's too large of a toss-up to put the odds of striking gold in the draft in the hands of the lottery. Injuries around the league always happen. Maybe this will be the year the Bulls benefit from those injuries, instead of being the team that's hurt by them.
The Bulls still have a championship coach and many of the same players who lead them to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. They will once again be a good team.
So what if they finish with the No. 5 or No. 6 seed in the East? In the past two seasons, a No. 8 seed has beaten a No. 1 seed twice. The Bulls have the veteran experience, the leadership and the defensive tenacity to be a postseason threat.All they need is a little luck to run their way.
It's not impossible for the Bulls to pull off something magical, but if they decide to tank, we'll never know.