The Chicago Bulls are off to a ho-hum 5-5 start, but the remainder of the 2012-13 season foresees hope. In fact, the hope foreseen as the season progresses could very likely make the Bulls the NBA's feel-good story of 2012-13.
It's time to think hypothetically about how Chicago's season will unfold. Can we dream for a brief bit?
The popular opinion is that the Bulls are not a threat this season due to Derrick Rose's absence, as well as the fact that they lost a chunk of their "Bench Mob" during the offseason.
As a result, they are viewed by many as a fringe playoff team, and teams like the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers have been vaulted ahead of the Bulls when talking about potential Eastern Conference candidates to dethrone the Miami Heat.
But what if the Bulls defied the odds and took the league by storm this season? Is it completely outlandish to dream such thoughts?
If Rose doesn't suit up for the Bulls in 2012-13, then yes, such a thought is outlandish. Based on what's been seen from this Bulls squad through 10 games, they don't look like a team who could even squeak out of the first round of the playoffs.
But since the latest news surrounding Rose is that he's started cutting, there's reason for Bulls fans to have hope. There's reason to believe that this season may not be a complete wash. There's reason to believe that the Bulls could legitimately become the NBA's feel-good story.
Here's a hypothetical scenario of how this could happen. Dream with me, people.
While Rose remains sidelined, the Bulls fight their way to a slightly above .500 record through December and January. As their new-look "Bench Mob" gels and coach Tom Thibodeau establishes a steady rotation, the Bulls are at least respectable. They position themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt as Rose's comeback nears.
Rose returns in late February, and the Bulls thus receive an unprecedented boost. Initially, his minutes are limited and he by no means regains his MVP form in an instant. He slowly finds his old form, and his presence improves the Bulls in a gradual fashion.
Come April, Rose's touch and aggressiveness are rising, and the Bulls are also gaining confidence. After learning how to play without a superstar and clawing their way towards the playoffs, the Bulls now add their stud and an overwhelming jolt of confidence on all accounts–emotionally, mentally and physically.
Therefore, they hit their stride at just the right time and enter the playoffs with a great deal of optimism. At this point, Rose's return would already be a feel-good story because he will participate in the playoffs. But the feel-good story for Chicago gets much, much sweeter.
The Bulls nab the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference (which is certainly reasonable if Rose is able to return), drawing the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round. While the Nets have a much-improved roster, they are together an inexperienced playoff team. The Bulls, on the other hand, have a core who have battled mightily in the playoffs together, particularly in 2011 when they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
This playoff experience proves pivotal against Brooklyn. They knock off the Nets in six games, and Rose averages close to 25 points per game during the series. The Bulls thus gain even more momentum, as Rose is looking more and more like his usual self and the rest of the Chicago core is meshing with one another.
Their second-round series places them against the New York Knicks. Just like Brooklyn, the Knicks lack playoff success together. Further, the Bulls match up well against New York, as Luol Deng is able to neutralize Carmelo Anthony, and the Knicks lack guards to contain D-Rose.
As a result, the Bulls continue their feel-good story by dominating the overhyped Knicks. Spike Lee sits despondently on the Madison Square Garden sideline as he watches his Knicks go down in five games.
Bring on the Miami Heat, the team which the Bulls would've loved to have had a shot against in last year's playoffs. With a healthy squad last season, there's reason to believe the Bulls would've ousted Miami.
They get their second chance in three years come the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals. This series is where the Bulls' feel-good 2012-13 reaches a whole new level.
Not only does Rose continue to perform exceptionally well, but Carlos Boozer posts steady double-doubles throughout the series, Rip Hamilton stabilizes the offense by averaging 16 PPG, and Jimmy Butler becomes an unsung hero after displaying eye-opening defensive efforts while guarding LeBron James.
These factors and more lead to a complete shocker: Bulls 4, Heat 2. Believe it or not, the Bulls are headed back to the NBA Finals for the first time since the Michael Jordan days.
Here they meet the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs rattle off one last hurrah that lands them in the Finals. The defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder bowed out in the second round to the loaded Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers then encountered chemistry issues against the well-coached Spurs, leading to their demise in a brutal seven-game series.
Therefore, all that stands in Chicago's way is an old but crafty Spurs squad, and the Bulls' energy and soaring momentum proves to be too much.
Rose gets the best of Tony Parker, and Joakim Noah contributes across the board while supplying plenty of chest thumps and screams. Further, Coach Tom Thibodeau's defense is consistently suffocating, forcing the fundamental Spurs out of their comfort zone.
And there you have it, the Chicago Bulls shock the nation and reach the NBA pinnacle. This is the blueprint for how they could not only become the NBA's feel-good story for 2012-13, but also etch their names into one of the most historic playoff runs in history.
For Bulls fans, this is unquestionably a dream. But it's a dream worth dreaming if Rose does return this season. With his determination and work ethic, it's foolish to put anything past the 24-year-old phenom.
Rose's return is most definitely anticipated. If it goes something like what's outlined here, the 2012-13 Bulls will be more than just a feel-good team, but a team that will never be forgotten.