In one of the most exciting and entertaining first-round matchups that the NBA has seen in quite some time, the Chicago Bulls showed poise, maturity, and an extremely high ceiling for improvement in their series against the Boston Celtics that they will build on heading into next year.
The Bulls were one of the more consistent teams in the East and hovered around the six through eight seed the whole year.
That’s not to say at all that it was an easy road, even in the much less competitive Eastern Conference.
Breaking down each player on the Bulls has to go past looking at the seven game series with the Celtics, as hard as that may be.
They faced ups and downs all year, acquired and lost players, and in the end finished the year with a very impressive showing, which leads me to believe they will be in the hunt for the Eastern Conference Championship come this time next year.
Derrick Rose proved this year that he is more than capable of becoming the leader of the Bulls for years to come. Nothing stands in the way of Rose joining the next great wave of point guards in the NBA maybe except himself.
As most rookies that are thrown into the setting Rose was of starting from day one, he played a little out of control at times and made a few costly mistakes.
Still, down the stretch, Rose was the reason the Bulls were back in Boston for a game seven. Ben Gordon and John Salmons were fine but the constant of Rose, as it was all year in the regular season, kept the Bulls in the series.
In my post on Rajan Rondo during the series, I took quite a bit of heat for supposedly hating on Derrick Rose and, while the article was more meant to praise Rondo, because of the criticisms I’ll explain how I feel on Rose.
He played better than any rookie has the last two years, culminating in his Rookie of the Year Award. He was a very consistent guard but not the all star that a few people were making him out to be.
After game one, I was talking to someone who wanted to put Rose in the argument for top three point guards in the NBA.
This pre-mature worship of Rose is fine if you take it with a grain of salt, with that grain being that he is 20 years old and is only going to get better.
It remains to be seen, but Rose could easily be the best point guard in the league in five years. But for now, he is JUST one of the up-and-coming stars in the league, and there is no shame in that.
One of the biggest off-season decisions for head coach John Paxson will be what to do with free agent Ben Gordon.
Remember that Gordon played more than the seven games in the playoffs when I say that the Bulls should let Gordon go off to another team and here’s why.
Every year a big name comes out of the playoffs in basketball who is playing in his contract year and goes bonkers in the second season. Last year it was James Posey and this year it is Gordon.
When that certain player enters free agency, there is usually a team that is willing to throw the bank at him and make him grossly overpaid.
Posey was signed to a four year, $25 million contract which to give you an idea, is more than John Salmons. The Celtics wanted no part of Posey if he was going to cost that much and are doing just fine without him.
The reason Gordon does not need to come back is that, while he excels from the outside, he is pretty one-dimensional and brings nothing to the table defensively.
He is more of a No. 3 option on offense and with the Bulls has been the number two behind Rose.
John Salmons will likely be on his last year with the Bulls in 2009-2010 as they continue to clear cap space for the “2010 Sweepstakes” with the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Vince Carter, and Steve Nash just to name a few.
However, Salmons absolutely dominated with the Bulls after coming over in the Andres Nocioni deal and, despite the inconsistencies and injuries, really helped the Bulls make it to the playoffs to battle the Celtics.
There is an outside chance that if John Paxson decides not to pursue one of the big prizes in the 2010 free agency pool combined with another solid year from Salmons, that he might stay on with the Bulls for a few more years.
The young guns in the front court in Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas really came on late in the year and gave promise to the future.
While Noah is not going to be able to play the Kevin Garnett-less Celtics every game next year, his strength and will to fight in the post was evident in the playoffs.
Noah averaged 7.6 rebounds per game in the regular season in just over 24 minutes and will more than likely see those minutes increase big time next year.
While Thomas is more of an athlete and a project, Noah’s game is still very raw but his improvement over the course of the year is a great start.
Thomas made even bigger strides this year as he became much more of a basketball player rather than an athletic freak that could swat shots into the third row.
His jump shot improved somewhat but still needs some polishing and his all-around defense could as well. His strength is still an issue and he does not have much of a post game, but remember, he is still just 22 years old.
The outlook is bright for the Bulls and can only improve this off-season with the draft. The Bulls are slated to pick in the No. 16 spot and they must improve their defense with that choice.
Potential draftees are James Johnson, a 6-foot-9 Ron Artest-type player who is like a more ready Tyrus Thomas.
If Louisville small forward Earl Clark were to drop to 16, the Bulls could get a guard-forward that is destined to do great things in the Association.
Other names include shutdown defender Marcus Thornton from LSU who plays the shooting guard position and North Carolina shooting guard Wayne Ellington.
Whatever happens in the off-season, one thing is sure: the Chicago Bulls took great strides this year, matured greatly, and are still one of the youngest teams with the brightest futures in the league.
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