The Chicago Bulls' 2012-13 campaign will go down as one of the more forgettable ones. Although they managed to snatch the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and stun the Brooklyn Nets by winning Game 7 on their home floor in the first round of the playoffs, they had no chance to compete for a title this past season.
Derrick Rose's injury was certainly one of the major reasons, but absences of other key players in the playoffs, like Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich, was just too much for the team to fight through.
However, there have been some positives, like the emergence of Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah's first All-Star appearance and Nate Robinson revitalizing his career with his spectacular postseason play. The Bulls are set to make a lot of noise in the 2013-14 campaign, and the following slides are my complete predictions for the Bulls next season.
This isn't necessarily a bold prediction. Actually, it might not even be necessary to say that Jimmy Butler will be the starting shooting guard next season. He started every game down the stretch in the regular season and every game in the playoffs, where he averaged an absurb 40.8 minutes per game.
Last season, Butler appeared in all 82 games, but only started in 20 of them. In the last 11 games of the regular season, he started in every game and averaged an incredible 42.7 minutes per game (per Basketball Reference).
It's even more surprising when you consider that a year ago, Butler averaged just 8.5 minutes per game and barely had an impact on the team. It's a combination of improvement and opportunity that granted Butler an important role on a great team.
In the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons when Derrick Rose was healthy (for the most part) and active on the roster, the Bulls secured the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Of course, the team has changed and other teams in the conference have improved, but the Bulls are poised to regain their status as an elite, dominant team when everyone comes back healthy.
Their biggest competition would probably be the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and newly formed Brooklyn Nets super team, but the Bulls will have a better record by the end of the season. They snatched the top seed when the Miami Heat were healthy and together in the previous two seasons, so they can do it again next season. Obviously, teams improve with time, but my vote is still on the Bulls.
Rose hasn't had a truly dominant season since 2010-11. In the following year, he suffered numerous injuries throughout the regular season and everything accumulated to the devastating ACL injury (via ESPN) in the first game of the playoffs against the Philadelpha 76ers, which caused him to sit out for over a year.
Now with more than enough time to rehab and recover his knee, Rose should be ready to have one of the best seasons of his career. He didn't come back during the regular season or playoffs like many have hoped for, so he definitely has something to prove right now.
Players usually take another season or two to get back into form after suffering from an ACL tear (i.e. Amar'e Stoudemire), but others never regain their old form prior to the injury. Hopefully, Rose won't fall into the latter category and his preparation will pay off next season.
Luol Deng will be on the last year of his contract in 2013-14, and the emergence of Butler gives the Bulls more choices for trade options in the future.
I'm not a big fan of trading away one of the best defenders in the game, but Deng's time with the Bulls may be determined by how well the other younger players on the team perform.
With the 20th pick in the 2013 draft, the Bulls selected athletic, versatile forward Tony Snell, who has a similar body type as Deng. It could be possible that the Bulls would try to develop Snell into a defensive presence like Deng, but keep him for a much cheaper price while he's on his rookie contract.
Even if they don't, the wing positions aren't the biggest need for the team right now after the Bulls agreed to sign Mike Dunleavy early in the offseason (via Marc Stein of ESPN).
Last season, it was clear that the two best teams in the Eastern Conference were the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers.
Skip to next season, and now a healthy, rejuvenated Bulls squad is going to be one of the two best teams in the league, along with the Heat.
With their core of Rose, Noah, Boozer and Deng (hopefully) together and healthy for the playoffs, the Bulls are a force to be reckoned with. Unlike the previous few seasons, the role players and bench on this Bulls team is projected to be much better than before.
If the Bulls can solidify a rotation and manage the minutes wisely during the season, then they'll be set to make the conference finals.