The return of point guard Derrick Rose is something Chicago Bulls fans and NBA fans alike have been desperate to see, and according to HoopsHype.com, Rose will "definitely" play in the Bulls' 2013-14 NBA regular-season opener.
This news comes after a tumultuous 2012-13 campaign in which Rose's expected return from a torn ACL never came to fruition.
All anger and bitterness aside, D-Rose's potential return would significantly alter the look of the Eastern Conference.
Rose spoke at a recent Adidas event in Madrid, Spain. The topic of his return to the NBA inevitably arose, with HoopsHype reporting that Rose made quite the bold statement.
Not only will he be ready for the regular season, but Rose is also targeting a preseason return in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil:
I should be able to play in the first game. I know I'm anxious right now to play. My health is everything right now, it's 100 percent. But right now, the first game...I definitely will be playing it.
We will play in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil [October 12], the first NBA game ever in Rio, so that's going to be a big game not only for the Bulls but for the NBA. Just some minutes out there, see how it feels just to be back on the court and enjoy the experience.
Rose, of course, is referring to the Oct. 12 preseason game the Bulls will play against the Washington Wizards in Brazil.
Now that he's committed to returning for the opening game of the regular season, we can evaluate the Eastern Conference at full strength.
2011 and 2012: Not-So-Distant Memories
The Miami Heat have won the past two NBA championships and emerged from the Eastern Conference Finals in every season since the Big Three came together. With that being said, there's another team that has experienced its fair share of dominance as well: The Bulls finished with the best regular-season record in the NBA both in 2010-11 and 2011-12.
That's a fact that some tend to forget, but in terms of regular-season dominance, the Bulls have fared just as well as—if not better than—the Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. They've done this by playing dominant defense and using Rose's clutch play to close out games.
Here's the other piece of information we seem to forget: Rose missed 27 games in 2011-12, and the Bulls still managed to lead the league in wins.
2013 may have been a down year—you know, since they only reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals—but they played the entire season without Rose, and backup point guard Kirk Hinrich missed 22 games. Now, both players are expected to be healthy and thus help form one of the NBA's elite starting lineups.
Dominant Starting Five
Assuming Rose can stay on the court, the Bulls project to put out a starting lineup of Rose, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. That's a former league MVP (Rose) teaming with three All-Stars in Deng, Boozer and Noah.
Throw in Butler's tremendous progression as an all-around player and you have yourself an elite starting lineup.
Deng and Noah are two of the top defensive players in the NBA, each receiving All-Star nods in 2013 for that very reason. Butler, meanwhile, impressed during the playoffs, seeing extended minutes and producing at a rate of 13.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.3 steals on 40.5 percent shooting from three-point range.
As heavily criticized as he may be, Boozer was fifth in the NBA in double-doubles.
With this well-balanced lineup, all the Bulls truly needed in 2012-13 was the superstar scorer to carry them through late-game situations. Seeing as Rose is one of the NBA's top clutch scorers, that shouldn't be an issue in 2013-14.
It certainly hasn't been in the past.
Reviewing the Eastern Conference
When it comes to the Eastern Conference, the top teams over the past three seasons have been the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls. The New York Knicks climbed the ladder in 2012-13, while the Brooklyn Nets have revamped their lineup with two stars that are older than 35.
Still, it's the Bulls who pose the most legitimate threat to Miami's crown.
Chicago upset the Nets during the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs, working without Rose, Deng and Hinrich. The likelihood of those same events transpiring in 2013-14 is slim-to-none, but there's a more important point to infer.
The Bulls have a stellar starting lineup, a league MVP and one of the best head coaches in the NBA—so why should we bet against their ability to compete for a title?
The Eastern Conference may be getting stronger, but it'd be foolish to suggest the Bulls are becoming any weaker. Instead, we're talking about a team that won 45 games in 2012-13 adding one of the top five players in the NBA back to their starting lineup.
Assuming he can stay healthy, Rose and the Bulls will return to their perch as the biggest threat to the Heat's Eastern Conference crown.
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