With the Chicago Bulls already shouldering championship expectations for the 2013-14 season, who on the Bulls' roster is under the most pressure?
Last year, Jimmy Butler emerged as one of the Bulls’ most promising players. In just his second season in the league, Butler's defense against the NBA’s elite players was outstanding while his offense improved as the season progressed.
Carlos Boozer is coming off one his best seasons as a Bull, but he could be playing his final season in Chicago, especially if he fails to perform at a high level.
As the Bulls head into their most anticipated season over the past decade, each of the following players will have to play a key role in the Bulls' run for a title.
After a successful playoff run in 2012-13, Butler earned a starting spot on the Bulls. Now, he’s one of their keys to making another deep postseason showing.
Butler has already proven that he is defensively sound, and he'll continue to draw assignments like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony—all players who he has successfully matched up against in the past.
It's his offense that has to take significant strides. If Butler fails to show up, Chicago could end up right where it's been the past few years.
The third-year swingman won’t be asked to score 20-plus points every night, but he will have to be efficient and make the most of his limited opportunities as a fourth—and perhaps fifth—option.
His three-point shot and ability to get to the foul line will be key, as the Bulls try to score more than 90 points on a nightly basis.
Boozer will enter his penultimate year, but the $16.8 million payout for his final season next year is more than the Bulls will be willing to spend, especially with Taj Gibson making around $8 million per year as a reserve.
With the amnesty provision still an option for Chicago, it's very likely that the team uses it on Boozer to clear up some salary cap space.
Boozer has been criticized for his defense, but his three years in Chicago have yielded the best defensive rating outputs of his career, per Basketball-reference.com.
However, there are still instances where he's slow to rotate. He also tends to sag off of his assignments at times, leading to easy baskets for the opposition.
The big man will also need to be present during the postseason. In the Bulls' three playoff runs since acquiring Boozer, the former Duke Blue Devil has averaged just 14 points on 45 percent shooting.
While that's a scoring decrease of only two points when compared to his regular-season numbers over that same stretch, it's his efficiency that stands out, as his shooting percentage has dropped a full five points in the playoffs.
Boozer will need something close to a career year to stay in Chicago.
Rose has been under pressure since last season, when fans expected him to return in time for the playoffs.
He instead decided to sit out, so now the question is if he can come back and be as good as before or perhaps even better.
With an improved offensive game and bigger physical build, per SLAM Online, there’s definitely a chance that Rose is a more polished player. He’ll have to show it on the court, though.
Being a franchise player comes with additional duress, as Rose is the one expected to lead the Bulls into some June contests. Fortunately for him, he has the best surrounding cast of his career.
Joakim Noah is one of the NBA’s best centers and Deng has been one of the Bulls' most consistent players over the past five years.
Butler is also an upgrade over the offensively limited Keith Bogans and oft-injured Rip Hamilton.
Chicago's second unit adds versatility and three-point shooting with Gibson, Mike Dunleavy and Kirk Hinrich as the main contributors.
Rose and Boozer will be Chicago's primary and secondary scorers, respectively, while Butler will be the X-factor. If everyone remains healthy, the Bulls are serious title contenders.
Ultimately, though, it will fall on Rose, who is a game-changing player and the leader of the hungry Bulls.
If Rose can handle the pressure, Chicago may celebrate its first NBA title in 16 years.