Despite failing to land a top-tier free agent, general manager Gar Forman has assembled arguably the team’s best collection of talent since hiring Tom Thibodeau as head coach.
There’s no question that the former Boston Celtics assistant is a competent strategist. In his four years at the helm in the Windy City, he has won 65.7 percent of his games, including two above-.500 campaigns without his best player in uniform, and four consecutive playoff berths.
Thibodeau has demonstrated the ability to get the most out of all of his players. Now that he has his No. 1 option back and a bevy of talent, this franchise is poised to reassert itself as one the Eastern Conference’s alpha dogs.
Some familiar faces from when Rose last suited up are gone, but much of the core is still intact, not to mention some high-quality additions.
The Bulls narrowly missed out on adding Carmelo Anthony, a player who would’ve given the team both a second scorer and superstar. Instead of languishing on what could have been, the front office got busy adding players who would better complement Rose and allow Thibodeau to present a myriad of lineups.
Chicago’s frontcourt underwent the most dramatic change. Management amnestied veteran forward Carlos Boozer, signed free agent Pau Gasol and brought over European standout Nikola Mirotic.
With Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson rounding out that group of bigs, a case could be made for the Bulls having one of the best front lines in the league. Collectively, this group can score in the post, shoot, rebound, defend and pass.
Mirotic is more of a perimeter guy than a post player, but his size makes him an NBA power forward, which means he will be best utilized stretching opposing defenses. Mike Dunleavy and Doug McDermott complete this squad’s cache of sharpshooters, giving Chicago a very balanced offensive attack.
Although Jimmy Butler’s shooting tapered off in the 2013-14 season, he still proved to be effective at getting to the basket and drawing fouls, leading the team with five free-throw attempts per game. His defense will still be his most valued contribution.
Second-year player Tony Snell showed tremendous improvement during summer league play. While that does not guarantee similar dominance when the season tips off, that maturation should translate into improved production.
Capping off this loaded supporting cast are veteran guards Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks. Hinrich helps maintain continuity for the reserve unit. He should be a solid contributor on both sides of the ball since he’ll be playing fewer minutes. Brooks will fill the role as a bench scorer making up for losing D.J. Augustin; his career average of 11.1 points per game shows that he’s more than capable of honoring that expectation.
This is a group that Thibodeau could push to near 50 wins and a postseason bid. Rose is the player who puts this crew over as contenders.
It will take a little time for Chicago’s native son to return to his true regular-season form, but he will still be capable of substantially contributing as well as commanding attention whenever he is on the floor.
The revamped frontcourt will allow for a truer post-up offense while the shooters will garner the attention and spacing necessary for Rose to thrive. He could play inside/out or drive and dish almost at will.
Having legitimate offensive variety will ease the burden on Rose to immediately be an impact player and allow him to return to his dominant self at a comfortable pace.
Measuring up against the Eastern Conference
Parity in the Eastern Conference will be more apparent during the 2014-15 season.
With Anthony staying in New York and LeBron James returning to Cleveland, star distribution is more balanced. Factor in rising teams like the Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors and Charlotte Hornets, and it becomes apparent that the East is going to more competitive than it has been in years.
Even with all of this flux, the Bulls should still fare well enough to re-establish themselves as the conference’s best team. The presence of Rose is a big factor in this assessment, but the surrounding talent is equally crucial.
Assuming the current assemblage remains constant, the other East teams are going to run into some serious matchup problems due to Chicago’s balance and depth.
There are a number of clubs who can present formidable starting lineups. The aforementioned Wizards, Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers all have impressive talent among their first string, but pickings become slim at certain positions when looking at reserves.
It seems like for every potential Eastern Conference playoff team, Thibodeau has a personnel solution to better insure victory that goes beyond the heart, hustle and muscle that has kept them afloat the last two seasons.
How it all plays out
Final record: 60-22
Division standing: 1st place
Conference standing: 1st place
Thibodeau has coached two full regular seasons with a healthy Rose in the lineup, winning 75.7 percent of those games. This upcoming campaign should be no different.
Ultimately, it comes down to personnel and leadership. No other team in the East matches Chicago’s coaching caliber and depth. This club can now wear down foes with smothering defense and ample lineup variations.
Actually, regular-season success hasn’t been a problem in the Thibodeau era. The Bulls dominated when everyone was accounted for and overachieved when their superstar was out due to injuries. It has been the postseason where the most question marks have popped up.
The need for a second scorer became evident after their loss in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, and the continuing lack of ability to generate points has cost them dearly in every postseason appearance since then, the most glaring example being the 2014 first-round shellacking by the Wizards.
Nevertheless, it seemed like the Bulls could get over the hump if they could address their offensive deficiencies.
This team still lacks its second shot creator; on the other hand, it is more offensively well rounded, which should help the points output. Even a marginal scoring improvement would go a long away considering how well the team defend.
For the last few years, the East was a two-team race between the Miami Heat and designated second fiddle. Now that a more harmonious accord seems to be taking shape, it’s harder to automatically label a clear favorite.
All things considered, the Bulls hold a slight edge.
The Heatles are no more. Emerging franchises still have to find what it takes to elevate to the next level. Chicago and Indiana are the remaining top-tier clubs, although the latter suffered debilitating losses in free agency with the departure of Lance Stephenson.
Presently, the Bulls are poised to regain the top-seed status they held in 2011 and 2012. It’s all on Thibodeau and Co. to keep it together from October to June.
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