Well, that was fun, wasn't it?
Now that the NBA Finals are well underway, it's time to celebrate a brilliant season of Chicago Bulls basketball.
The Bulls brought basketball back to the Windy City, a year after the Blackhawks brought hockey back with their Stanley Cup championship.
There were highs—and lows—for the 2010-11 Bulls.
It's important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture with this team.
Yes, we're still bitter about the abrupt departure from the playoffs.
But, yes, we are proud of this team and proud of the team's direction for the first time in over a dozen years.
This is a basketball team that should play in multiple NBA Finals. Let's just be happy with that—for now.
In MVP Derrick Rose, the Bulls have their "it" guy. Rose can do "it," better than most, we now know.
In just his third year in the league, Rose captured the NBA's top award.
The Bulls brought home other hardware, too.
Rookie head coach Tom Thibodeau looked like anything but, in securing the Coach of the Year Award.
Joakim Noah joined the award list as well, grabbing an NBA All-Defense spot.
Gar Foreman holds a trophy now, too, as the NBA's top general manager.
Bright spots are everywhere in Chicago. It was a great ride that few saw coming.
Many had the Bulls a No. 4 or No. 5 seed before the year began, and few would have seen a 62-20 record coming.
The NBA's top overall seed ran through the regular season before hitting a bump in the road in the Miami Heat.
That is a bump in the road that will be come across again and again, but let's worry about that in 2011-12.
For now, let's go over the highlights of this past season.
We'll go into some of the lows as well—just to balance it out.
If nothing else, basketball is prominent again in Chicago, and this team's core will be among the NBA's elite for several seasons.
Let's start with the obvious.
Rose was incredible from the beginning.
Though he stumbled at times during the playoffs, there haven't been many examples of one player literally putting his team on his back like this before.
Every opponent knew how the Bulls were going to beat them. They were going to focus all their efforts on Rose and make his teammates beat you.
More times than not, that philosophy didn't work, and the Bulls beat you either by Rose doing his routine destruction on an opponent or the supporting cast elevating their game.
Sometimes both happened.
He may not shoot well enough yet (.396 field-goal percentage this playoffs), but he can do just about everything else.
When his shooting touch improves—and it will—Rose will be virtually unstoppable.
At just 22 years old, Rose hasn't even peaked yet in this league. His presence on the roster makes the Bulls candidates for 60 wins every season.
He'll need help (a scoring two-guard, for starters), but Rose is the real deal.
The 2010-11 Bulls' success can be traced back, almost exclusively, to Derrick Rose.
What a job Thibodeau did in his first campaign as a head coach in the NBA.
The Coach of the Year award was well-deserved, as he took a roster that had only four holdovers from its previous season (Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson) and turned them into the league's best.
His defensive-minded approach made the Bulls a tough out every night—they were among the league leaders in points allowed, opponents' field goal percentage—and just about every other key stat indicator for defense.
And to do that with a defensive mope like Carlos Boozer, it's even more impressive.
He established a solid rotation early on and let players fall into a given role but also showed flexibility in the playoffs and went with the hot hand (remember the Bulls closing out the Atlanta Hawks with a lineup of Rose, Deng, Gibson, Ronnie Brewer, and Omer Asik? Who saw that coming?)
He gave Rose the keys to the car and will be a focal point for the Bulls going forward.
Deng avoided the injury bug, starting every single game this year for the Bulls.
He emerged as the team's No. 2 scorer at 17.4 points-per-game, and chipped in on the boards as well with just under six rebounds-per-game.
His defense might be his strongest point, however, though he was snubbed by the All-Defense teams for no apparent reason.
Deng is not the ideal No. 2 for a championship team, but as a team's third-best player, you can do a lot worse.
A consistent performer for most of the 2010-11 season, Deng helped the Bulls lineup stay familiar with each other, and with injuries to Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer dogging the front court, Deng's health and play was vital.
It's hard to believe he's just 25.
Joakim Noah's Defense and Rebounding
Noah has a lot of work to do on offense (though it appears he made strides this year getting nearly 12 points-per-game), but he is one of the top defensive centers in the Eastern Conference, if not the entire league.
An All-Defense second-team selection for the first time in his career, Noah provides a long, athletic body to clog the paint in Chicago's shutdown defense.
Thibodeau was blessed in his Boston days to have a long-ranged defender in Kevin Garnett, and Noah's play is similar to that of K.G. Both can change drives to the hoop and cause an opponent to veer off from their ideal path to the rim.
Noah's long frame also makes him an ideal rebounder—one of the top in the game before his thumb injury cost him two months of action.
He still finished with 10.4 rebounds-per-game and will be a double-digit rebounder the next six or seven years at least.
The Bulls rewarded Noah with a rich contract, and he made them look wise with his play and hustle from a defensive and rebounding standpoint.
The Bench Mob
Part of the reason Gar Foreman took home the top executive award this season was because he assembled one of the deepest teams in the league and one of the deepest in Bulls' history.
The Bulls on any given night could go 11-men deep, a luxury for the first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau for certain.
The Bench Mob of C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson, Kurt Thomas and Omer Asik drew a cult following by extending Bulls' leads while the starters rested and never giving an opponent a minute to catch its breath.
The Bulls came at you for 48 minutes every night—you need a deep, hard-working bench to make that happen.
Some will argue that Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson should have been starters at key times this season for the Bulls.
While that could have happened, it was such an advantage for the Bulls to have them come off the bench that it made more sense to play the starting five that got them there.
Gibson and Brewer will be starters in this league at some point, but for now, they're apart of the Bench Mob in Chicago.
Look for improvement from rookie center Omer Asik as he gets more accustomed to a life in the NBA and develops some sort of offensive game.
Kyle Korver, as well, will be looking for a strong season after going ice-cold from the field in the playoffs.
Basketball is back in Chicago
One of the biggest cities in America and one of the great places to play, Chicago has got a team they can back now.
Rose and company will be contenders in the East for some time.
The way things are shaping up, you can expect a lot of Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and maybe New York Knicks matchups in the near future.
The city is as sports-driven as they come, and with subpar baseball teams, the Bulls got a lot of people interested in hoops again.
It hurt to see the Blackhawks fall to a No. 8 seed in the playoffs, but the Bulls more than picked up the slack.
Stacey King's Announcing
How fun is it to listen to Stacey King announce a Bulls game?
An obvious homer similar to "Hawk" Harrelson of the White Sox, there aren't many people who get into their job and team more than King.
Whether is was a "Gimme That Hot Sauce!" in reference to a Kyle Korver three-point basket, or telling Derrick Rose "not to do him like that!", King was hilarious at every turn.
The Bulls' long playoff run was almost bittersweet as fans no longer could watch a King-announced game, as ESPN and TNT gained exclusive rights to all Hawks and Heat playoff games.
"If you're scared, get a dog!", King would tell us.
Somehow, that makes perfect sense.
Carlos Boozer in the Playoffs
Fortunately, there weren't many low moments for the Bulls this season, but Boozer's dismal postseason play was the lowest of the low.
Averaging just 12.6 points-per-game (after averaging 20 in his previous two playoff campaigns), Boozer looked slow, tired, disinterested.
Worse yet, he looked like he was anchored to the ground on most drives to the hoop.
When 6'9" center Joel Anthony is blocking your shot with such ease, something is wrong.
Boozer was denied access to the rim too many times in the playoffs and did not provide an adequate No. 2 scorer—something the Bulls and Derrick Rose were craving.
He disappeared in the fourth quarter, often being replaced in the lineup by second-year man Taj Gibson.
For $75 million, the Bulls should be getting so much more than a spotty scorer who is simply dreadful on defense.
They might have to re-evaluate their frontcourt scoring over the summer, in light of Boozer's decline and injury-prone tendencies.
They're likely stuck with him for the next three or four years, however.
Kyle Korver's Shooting in the Playoffs
You won't blame the Bulls' series-loss to the Heat solely on Korver, but then again, you won't say he played a key role in their playoff run up to that point.
He shot only 38 percent from the field, a year after shooting over 52 percent from the floor in his final season in Utah.
His .423 percent three-point shooting was his lowest in three years and did more harm than help for the Bulls.
After a Game 1 victory against the Heat at the United Center, Korver fell apart.
He shot 14 percent from the field in Game 2 and 33 percent in Game 4, not factoring into the game enough in Games 3 and 5 to matter.
As his shooting and scoring dropped, Thibodeau had to abandon Korver in favor of Ronnie Brewer, who is more of a defender than scorer.
Korver is only useful when he's making shots and stretching the defense. When he's cold, you're stuck with a slow, un-athletic defender—and you're out of the playoffs.
If you're anything like me, you're counting down the days until the 2011-12 season tips off.
It will be another fun ride for the Bulls and the city of Chicago.
Until then, let's hope the Bulls make the necessary roster tweaks and get back their swagger.
But the Bulls will be there, too, awaiting their chance for revenge.
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