The Chicago Bulls are coming off a great season.
They had the best record in not only the Eastern Conference but the entire NBA at 62-20. They had the MVP and Coach of the Year as well as tied for executive of the year with Pat Riley.
They even made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, losing in five games to the Miami Heat.
Overall, the season was a great accomplishment that exceeded many people's expectations but now with expectations set at getting to that next level, can they prove to be more then a one-year wonder?
If the Bulls want to avoid taking a step back here is a checklist they can follow.
Every team needs a strong bench and the Bulls possibly had the best last season.
They may not have any former stars or guys who are going to win the sixth man of the year award but they are deep, talented and they give it their all.
C.J. Watson can either fill in for Derrick Rose or he can slide in next to him and allow Rose to play off the ball.
Kyle Korver might be the next three-point shooter on a Bulls championship team just like John Paxson and Steve Kerr before him.
Ronnie Brewer might be the first option to start at SG, but if he can stay on the bench, it makes this team even better. Taj Gibson could be a starter on many teams in the league and many fans think he should be starting on this team as well.
Finally, Omer Asik might be raw but his size and energy are fantastic to have as a backup center and fourth big man.
I'm not sure if all five of these guys will still be on the team once the season starts or if they will all still be coming off the bench but I know Gar Foreman will find Coach Thibs some guys to allow him to stay 10 deep.
The Bulls only had two healthy starters all 82 games for them last season. Luol Deng and sadly Keith Bogans were the only two while Derrick Rose came close only missing one start.
However, Carlos Boozer only played in 59 games while center Joakim Noah only played in 48.
Imagine how effective the bench mob would be if they weren't filling in for the starters. Boozer has had some injury problems in the past while Noah has been plagued the past two seasons, missing a combined 52 games.
Now imagine how good this team could be if they had Noah & Boozer each start 70-plus games? They might have home-court locked up in early March.
A bigger concern is the health of Rose.
Even though he has only missed six games during his three-year career, his style of play leads to him taking a lot of contact and hard hits. The team has been able to survive through injuries to others but losing your MVP is probably too much for this team to bare.
Hopefully as Rose's game continues to evolve, we will see him taking a few less shots and maybe next time Dwight Howard decides to crash into him a big body, the Bulls will make him think twice about doing it again.
Carlos Boozer has been a 20-point and 10-rebound player. For his career he is averaging 17.3 points and 10.1 rebounds so his averages last year of 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds are pretty much par for the course.
However his playoff numbers are a completely different story.
During his past playoff appearances with Utah, he was nearly averaging 13 rebounds per game while still scoring 20. Last season for the Bulls, in 16 games he averaged 12.6 points and 9.7 rebounds which caused the outcry for Taj Gibson to start.
The biggest problem for Boozer in the playoffs may have been the lack of playing time alongside center Joakim Noah.They both missed a lot of time and never seemed to be completely healthy at the same time.
If the Bulls are going to dominate the East they need Boozer to play as well alongside Noah as he does along Kurt Thomas, Gibson and Omer Asik.
Keith Bogans started all 82 games for the Chicago Bulls at shooting guard during the 2010-2011 season.
He averaged 4.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 0.5 steals per game. Now he didn't really play starter minutes, only averaging under 18 minutes per game, but he was the starter nonetheless.
Most games would go by with Bogans playing the first six minutes or so then being replaced by Ronnie Brewer for the next 10 minutes or so.
When the second quarter would start, both Brewer and Kyle Korver would be in the game so who was playing shooting guard and who played small forward wasn't obvious.
Then close to halftime Luol Deng would return, allowing Korver to play SG and then the cycle would start all over after halftime.
Combined, Bogans, Brewer and Korver would make the perfect shooting guard but as a rotation, not so much.
The Bulls have to find someone to play alongside Derrick Rose in the backcourt who can shoot, play defense and at times create his own shot. It might not be possible to find someone they can afford that can do all those things but they should be able to find someone not so one dimensional as the three guys they had last year.
Some potential free agents are Vince Carter, Jason Richardson, Rip Hamilton, Jamal Crawford, Anthony Parker, JR Smith (once he comes back from China in March) and Michael Redd.
Tom Thibodeau is a workaholic.
He watches film endlessly. He stands throughout the entire game pacing back and forth and last season his hard work paid off. He won the Coach of the Year award in his first season as a head coach and led his team to the best record in the league.
Thibodeau is a smart guy and after time might rub people the wrong way much like former Bulls coach Scott Skiles did.
However the Bulls players have to know and believe in him much as Derrick Rose has.
I am not sure if Thibs is the guy to lead this team to a championship, but I don't know he isn't yet and until we know he isn't they have to trust and believe in him.
Like anyone, he made some rookie mistakes.
Thibs like any rookie coach was learning on the job and looked what he accomplished. He will continue to improve, learn and get better and he just might be alongside Rose when the Bulls hoist trophy number seven.
Before everyone goes crazy, relax and let me explain. I don't expect Luol Deng to become one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history or win all the defense honors that Scottie Pippen did during his career.
However Deng has the talent and ability to be what Pippen was to Michael Jordan, to Derrick Rose.
And no I am not comparing Rose to Jordan because that is just unfair to Rose. All I am saying is Rose is the superstar and every superstar needs a sidekick, someone to carry the load if he can't. Deng, not Carlos Boozer or Joakim Noah, needs to be that guy.
Last season, Deng finally became the player we thought he could be. Maybe not all the time but most of the time he was what we thought he was going to be when the Bulls signed him to that massive contract extension.
He can fill up the stat sheet with points, rebounds, assists, steals and can sometimes can carry the scoring load as well.
This season was only the second time in his seven-year career that he started and played in all 82 games and going forward that is what he needs to do.
He can maybe miss a start here or there but the Chicago Bulls need Deng to be focused and playing well alongside Rose most nights if they ever think they can win a title with this group.
Derrick Rose has had an amazing first three years in the league. He has lead the Bulls to the playoffs all three years and has a MVP and Rookie of the Year awards to put on his mantle.
Over these three years, he has also improved something every year. His rookie season he averaged 16.8 points, 6.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds while shooting 22.2 percent from beyond the arc.
During last season, which he won the MVP, he had risen those averages to 25 points, 7.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds and improved his three point percentage to 33.2. The best part about Rose is he is only going to be 23 years old when the season kicks off.
Rose has all the talent in the world and the work ethic but now he needs to work on his overall game and be more efficient and play better defense.
I have little doubt that when we see him take the court at the United Center again that he will be even better then what we say last year