After having the best record in the league last year and making the Eastern Conference Finals, the next step for the Chicago Bulls is to get to the finals and win the organization's first championship since the Jordan days. Anything less will be considered a disappointment.
With the addition of shooting guard Rip Hamilton replacing Keith Bogans, some observers think that's enough to overcome the Miami Heat.
While the addition of Hamilton does make the Bulls a better team, is that enough to surpass a Heat team with two of the best players in the league in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, along with Chris Bosh, who actually played better than they both did in the playoffs last year?
If you are a casual fan or a homer, the answer is yes. But if you are a serious observer and know the game of basketball, that answer is not quite as clear.
You can't question that last year with Bogans on the court, it was like the Bulls were playing four against five. When you add in Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, both less than 100 percent in the playoffs, there can be an argument made that the Bulls did enough to surpass Miami with this move.
Hamilton fit seamlessly into the Bulls' offense in their exhibition game against the Indiana Pacers. It looked like he and Rose had played together for years instead of just shaking hands and introducing themselves to each other in the last week.
Hamilton not only knocked down the mid-range jumper as advertised, but he ran the break with Rose, and found the open man to the tune of six assists in just 30 minutes on the court. He also stayed on his man defensively—a must on a Tom Thibodeau-coached team.
If he's healthy, Noah can be the guy who was averaging about 15 points and 15 rebounds a game before he suffered his injury.
Last year he abandoned the "tornado" when he came back from his injury. Despite its unorthodox look, his jump shot was becoming a weapon for him. With that back in his repertoire, along with a hook shot he has added, he can make the Bulls a more difficult team to defend.
Boozer came to Chicago with expectations of a post-up game, but it seems he uses his post-up moves to create room for his jump shot. There was no evidence during the preseason that is back in his arsenal.
A return to that style would help the Bulls if they are to achieve their ultimate goal.
Luol Deng will still be Luol Deng. For those Deng lovers out there, he will never be an All-Star. He's a good player who disappears at times on the court. That's why my nickname for him is the "Invisible Man." Thibodeau loves him, but I think if anyone is expecting anything they haven't already seen from him, they have another thing coming.
The bench is a strong suit of the team, going at least 10 deep, but there is nobody coming off the pines who will be competing for the Sixth Man of the Year award anytime soon.
Kyle Korver gives you long-distance shooting. Ronnie Brewer adds solid defense, but not much on the offensive side, kind of the opposite of Korver.
CJ Watson backs up Rose, so unless the coach decides to play him more often with Rose, he's not going to put up big numbers. He adds offense, and had a big game last year when Rose sat out against Denver.
A few times he appeared selfish early in the season looking for his shot, but he seemed to become more team-oriented as the year wore on.
Taj Gibson gives you energy, defense, rebounding and a nice touch from about 15 feet in. Omer Asik gives you defense and rebounding in the middle.
The key for Chicago is Rose. How much better can the youngest MVP in league history get?
Just as in the previous seasons, he added another weapon this summer. He will be displaying a post-up game this year, to go along with his improved outside shooting. If he can continue to get better from the field, that will only open up more driving lanes for him, and nobody can stop the "Ultimate Driving Machine."
Well, nobody except for perhaps one guy, and that's where my concern comes in.
LeBron James did slow Rose down during the Eastern Conference Finals last year. Whether that was Rose being worn out from having to shoulder the burden of the offense for the Bulls could be debated.
Rose was tired. There was no question about that, but in James, the Heat have a player who is much bigger and stronger than Rose, and just about as quick. He didn't cover him the whole game, but when he took over late in games, Rose seemed to be baffled how to counter him.
Just as Chicago plays good defense, so does Miami, and not enough people give them credit for it or realize it. Wade is also a good defensive player, and Bosh isn't bad either, though he's a bit overrated defensively.
With the addition of Shane Battier in the offseason, the Heat added another shutdown defender, and a guy who can pop a three-pointer when needed.
The regular season does not matter. The Bulls and Heat will both be there.
Have the Bulls done enough to overcome their advantage? They still don't have a player who can create off the dribble other than Rose.
With LeBron and Wade, they have two of the three best players on the court when playing Chicago. Because of them, Bosh is also a much better player.
For those doubters who think playing together for another year isn't going to help them, you are wrong!
The Knicks have also gotten better, adding Tyson Chandler to man the post and Baron Davis—whenever he is healthy—playing the point. They are not a team you want to play in the playoffs.
The Pacers are also better this year, but they don't have that "star" player that can carry a team, so they are not a concern, and Boston is starting to receive their social security checks.
If the Bulls come out of the East, I think they will be having a parade in Chicago come June, but Oklahoma City would be a formidable opponent if they win the West.
With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, along with Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins manning the paint, they won't be a team anybody can walk over. The best advantage against them is their youth, and the tendency for Westbrook to hog the ball and keep it out of Durant's hands.
I would take the Bulls over them, probably in a six-game series, but I don't think that is going to happen.
For once I want to be wrong, but I think Miami will be celebrating come June after winning the title.
Please tell me I'm crazy. Please?
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