The Chicago Bulls were remarkably good last year in spite of Derrick Rose being in and out of the lineup all year long. How did they do it (and what strengths remain going forward)?
While Derrick Rose was in and out of the lineup all of last season, what kept the Bulls chugging towards their gaudy regular-season record was their size. Joakim Noah is one of the best centers in the league, outlandish yet simultaneously unheralded for his skills on offense and versatility on defense: Noah has the athleticism to effectively protect the basket while also challenging guards who get close. Carlos Boozer is a consistent disappointment as a max-contract free agent acquisition, but remains an above-average offensive post forward who really contributes on the glass. This may be the last year before Taj Gibson wrestles a starting spot (either from Booz or through signing with another team in the offseason) as he's made a claim to be one of the best defensive bigs in the NBA. You'll notice I said this about Asik too, but that's a clue as to why the Bulls were so good. With Asik gone the Bulls lose a luxury, but with those three remaining (hopefully healthy, they were immaculately so last season) it's still a very formidable group.
With that said, there's a catch. The Bulls decided to go into cost cutting mode this offseason.
Three of the team's four most critical bench pieces from the last two incredible seasons are gone. Watson is a Brooklyn Net, and Asik is a Rocket. Gibson is still there -- he's eligible for an extension before the season begins; if he doesn't get one, he'll be a restricted free agent on July 1, 2013. Korver was traded to the Hawks for cash. Ronnie Brewer might count in this tally if he hadn't been called on to start in Rip Hamilton's absence much of last season: he's joined the Knicks. Lucas III is now with the Raptors.
Which raises a natural question: what does Rose think of this?
Big-picture, you have to wonder what Rose is thinking right now. He's intensely loyal and generally will roll with the punches no matter who his teammates end up being, but if I were him, I'd be upset. As soon as he suffered his injury, the Bulls immediately went into cost-cutting mode, even though they have banked a decade of league-best profits that could be used to absorb any luxury-tax hits. I think Rose has every reason to be upset at the Bulls' direction. Whether he expressed that disappointment remains to be seen.
It sure seems like the Bulls are punting till next year - or at the very least treating this like a "bridge year." Not an easy sell to the fans. Still, with Thibs running the show and Rose expected back at some point, you wouldn't really want to face this team in the early rounds of the playoffs.