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Chicago Bulls 2014-15 Preview - Can Derrick Rose Bounce Back?

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Will Derrick Rose return to All-Star form and lead the Bulls back to prominence?

Jonathan Daniel

After three consecutive years without their franchise player healthy enough to make a deep playoff run, the Chicago Bulls have reloaded for the 2014-15 season and are hopeful that this is the year they can finally get over the hump. Everyone is excited to see how the Bulls respond this season, but all eyes will be on the 2010-11 NBA MVP.

Can Derrick Rose bounce back, reintroduce himself to star status and elevate the Bulls to new heights?

Blog a Bull - 2014-15 Chicago Bulls Preview - SBNation.com

Tom Thibodeau's defense, Noah's progression into an All-NBA player, the addition of Gasol and McDermott, it won't matter much if Rose can't come back to be the player he was.


What will be key for this season is that Rose gets there by the time the playoffs roll around. The 10 games he played last season were rough, and he looked to be a shell of himself at times during the World Championships. Not just the 2 major non-contact knee injuries, but simply the time he's missed since his MVP year means that it may still take some time for Rose to be himself again.

But as we've seen in years prior, the regular season is merely prelude. So even if there's sloppy play, poor shooting, and - yes - a minor injury here and there, as long as Rose is back near his established level by the time the playoffs begin, the Bulls should be primed to make a run. The season should be an exciting, if nerve-racking, journey of seeing Rose make progress and all the improvements the team's made providing help along the way.

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2013-14 IN REVIEW
48-34
2nd in Central Division - 4th in Eastern Conference
Lost to WAS (4-1) - Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

When the 2013-14 season began, the Chicago Bulls planned on resurrecting their status as Eastern Conference contenders behind the return of their superstar, Derrick Rose, who missed the entire previous year on account of a torn ACL. Rose left Chicago fans giddy and warm in the chest after showing multiple brilliant flashes of his former self in preseason play, highlighted by a 32-point outing against Indiana, but the 2010-11 MVP's return wouldn't last long. After struggling through 10 games, where Rose averaged a career-low 15.9 points per game on an abysmal 35% shooting clip, he tore his meniscus and was once again ruled out for the remainder of the season.

However, it is going to take a lot more than that to destroy the heart of the Chicago Bulls. For the second consecutive season, Tom Thibodeau was forced to operate without the guy his entire offense was built around, but this isn't a group of competitors that are just going to lay down in the midst of adversity. "A Tom Thibodeau team is never desperate."

With more responsibility than ever, Joakim Noah absolutely rose (no pun intended) to the challenge to lead the fight. In fact, he played his best basketball to date. Not only did Noah post career-highs in scoring (12.6 PPG), rebounding (11.3 RPG), assists (5.4 APG) and steals (1.2 SPG), he earned his second straight NBA All-Star appearance, won the league's Defensive Player of the Year award and was named to the All-NBA First Team. On top of all of that, a large portion of Chicago's offense was reconstructed to run through Noah and his ability to make plays with the ball, particularly from the high-post. Noah may not be a go-to scorer, but he is absolutely one of the best two-way bigs that the NBA has to offer and one of the top facilitators the center position has ever witnessed.

Noah brings a lot to the floor, but he can't set the table all by himself. Following Rose's diagnosis, Kirk Hinrich reassumed the starting point guard role and did what he does best, as the 6'4" combo guard pressured the opposition with his scrappy defensive nature. The real gift at the one-spot came in December, however, when the Bulls were able to sign D.J. Augustin to give him a chance to reestablish himself. He did just that. After disappointing tenures in Indiana and Toronto, Augustin played 30 minutes per game off of the Bulls bench and was outstanding all year long as he put up 15 points and five assists per contest. Augustin is no Rose, but he provided a much-needed spark to Chicago's offense and even lead the team in scoring.

Part of the reason Augustin lead the team in scoring was the January 7 deal that sent Luol Deng, after 10 years with the Bulls, to Cleveland in return for Andrew Bynum, the right to swap 2015 first round picks with Cleveland, an additional future first round pick and two future second round picks. Bynum would be waived immediately as nothing more or less than a salary dump, which lead to Chicago only having to pay half of his $12.25 million 2013-14 contract. Nobody enjoyed watching Deng move on, but it was Chicago's best bet to acquire some financial flexibility going forward while receiving assets in return for the two-time All-Star before he exercised unrestricted free agency.

Carlos Boozer was initially looked at to step up and produce at a higher level in Rose's absence, especially after Deng was dealt, but we were quickly forced to accept the realities of his regression. Boozer not only put together his worst season as a Chicago Bull, his production was as low as it had been since his rookie year with Cleveland in 2002-03. Boozer often stagnated the offense and brought the team down defensively seemingly at all times, and saw his role diminish as the season progressed as a result.

On the bright side, Taj Gibson played his best basketball as a pro and put up career-highs in minutes played (28.7 MPG), scoring (13.0 PPG) and blocks (1.4 BPG) while significantly improving his touch from outside the paint. Gibson become more reliable in pick n' pop situations and even raised his free throw percentage to over 75% after shooting an accumulative 65.5% through the first four years of his career. Jamal Crawford won the Sixth Man of the Year award, but Gibson recieved 49 first place votes and deservingly finished as the runner-up.

Behind the inspiring play of Noah and coach Thibodeau's thoroughly tough-minded defensive principles, the Bulls were able to grind through the season to earn a 48-34 record as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, they simply didn't have enough firepower to get over the hump, as they fell to Washington in just five games behind remarkable series performances from Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza and Nene. The Bulls were, as usual, arguably the best defensive team in the NBA throughout the season but playoff time is where Derrick Rose's impact truly sets in. Without that kind of offensive option present, it's extremely difficult to advance and Chicago found that out the hard way in their third straight postseason without their top gun.

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SUMMER OF 2014

Key Additions - Pau Gasol, Aaron Brooks, Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic
Key Losses
- Carlos Boozer, D.J. Augustin

Regardless of what transpires in terms of Derrick Rose's future, the Bulls went out and got better this summer. The free agent signing of Pau Gasol brings Chicago a brand new dynamic on the offensive end of the floor, as the seven foot Spaniard adds a post presence and the best pick n' roll/pop outlet the Bulls have had in a long time. His championship experience won't hurt, either.

Chicago's sporadically lengthy offensive lapses should be minimized this coming season, thanks to Gasol and the additions of a couple of rookies that can fill it up. In the 2014 NBA Draft, the Bulls traded the 16th and 19th picks to Denver in return for number 11, where they took the NCAA's 2013-14 scoring leader Doug McDermott (26.7 PPG). "Dougie McBuckets" adds a lot to the team's perimeter attack as he is a lethal marksman from just about anywhere on the floor and he gave us a reassuring preview in the Orlando Summer League, where he averaged 18 points per game.

On top of that, 2011 draftee Nikola Mirotic is finally making his way over to the NBA. The Bulls acquired his rights three years ago, but word on the street is that he was well worth the wait. Some have gone as far as to say he is the best player to come out of Europe in recent years. Only time will tell, but if Mirotic is anywhere near as good as some of the scouting reports suggest, the Bulls will have added a serious weapon to their already elite frontcourt.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C - Joakim Noah / Nazr Mohammed / Cameron Bairstow
PF - Pau Gasol / Taj Gibson / Nikola Mirotic
SF - Mike Dunleavy Jr. / Doug McDermott
SG - Jimmy Butler / Kirk Hinrich / Tony Snell
PG - Derrick Rose / Aaron Brooks / E'Twaun Moore

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X-FACTOR - Derrick Rose
There is no secret here. The number one key to Chicago advancing to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1998 is the health of Derrick Rose. As we've already eluded to, the Bulls have been forced to attempt their last three postseason runs with their best player on the sidelines in a suit. If Rose can bounce back and reestablish himself as an All-Star ballplayer, this team is going to be scary, but the only way this group can ever maximize their potential is if Derrick Rose is still Derrick Rose.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2014-15
If you're a Chicago Bulls fan, you've got to be excited about the chance to regain form as a legitimate contender. The general consensus throughout the basketball world is that the Bulls pose the biggest threat to LeBron James and his Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference crown. Even if Rose isn't quite himself, the Bulls certainly improved their roster over the summer. The additions of Pau Gasol, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic significantly upgrades their frontcourt rotation and arsenal of weaponry to complement their elite defensive prowess.

With or without Rose at 100%, the 2014-15 Bulls are going to be one heck of a team that may very well have the best chance of keeping Cleveland out of the Finals. There are no guarantees and anything can happen but barring another catastrophic injury, it is probably safe to peg the Bulls as a top two team in the East.

PREDICTED STANDINGS
2nd - Central Division
2nd - Eastern Conference

Keep your eyes peeled for the Denver Nuggets team preview, coming later today.