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Bulls Season Preview

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Nov 2, 2005 6:40PM

Tonight, the Bulls open their 2005-2006 campaign, and for the first time since MJ left town there are fan expectations that the season will end with a playoff run. Last season, the young Bulls surprised many when they finished the season 47-35 -- especially after an 0-9 start. While they exited the playoffs in the first round, there was a great deal of hope that they'd build upon that and become a contender in the Eastern Conference. When talking immediately after last season, Bulls GM John Paxon gave every indication that he intended to bring back the team pretty much in tact. Because nearly every player was either already under contract or a restricted free agent, it seemed as if Paxon would have little problem doing so.

However, over the summer the Eddy Curry situation changed everything. When Curry continued to refuse Bulls requests for a DNA test to rule out a serious heart condition, the Bulls had little choice but to trade him. Less than a month before the start of the season, the Bulls sent Curry and forward Antonio Davis to the Knicks in return for Michael Sweetney and Tim Thomas. The loss of their leading scorer from last year as well as a tough inside presence, has forced the team to form a new identity. Additionally, the trade opened up two spots in the starting line-up on a team where everybody seemed to have a nicely defined roll.

Off-Season Moves

- Malik Allen - F
- Michael Sweetney - F
- Tim Thomas - F
- Darius Songaila - F
- Eddie Basden - G
- Eddy Curry - C
- Antonio Davis - F
- Adrian Griffin - G/F

Throughout the preseason, the Bulls struggled -- finishing the exhibition season 3-5. Nearly every player missed time nursing injuries, forcing coach Scott Skiles to use countless lineups. In addition, he had to determine who'll fill the two starting positions vacated by Curry and Davis. The team is relatively healthy now, with even Chris Duhon expected back from his scary fall. The starting line-up is likely to change in the coming weeks as Skiles tries to find that chemistry that his team had last season. However, the lineup looks like this for now:

The expected starting line-up:
Kirk Heinrich - G
Chris Duhon - G
Andres Nocioni - F
Darius Songaila - F
Tyson Chandler - C

With Curry's departure, Chandler moved from the bench into the starting line-up. Free agent Songaila replaces Davis at power forward. The wing player remain the same as most of last year with Heinrich, Duhon and Deng.

The key bench players figure to be Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Othella Harrington, Michael Sweetney, and Tim Thomas. Gordon will again be expected to give the Bulls a scoring punch off the bench, but who'll step up and fill Chandler's defensive roll off the bench?

So how will the Bulls do this season? Most "experts" see the Bulls falling back into the pack in the Eastern Conference. Of course, how many of them predicted the Bulls to make the playoffs last years -- let alone finish with the 3rd best record in the conference? None of 'em! However, even the Trib's Rick Morrisey and Sam Smith question whether they can make the playoffs this year -- and Smith was one of the few who believed they could last year.

Chicagoist just doesn't get the pessimism surrounding the Bulls. They were a young team last year and guys like Deng, Duhon, Gordon and Nocioni will be better in their second seasons. We think Curry is overrated (if he was so good, why did he usually sit in the 4th quarter?) and that Thomas and Sweetney will balance out his loss. We think that the Bulls will again start slowly this season as they try to mesh the new faces and new roles. Not an 0-9 start, but we won't be too concerned if they finish November at 4-9, especially considering the annual "circus trip." But they'll come together again under Skiles' leadership.

True, most teams in the Central Division should be improved this year. Detroit made the NBA Finals last year and returns their entire starting line-up. But Larry Brown's now coaching the Knicks. Can Flip Saunders handle this team? We're not so sure. The Cavs finally gave LeBron a sidekick in Larry Huges, so they'll make the playoffs this year. Indiana is back to full strength after losing Ron Artest all last season because of that fight and the ensuing suspension. So the Central will be tough -- but it just might have 4 of the top 6 team in the East. We still see the Bulls winning 45 games this year and making the playoffs.