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Bulls Season Preview

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Nov 1, 2007 3:23PM

sports_bulls_logo.jpgThe Bulls opened their regular season last night in in New Jersey against the Nets -- with the same results as the last eleven times they've played the Meadowlands. But what does the 109-103 overtime loss mean for the rest of the season? Not too much; it's only one game.

There is a good deal of optimism heading into the season -- last year's team advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the Jordan era, their young core has another year of experience playing together, and some additions to the roster should improve the team. Could the Bulls even be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference this season? Chicagoist thinks they are, and we aren't alone. The team went 49-33 last year, and were it not for a loss to the Nets on the final night of the season, they would have been the second seed in the East. The roster doesn't have many changes from last year -- P.J. Brown retired during the offseason, but the additions of Joe Smith and rookie Joakim Noah provide added depth.

While Tyrus Thomas started at power forward in the opener, we suspect that Smith will soon supplant the youngster in the starting lineup. While Smith may not be the post scorer the Bulls had hoped to sign in the off-season, he brings a veteran leadership similar to P.J. Brown and he can score. Not that we wouldn't be surprised to see the highly regarded Thomas retake the starting job later in the season. Luol Deng, the center of trade rumors regarding Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, is poised for a breakout season at small forward. That's why the Bulls have said he's untouchable in any possible deal.

In the middle, Ben Wallace will once again set the tone on defense. And look for the return of his headband, which is no longer prohibited.

The backcourt of Hinrich and Gordon continues to mature. If Hinrich can improve his streaky shooting and Gordon show progress in his defensive game and inconsistent ball handling, they could rank as one of the best backcourts in the East. The Bulls bench is among the deepest in the NBA, with solid veterans like Andres Nocioni and Chris Duhon, as well as young studs like Thabo Sefelosha and Noah.

Last year, we predicted 55 wins. They won 49. We're going to go with 55 once again. The major issues to watch with the Bulls is the ongoing trade talk involving "Mamba" and the restricted free-agent status of Deng and Gordon. Both rejected five-year, $50 million contract extensions before the opener.

We think that they'll be the top seed in the Eastern Conference and make it to the NBA Finals. The Detroit Pistons are aging and fading. Cleveland did nothing to improve their team. Boston's addition of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will certainly make them better, but beyond their big three (rounded out by Paul Pierce) they have no bench, and Glenn "Doc" Rivers still coaches the team. The East is not that strong and the Bulls are poised to become the preeminent team in the conference. We still think the Bulls aren't ready to knock off the Spurs.