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Bulls 2011-2012 Season Preview

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Dec 23, 2011 5:30PM

Following a lengthy lockout that cost the NBA the first two months of its season, the league finally ramps up for an abbreviated 66-game season that tips off on Christmas Day. The Bulls open against the Los Angeles Lakers in one of the day's marquee games. Bulls fans have reason to be excited for this season, as the team has a chance to build upon its surprising success of last year.

After missing out on the highest profile free agents and despite playing under a new, first-time head coach, the Bulls managed a league-best 62-20 record and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals before their season ended at the hands of the Miami Heat — the team that landed the top three free agents. At the regular season's conclusion, the Bulls collected a ton of hardware, with GM Gar Forman sharing the Executive of the Year award with the Heat's Pat Riley, while head coach Tom Thibodeau won Coach of the Year and point guard Derrick Rose won the MVP. But postseason awards and the best record mean little to the Bulls, who want to win a title and have every right to expect they have a shot in 2012. This team expects to build on last year's 62-win campaign and hopes to reach the NBA Finals. Anything less than that would be a failure in the eyes of Rose and his teammates.

Heading into the shortened season with a brief training camp and just two exhibition games puts the Bulls ahead of others from the get go. After years of heavy roster churn as Forman and John Paxson tried to free up salary cap space to chase last year's free agents, their Plan B resulted in their building a team a cohesive team, and they have nearly everybody returning. Backup center Kurt Thomas decided to sign with the Portland Trail Blazers and the team didn't pick up the option on Keith Bogans, who started all 82 games at shooting guard, after signing Rip Hamilton to a contract last week. The only addition beside Hamilton is rookie Jimmy Butler, drafted out of Marquette last spring. That chemistry and roster stability will give the Bulls a real leg up, especially early on.

Key Departures:
Kurt Thomas - C
Keith Bogans - SG

Key Additions:
Rip Hamilton - SG
Jimmy Butler - SF

Projected Starting Line-up:
Derrick Rose - PG
Rip Hamilton - SG
Joakim Noah - C
Luol Deng - SF
Carlos Boozer - PF

With these five starting, the Bulls have one of the strongest first teams in the league. While the Bulls lose some defensive tenacity without Bogans, they gain another scoring option in Hamilton that should help free up Rose and take some of the scoring burden off his shoulders. Boozer is supposedly in his best shape in a long time, while Noah and Deng look to build upon successes from last year. The biggest risk factor for the Bulls is injuries, as both Boozer and Noah missed significant portions of last year to a variety of ailments.

However, the team's league-best record in spite of having starters in street clothes for extended periods is a testament to how deep the "bench mob" is. Taj Gibson would start at power forward for many teams, at times playing better than Boozer last season. While Thomas stepped in capably in Noah's absence last year, rookie Omer Asik came on strong late in the year and will be Noah's back-up at center. Guards C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer will continue to split minutes behind Rose and Rip. And while seemingly lost to the Italian league, fan favorite Brian Scalabrine returns as more mascot and coach than actual player. But an important component to the roster nonetheless.

Having addressed their one weakness by signing Rip Hamilton, there is no reason to think the Bulls won't at least equal last season's efforts. This team could still win 50 games despite the 66-game regular season, and we expect a rematch against the Miami Heat in June. Will the Bulls have enough to move past LeBron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh this time?