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Season Preview: 2012-13 Bulls Face Tons Of Uncertainty

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Oct 31, 2012 6:00PM

chicago-bulls.jpg The Bulls open the 2012-13 season tonight against the Sacramento Kings at the United Center and the anticipation is very different from last year's lockout-shortened Christmas debut.

In each of coach Tom Thibodeau's first two seasons, the Bulls led the NBA in wins thanks to a defense-oriented, team-first mentality that extended from star Derrick Rose all the way down to human victory cigar Brian Scalabrine. While the 2010-2011 team exceeded all expectations and before falling to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, they made a loud announcement of their arrival. Last season proved it was no fluke as they claimed the number one seed in the East, before the wheels came off in the opening round of the playoffs. Derrick Rose tore his ACL in the first game of the series and the Bulls were eliminated by the Philadelphia 76ers after a 50-16 lockout shortened regular season.

During the off-season, Rose's injury plus changes to salary cap rules in the new collective bargaining agreement meant wholesale changes to the roster. While the starting five all return, most of the "Bench Mob" was jettisoned for financial reasons, and a new supporting cast takes their place.

While there is much turnover on the bench, the starting line-up has a familiar look. Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer return at small forward and power forward respectively, while Joakim Noah is once again the man in the middle. Rip Hamilton is still the Bulls starting shooting guard, while familiar face Kirk Hinrich returns to the Bulls' starting back court in place of Rose. The Bulls appear to be healthy, other than Rose, following a year in which only Boozer didn't miss significant action. Deng never did have his wrist operated on, but appears to be close to 100 percent anyway. Keeping Boozer, Noah and Hamilton will be critical to the Bulls success if they hope to hold down the fort and remain in the playoff hunt until Rose comes back. Once he does, the Bulls will have additional flexibility with a potential Rose and Hinrich backcourt depending on Hamilton's play and durability.

Starting Five:
Joakim Noah - C
Carlos Boozer - PF
Luol Deng - SF
Rip Hamilton - SG
Kirk Hinrich - PG

Omer Asik - C
C.J. Watson - PG
Ronnie Brewer - SG
Kyle Korver - SF
John Lucas III - PG
Brian Scalabrine - PF

Kirk Hinrich - SG
Nazr Mohammed - C
Marco Belinelli - SG
Vladimir Radmanovic - SF
Nate Robinson - PG
Marquis Teague - PG

Returning Bench Players:
Jimmy Butler - SF
Taj Gibson - PF

While the Bulls had every intention of matching offers for restricted free agent Omer Asik, the Houston Rockets' offer was structured in such a way that the Bulls just couldn't do so. They declined options on a number of wing players, like C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer, and traded Kyle Korver, as they had to cut payroll to compensate for Rose's bigger paycheck and tighter salary cap rules. Even the fan favorite Brian Scalabrine is gone. From last season's "Bench Mob" only Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler return.

The biggest immediate concern is clearly Derrick Rose, as he continues to rehab from his devastating injury. While he is expected to return sometime during the season and his rehab has been going as well as possible, there remains no timetable yet. To take his place, the Bulls brought back a familiar face by re-signing former team captain Kirk Hinrich. A combo guard whose style should mesh well with Thibodeau's system, Hinrich's return was a popular move with fans. Also joining the Bulls is Chicago-native big man Nazr Mohammed, who is well traveled during his 15 year NBA career. The Bulls signed three point specialist Vladimir Radmanovic, Marco Belinelli, and Nate Robinson to replace Korver, Brewer and Watson. Rounding out the roster is 2012 draft pick point guard Marcus Teague.

It's too soon to tell whether this new roster can play the same collective basketball that we've come to expect from Thibodeau's teams, and we will certainly expect some ups and downs as the new additions settle into their roles and learn Thibodeau's system. Rose's return is another big variable when trying to figure out this team. While he seems to be making good progress, the type of injury typically takes a year to heal fully. And then there's the matter of shaking off the rust. Best case scenario has D-Rose re-joining the club after the All-Star break, but given his importance to the team and huge new contract we expect the Bulls to be extra careful with their franchise player.

Given all the uncertainty, it would be impossible to expect the Bulls to lead the league in wins. Of course, who expected them to do so with a revamped roster and rookie coach two seasons ago, or during an injury-plagued campaign last year? Still, we're realistic and think that matching last year's (lockout shortened season) 50 wins would be a huge accomplishment for this Bulls team. That would mean their losses double from 16 a year ago, to 32. They'll still make the playoffs, but this year is a transition year before they can again consider challenging the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.