It's Championship Or Bust For the 2013-14 Chicago Bulls

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Oct 28, 2013 6:15PM

When the Bulls started the 2012-13 season they knew Derrick Rose was unavailable as he recovered from a torn ACL suffered in the previous year's playoff opener. Rose was expected to return during the second half of the season remained off the court even after he was cleared to play. The Bulls finished the season 45-37, earned the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and their leader remained on the bench as a spectator. Up until the Miami Heat knocked the Bulls from the postseason, fans held out hope for a Rose appearance that never came.

Rose finally returned to action during this preseason and his play to date has silenced most of his critics. The Bulls were a perfect 8-0 in the preseason and Rose looked very much like his old self—but with a better three point shot and supposed five-inch gain on his vertical leap. Plugging Rose back into coach Tom Thibodeau's system with most of last year's team returning could mean big things for the 2013-14 Bulls.

Departures:
Nate Robinson - PG
Marco Belinelli - SG
Richard Hamilton - SG

Additions:
Mike Dunleavy - SG
Tony Snell - SF
Erik Murphy - PF

Starting Five:
Derrick Rose - PG
Jimmy Butler - SG
Joakim Noah - C
Carlos Boozer - PF
Luol Deng - SF

Key Reserves:
Taj Gibson - PF
Kirk Hinrich - PG
Mike Dunleavy - SG
Nazr Mohammed - C

As has been the case the last couple seasons, the Bulls maintained stability within the ranks of their top players while experiencing some turnover within the "Bench Mob." Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli both played well enough with the Bulls last year to earn bigger paydays elsewhere. Robinson would've been expendable anyway with the return of Rose and Kirk Hinrich's shift to a bench role plus the presence of second year point guard Marquis Teague. Belinelli played well down the stretch and could have remained an asset, but his role was filled by the addition of Mike Dunleavy, who brings Belinelli's outside shooting touch with better defense and other skills.

The Bulls also parted ways with aging shooting guard Rip Hamilton who spent most of his two seasons injured. With Jimmy Butler's improved play last year, the Bulls chose to promote from within and draft more shooters to replenish the bench by grabbing Tony Snell and Erik Murphy in last June's draft.

With Rose back to his pre-injury form, there is the expectation that the Bulls will rejoin the ranks of the league's elite. This team led the league in wins in 2010-11 and 2011-12 and remain the greatest threat to de-throne the Miami Heat. Rose will again join forces with Butler, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, and Luol Deng in the starting line-up. Anchoring the bench yet again is Taj Gibson, along with Hinrich. Dunleavy joined the Bulls as a free agent and provides the Bulls with a three point shooter who can play the two and three spots. Nazr Mohammed returns as the backup center. The rest of the bench is younger guys who have yet to prove themselves. There's hope Teague can make progress similar to Butler's sophomore campaign. First round draft pick Tony Snell has shown flashes of potential during the preseason.

The Bulls starting five is as good as any in the NBA. In addition to former MVP Rose, Deng and Noah were both All-Stars last year and Boozer very well could've been. Butler has proven to be a tenacious defender whose offensive game has improved. The Bulls bench has a couple players who would be starting for many teams yet understand their roles within Thibodau's system.

The biggest threat to the Bulls remains the team's health. Rose's knee is the biggest question mark. Also, did the year off allow the bumps and bruises that cost him 27 games in '11-'12 fully heal? Noah and Hinrich both appear ready to go for the opener but missed time during the preseason and have histories of missing time due to injuries. Fortunately, Deng appears to have fully recovered from the wrist injury he's been playing through for two years. If the Bulls can remain healthy, then anything less than the second seed in the East would be disappointing. And the Bulls are perhaps the best suited in all of the NBA to take down the Miami Heat in June. Even without Rose, the Bulls played Miami tough in last year's playoffs. With the Bulls hungrier and knowing perhaps this is the best shot they'll have to win it all (Deng becomes a free agent next summer), a seventh NBA championship for the Bulls might be a real possibility.