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Reasons To Believe: 2014-15 Chicago Bulls Season Preview

By Chuck Sudo in News on Oct 29, 2014 3:30PM

Phil Jackson won six NBA Titles with the Bulls but, in my opinion, his best coaching job in Chicago happened during the 1993-94 season after Michael Jordan’s first retirement. That Bulls team posted a 55-27 record and featured players who would later be integral players in the second three-peat: Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley, Bill Wennington and Steve Kerr.

Tom Thibodeau is now regarded as one of the best coaches in the NBA and the 2013-14 Bulls may have been his best coaching performance. Bulls GM Gar Forman built that team around Derrick Rose, who was returning from a yearlong rehab of a knee injury, only to see Rose suffer another season-ending knee injury. The Bulls later traded Luol Deng, who shouted to anyone who would listen he would test free agency at the end of the season.

Thibodeau improvised and started running the offense around center Joakim Noah, who emerged as the best passing center in the NBA since Shaquille O’Neal. Noah became the team’s emotional center and his play on both sides of the court spurred the 2013-14 Bulls to a 48-34 record before their weaknesses were exposed in the playoffs by the Washington Wizards.

In the offseason the Bulls made valiant efforts to lure Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love to Chicago. Even though they failed, Forman and Bulls Vice President of Operations John Paxson still managed to strengthen the team with the addition of Pau Gasol via free agency and the signings of rookies Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic, while bidding farewell to Carlos Boozer via the amnesty clause was addition by subtraction.

With Rose returning and improved play from Noah and Sixth Man Award winner Taj Gibson, the 2014-15 Bulls may not vie for championship glory but they are built for a deep playoff run. That is, provided these things happen.

Rose Stays Healthy: This is obvious. With surgeries on both knees the past two years, only a fool would believe the former NBA MVP would return as the explosive point guard that captured the league's attention in his first three years. Rose looked like he was trying to find his footing in the preseason and playing for Team USA this summer. With new offensive weapons in Gasol, McDermott and Mirotic and Noah, Gibson, Mike Dunleavy and Jimmy Butler flourishing without him last season, Rose should not feel any pressure to score and can look for open teammates on the wings during drives to the basket. And if he suffers another injury, there's always backup Kirk Hinrich and facilitating the offense through Noah again.

Noah Stays Healthy: Noah was the catalyst for the Bulls' mid-to-late-season resurgence but he was battered and exhausted by the time the playoffs arrived. Noah has also been nursing a sore knee which he and the Bulls admitted will be an issue all season.

Thibodeau: Thibodeau brings the same intensity to a preseason game he does to a Game 7 playoff, which is arguably the one weak spot he has as a coach. Thibs simply hasn't shown he can ease off the throttle and give his veterans some rest. How he handles Rose, Noah, Gasol and other veterans during the season will show if he's able to make adjustments.

Let the Spaniards Play: Gasol is an upgrade over Boozer, on offense and certainly his underrated defensive play. Thibodeau isn't known for giving rookies serious minutes during the regular season but Mirotic, who has been waiting in the wings for years, is no ordinary rookie and has been seasoned playing in Europe for years. Mirotic can spot Gasol, Dunleavy and Butler and could be an key piece to a retooled Bench Mob.

The Bench Mob: Gibson said the reserves have played great against the starters in practice, which bodes well for the Bulls' depth and Thibodeau's ability to rest his starters. Hinrich can spot both Rose and Butler. Nazr Mohammed is back to give Noah a break during games. McDermott could fill the sharpshooter role missing from the bench in recent years and Aaron Brooks could be the Bulls annual scrap heap pickup who becomes a civic hero.

The Central Division is the division to watch this season and the Bulls are expected to challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers, with a returning LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, for dominance in the division. If the Bulls can jell quickly, the sky's the limit but this isn't their year...yet.

Prediction: 55-27 record. Lose to Cleveland in Eastern Conference Finals.