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ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Chicago Bulls

Sep 23, 2013, 9:17 AM EDT

Last season: The Bulls went 45-37, putting together an impressive regular season that included the victory that snapped the Heat’s 27-win streak. Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler each got Defensive Player of the Year votes as Tom Thibodeau continuously reinforces a culture in Chicago.

In the playoffs, the hard-nosed Bulls beat the more-talented Nets in a seven-game first-round series. As Chicago injuries took a toll, Nate Robinson emerged as quite the spark. Chicago ended the talk of Miami going undefeated throughout the playoffs, but otherwise, the Bulls ran out of gas in a 4-1 loss in the second round.

Anything else from the Bulls’ season worth mentioning? Any other key storylines? It seems like I’m missing something or someone, but I just checked all the Bulls’ 2012-13 box scores and every name is accounted for in the preview. I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

Signature highlight from last season:

No. 2: Evidence that the Bulls had a mental edge over the Nets in their playoff matchup:

Key player changes: The Bulls signed Mike Dunleavy and drafted Tony Snell and Erik Murphy. Those players likely won’t make major impacts, but they could turn into glue guys, especially considering how much the Bulls need shooting.

Nate Robison left as a free agent, and though he could be a headache, he really brought an element the Bulls didn’t have. They might be better without him, but they’ll definitely be less fun. Marco Belininelli also left, and Richard Hamilton was waived.

Keys to the Bulls’ season:

1) How good is Derrick Rose? Rose took his time returning, but ACL tears are no joke. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has completely ruined expectations for how long it should take a professional athlete to return to full health. Despite incredible medical advancements, it’s still possible Rose has lost some explosiveness.

Rose is almost certainly good. The question is just how good.

2) Will Gar Forman keep the team together? Luol Deng has an expiring contract and could be major trade bait. Carlos Boozer, now so overrated he’s underrated, is overpaid for the next two seasons, so Chicago might want to dump him. Those moves could arguably make the Bulls better in the long-term. But both players are key this season.

3) Can Tom Thibodeau hold back just a little? Need to win one game, and there might not be a better coach than Tom Thibodeau. But need to have the most successful season, and Thibodeau slips in the rankings. He’s relentless, which makes his teams fun to watch (see below), but it also wears on his his players. The Bulls are capable of making a deep playoff run, but not if all their players are fatigued and injured.

There’s no guarantee Thibodeau can instill toughness while still limiting minutes and allowing slightly reduced intensity on certain nights. But if he can, the Bulls would be better for it.

Why you should watch the Bulls: They play hard every game, and that often leads to a couple fun plays. Plus, if you enjoy defense, the Bulls play it as well as any team in the league. Joakim Noah is relentless on that end, a real throwback.

Offensively, the Bulls could be rough last season, but Derrick Rose should solve that. He’s the type of singular talent who really transforms the entire scheme. Chicago’s offense might not become elite overnight, but it will at least be passable while the defense excels.

Prediction: 55-27. If healthy, the Bulls should win a playoff series or two. With the right breaks, that could be three or maybe even four. Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah form a complete, talented and balanced lineup. But the Bulls’ bench has fallen off in recent years, which could prove costly (though I really like Taj Gibson). Unless Tom Thibodeau changes his hard-charging ways, it’s unlikely Chicago’s starting lineup holds all season.

Of course, none of this matters unless Derrick Rose looks like the player who won MVP. With that Rose, the Bulls’ ceiling is a championship. With a lesser version, every playoff series will be a scrap, and it’s tough to win many while going through that each round.

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