The NBA Blogosphere wasn't going to let something trivial, like 'the season possibly not happening', to keep from the yearly blogger tradition of season previews. This is my entry for the Bulls, look for posted links of other teams and divisions as this extended offseason rolls along.
Last Year's Record: 62-20
Key Free Agents: Kurt Thomas, Brian Scalabrine, Keith Bogans (unguaranteed), so...N/A
Team Needs: shooting guard
1. What are your team's biggest needs this offseason?
There's a large, gaping hole in the Bulls starting lineup. Every night it was always initially bandaged by Keith Bogans, then supplemented by a combination of Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, and CJ Watson, but the shooting guard position was never completely filled all season. It remains the most obvious and potentially easily-improved position in what is a fairly-stacked roster.
What the Bulls need from that position is a single player of increased quality, as opposed to the sheer quantity they threw at the problem last season. While over the course of a season the differing skills of their various SGs often were useful enough, a single player with a combination if ballhandling, outside shooting, and defensive ability could work wonders.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths & weaknesses? (so far)
The Bulls were the most hard-working, dedicted team in the league, and it paid off in them posessing its best defense. The Bulls owned two elite-level defenders in Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, impressive depth (especially in the front court), and a naturally coachable roster overall, but it was the arrival of rookie head coach Tom Thibodeau that set the tone early and often that defense was going to be the key in Chicago. Coach Thibs employed an active and swarming scheme that forced opponents into a struggle for not only every game, but every single posession.
But beyond reigning MVP Derrick Rose, the Bulls were merely an average offensive team. Credit goes to Thibodeau for encouraging his players to be more of 3-point threats, but while Rose and Deng showed improvement (especially when it came to volume), there is still not enough shooting outside of Kyle Korver to adequately punish defenses for collapsing on Rose. Another flaw with the team's offense was the lack of other playmakers on the floor. With Derrick always serving as the intial option, there was rarely much else seen when that was taken away. Some of that was a lack of originality in the offensive scheme, and Thibodeau still has room to improve as a coach on that side of the court. But there was also nobody else on the floor who could improvise their way out of a bad posession.
Getting Rose help is not only about increasing productivity overall, but also alleviating some stress from the MVP's shoulders. Not only rarely receiving breaks in a game, Rose's team required so much of him he couldn't ever take single plays off. Perhaps some of his diminished shooting as the season wore on was due to fatigue and injury brought on by that constant workload.
3. If there is no season in 2011-12, how is your team set up for 2012?
Fairly outstandingly, though one could consider any wasted season of a prime Derrick Rose unforgiveable. For a title contender, the Bulls are a fairly young team and under contract through that 2012-13 season, so they'd have much less of an issue with a cancelled season than most teams. Oh man, maybe I figured out what was owner Jerry Reinsdorf's plan all along!
4. If you could make one change the NBA's new CBA, what would it be?
And since I've fired my first salvo at management, might as well continue: the old CBA was actually perfect for a big-market team like Bulls. But for all the good work they've done in assembling this 62-win team, they rarely, if ever, used their inherent financial advantage over the teams that weren't bursting with profits. So any competition-balancing change won't affect them much more than the previous constraints they shackled to themselves.
So speaking then as a fan of the league in general, I'll go with finding some way to allow teams to more easily escape bad contracts. That could be lowering guaranteed years, different ways of handling cap hits, or some other mechanism to where it's not less spending to the players as a collective, but moreso that it goes to the players that are earning it. A player eating his way out of the league after getting a huge guaranteed deal doesn't help either the league or the players as a whole.
5. How far are the Bulls from their 7th championship, and how can they get there?
When it comes the Bulls championship aspirations for the next several years, it's all about Derrick Rose. It's certainly debateable whether Rose was the league's best player last season (and furthermore, whether MVP should reflect that), but there's no question that Rose elevated himself into the conversation of the handful of true franchise players that could potentially lead a championship squad. So many teams in the league are desperate for that one asset (including the Bulls themselves in any era post-Jordan) that it can't be emphasized enough. With Rose leading them, the Bulls will never be truly that far from contention, which is a luxury that shouldn't be taken lightly.
But the Miami Heat have two of those guys. The Bulls gave them a battle, but Miami did win 4 of the 5 games in their Eastern Conference Finals matchup, oftentimes looking like they only had to 'turn it up' to completely throttle the Bulls offense. But Bulls fans can be optimistic for improvement even beyond their teams lofty achievements last season. Again, it starts with Rose: it's downright likely that he'll have better seasons than his MVP one, even if he never wins that award again. For all his greatness there are improveable aspects of his defense, shooting, and decisionmaking that could make him even better. Then, consolidating some of their team depth into more higher-level talent could also do wonders. While it's nice to be able to run ten players deep over the 82-game grind, a lot of those guys are on the bench when it gets to the playoffs anyway and that advantage lessens against elite opponents.
The Bulls also have some hope for a healthier campaign this year, as both Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah were not 100% for that Miami series and had missed large chunks of the season. However the history of those two suggests that perfect health is unlikely, and it may actually be hard to repeat the remarkable health of the other players on the roster.
With four starters locked into multi-year 8-figure yearly contracts (Boozer, Noah, Deng, and soon Rose), the Bulls may not have many options for a dramatic improvement, but they should be really good for a long time, and therefore may only need a small boost anyway. Miami should only be improved themselves, but for the Bulls it can be as easy as nailing their shooting guard acquisition to get them over that star-studded hurdle and raising another banner.