This year's Chicago Bulls has been something to be proud of. Just about every player that has played year (actually played...) has gone out and performed above expectations. From Nate Robinson having a career year, to Jimmy Butler breaking out and staking his claim as the SG of the future, to Noah earning his first All-Star performance as well as the All-NBA Defensive First Team.
With the Bulls being down 3-1 to what most people consider the best team in the league with the best player on earth, and the Bulls looking just about dead, for many of us diehard fans, the best/only way to cope is to think about next year. So this post is for just that. The 2012-2013 Bulls will always be remember for the Derrick Rose Saga and performing above expectations. Had you been told D-Rose wouldn't play the whole year and we'd beat the Nets and go to the second round, you probably would have taken it. It's been a fun, memorable, and once the disappoint/sting of losing to the Heat and having Derrick miss the whole year wears off, positive year overall.
But next year can inspire some hope. Rather than taking a look at the "2014 Plan" or what free agents we wish we could have or any bogus, over-the-top, not-going-to-happen scenarios, I propose that next year, very realistically, looks like a fun, promising, and ultimately more positive year than this one. In fact, I think it is a year in which we have a real reason to think about a deep playoff run, and with a little good fortune, being championship contenders. Let's break it down.
Point Guard: This starts and ends with Derrick Rose. People have forgotten this year... They've forgotten that D-Rose is the only player in the last five seasons to win the MVP award. Think about that for a second. People are excited about Noah being a first-time All-Star and being on the Defensive Team, this guy was the MVP! That's a big deal. Five years is a long time and there have only been two... If Derrick and come back to anywhere near 100% of what he was, we're set. He is a top five player, top two or three PG, and the best player that's played for this team since Jordan. He scores, he drops dimes, he can play defense, he gets chase-down blocks, you get the point. It will be the single biggest addition to any team in the NBA next year and we're already a top eight team without him. Regardless of how you feel about him this year, you should be excited for him to be a part of this team next year.
Then you have Kirk Hinrich. Look how much better we've played with him this year. He plays outstanding defense and runs the team with great efficiency. He made our first team play so much better this year, how much can he help Taj and the second unit? Good size, can defend three positions, good shooter, and gets assists. Plus, his body should hold up a million times better since he won't have to play a whole lot with D-Rose back. Not to mention he can play with Derrick and the two of them can be interchangeable at the guard positions.
Unfortunately, Nate Robinson will be gone. We should appreciate what he has done and be happy that he is going to go make the money he deserves. It's been a fun memorable moment for us Bulls fans getting to watch Nate be D-Rose this year and he has really provided. Best of luck to Nate, he won't soon be forgotten.
However, our third PG will be Marquis Teague. Not the Marquis Teague from this year, but the Marquis Teague of next year. I think there will be a considerable difference. Think about what Jimmy has done in his second year and the minimal expectations that were on him at the beginning of the season. With another year of summer league, and the experience gained this season, most importantly in the playoffs, Marquis could become a competent guard that could fill in in a pinch should Kirk fall apart again. He's shown the speed and athleticism and Thibs already trusts his defense a little bit. If he works a lot on his jumper over the year, we'll have quite the PG situation.
Shooting Guard: Jimmy Butler. Imagine him playing with Derrick next year. Enough said. The man broke out this year in a big way. He's athletic, an amazing defender, and has become a bit of a shooter, even from three. He's got great size and his defense makes us scary good.
Hopefully we'll be able to find a way to resign Marco Belinelli. It'll probably take the mini-MLE, but I think it would be worth it. He's a good player. Can knock down the three at a high rate, runs great pick-and-roll offense, and can even play a little point. With Thibs as the helm, his defense is competent. If we can bring back Marco, we're so set at the two.
Small Forward: Luol Deng. People forget, but he's still an All-Star. Two years in a row now. And he's still our best perimeter defender. And having both he and Butler out there is our answer for LeBron and D-Wade. Not to mention he led our team in scoring this year, rebounds incredibly well for his position, and can play basically the entire game. Thibs loves him and so should you. He's one of our top three players.
To back him up however... I propose we look to the draft. I really like Giannis Adetokoubo. This kid is from Greece, he's 6'9", could play three and four, can handle, drive, and shoot. And would ideally be able to spell Lu a little bit. I think he could turn into a really good, starting caliber player in a couple years.
Power Forward: Carlos Boozer is coming off of his best year as a Bull. He has underperformed a bit in the Heat series, but that should make us forget what an excellent season he has had. He scores at a high rate, rebounds at a high rate, and is an excellent passer. He is a former All-Star and Olympian and will still be in his prime. I think he could have been an All-Star this year and is a hugely important part of this team. Probably our fourth best player.
Taj Gibson will continue to back him up and he's perfect at it. Brings in a defensive presence with his shot-blocking and adds great energy from the bench with his highlight dunks. He'll continue to work on his already good mid-range jumper (which is his best offense) and will expect some kick-outs from D-Rose next year. Between both he and Boozer, we're set up very well at PF. I'd say just as set as any team in the league.
Center: Joakim Noah has made a huge stride this year. He is an All-Star, All-NBA Defensive First Team, and the heart of our team. Our second best player, perhaps the best defender in the league, always near the top of the league in rebounding, and without a doubt the best passing big man there is. He is invaluable. If he can keep his feet healthy, he's going to be one of the greatest Bulls. There is nothing not to love about him, especially after this playoff run is done. He hustles non-stop, brings energy and attitude, and he's flat-out really really good. Defense and offense, he alone makes us set at center.
I believe we should keep Nazr as an emergency big man, and still look to the free agent market to acquire another back-up for Noah. Some names available that we might be able to afford are: Byron Mullens, Hamed Haddadi, Cole Aldrich, Greg Stiemsma, Hasheem Thabeet, Gustavo Ayon, Aaron Gray, and a couple others. One of these players, plus Nazr, provides some size and depth at the center position.
Coach: We'll still have Thibs and he may be the best coach in the NBA. Say what you want about him overworking players, but he is the reason we got to the second round of the playoffs. He has created a winning environment in Chicago and the defense he has instilled is our trademark. Listen to those Nets fans. They'd kill to have Thibs and would have no doubt handled us in the first round if they did. No excuses, just execution. Plus, our players have bought in. Derrick, Noah, and Deng all support him and everyone else will fall in-line. He has experience and the ability to get the very best out of our team. We will again be a top three defense.
Our team for next year: PG: Rose, Hinrich, Teague SG: Butler, Belinelli, Hinrich SF: Deng, Butler, Adetokoubo, second round pick PF: Boozer, Gibson, Adetokoubo C: Noah, free agent, Mohammed
That right there, is a team that can compete with the Miami Heat, and compete for a championship.