Bulls Season in Review: The 2013 season really started on April 28th, 2012, when Derrick Rose tore his ACL in Game 1 against the Philadelphia 76ers. On May 12, Rose had successful surgery to repair his knee and was given a 8-12 month timetable for return.
From that moment on, Bulls' fans, management and players knew that the next 8-12 months would surely test the agility, fight and depth of the team. After losing many of their key players that made up the "bench mob" in the offseason, the Bulls managed to put together a patchwork bench, including Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli and Nazr Mohammed. They also signed veteran guard Kirk Hinrich to serve as Rose's replacement until he was available.
Not much was expected of this team, a first round playoff appearance at best, yet the Bulls kept pulling out the most unlikely wins, playing great team defense and playing overall solid basketball, despite the injury bug that stuck with the team the entire season. Before injuries really started piling up, the Bulls were in contention to win the Central division, but dropped off after the All Star break.
Hinrich, one of the leagues' best on-ball defenders, couldn't seem to stay on the court for more than a week straight, which severely hurt the flow of the Bulls' 29th ranked offense. At times, the Bulls' offense would run as a well-oiled machine does, smooth and efficient. However, at other times, the players didn't seem to know how to handle the ball and run a basic offensive play. The hole that Rose left in the offense was sometimes gaping, over the past 4 seasons, the offense had been built around and for Rose, and without him, they struggled to score.
While Rose is also essential to the defense, the Bulls still managed to be ranked 3rd overall in the regular season. Joakim Noah, who recently was named to the All-NBA Defense 1st Team, was the anchor of their ruthless defense, leading the team in rebounds, blocks and steals. His almost annual flare up of plantar fasciitis in the last stretch of the season hurt the overall defense and the dominant presence in the lane. He wasn't even sure if would be able to play in the playoffs, when in fact he ended up being the 2nd most important player (behind Nate Robinson) to the Bulls impressive playoff run. Noah and Luol Deng, (both All Stars this season) were the glue that held the team together. Deng led the league in minutes per game, again, and night in and night out would play to his greatest potential. Deng is essentially the glue for the entire team, and has proved to be very valuable, as he was missed in the series against the Heat.
While the players are the ones who have to play and execute the plays, it all starts with the mastermind on the bench, Tom Thibodeau. A top 3 coach in the NBA, he was behind the Celtics dominate defense before being hired by Chicago. Throughout the entire season, he assured reporters, players and fans that the team had "more than enough to win", and would inject a raging level of intensity into his players. No matter how big of an underdog they were, or how much they were losing by, this team would fight until the final buzzer. He would get every last ounce of energy out of his players and maximize their production in the minutes that they played.
The large number of injuries also allowed many unproven players to prove themselves, most notably second year man Jimmy Butler, who proved to be another elite defender and also showed a much improved offensive game. He filled in well for Deng, Noah and Boozer throughout the season. He seems to be the Bulls' 2 guard of the future, a position that has desperately needed filling since Rose joined the team. The emergence of Butler will likely trigger trade talks, like moving Deng or Boozer, who make $13,000,000 and $15,000,000 respectively. Therefore clearing much needed salary cap room and getting a younger and cheaper body in Butler.
The loss to the Miami Heat tonight was most certainly disappointing, it ended an impressive and unlikely postseason run that isn't anything to scoff at. While contracts expire and players grow a year older, the 2014 season will prove to be worth the wait and the return of Rose, that sadly never happened, will sure to prove that it was worth the wait.