I can't speak for others, but for the majority of this offseason I had a really hard time getting excited for the 2015-16 season. Perhaps that's just the nature of the doldrums which follow NBA free agency. But nevertheless we've made it to media day and the NBA season is right around the corner. Now, I'm excited. Now, I'm ready for Bulls basketball to re-enter and consume my life. The seasons are changing and basketball is in the air, it's a beautiful time of year, folks.
As it relates to the Bulls, I think it's safe to say that we're all pretty familiar with the storylines leading into the '15-'16 campaign. But in case you're not up to speed, we'll hit on all the major themes and questions.
What's The Starting Lineup Going To Look Like?
Fred Hoiberg inherits a 50-win team with virtually the same exact roster. Is it the greatest roster? No. But is it a roster that can compete? Absolutely. The question, of course, is can Hoiberg maximize and extract every bit of talent this roster possesses? One could make the argument that Tom Thibodeau never outright failed in that regard. So, clearly, Hoiberg's got his work cut out for him making the proper tweaks and adjustments. Whether they're subtle or experimental, expect to see some changes.
It's fair to wonder if the starting lineup is a place where Hoiberg decides to shuffle the deck. And as of now, he has no real choice in the matter seeing as Mike Dunleavy probably won't be available until December. Last season's starting five of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Dunleavy, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol produced the third best net rating among 5-man lineups registering at least 100 minutes for Chicago, per NBA.com. However, that lineup only started 21 regular season games together (going 16-5). And also, much has been made about whether the Gasol-Noah pairing in the frontcourt is a compatible one. It's certainly fair to wonder what Hoiberg's plans for the frontcourt are, too.
I want to stay away from making suggestions or predictions, so hopefully Hoiberg at least provides some clarity on the matter. Quite frankly, I don't see the harm in announcing what lineup he's planing on using. Both the Pacers and Hornets have done so. Strategically, it's not like football where personnel moves are often concealed in order to create the element of surprise. In basketball, there's simply too many games and the season is too long. Naming your starters on media day won't compromise your season. And hey, for selfish reasons, it'd be nice to know.
Should We Expect Minute Restrictions On Certain Players This Season?
Both Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah were on minutes restrictions at various points last season. In the case of both players, it's inarguable that they needed to be placed on those restrictions. They both have well-documented histories with lower body injuries. But for the first time in a long time, Rose didn't spend his summer rehabbing. Noah, too, spent the summer working on his game and conditioning instead of rehab or recovering from surgery.
[There's also that weird Pau Gasol minutes story from Eurobasket -yfbb]
Regardless of whether the team explicitly states one or both players will be on minute restrictions, one would imagine the team will be heavily monitoring both players. After all, it's likely that the biggest divide between Thibodeau and his old bosses was Thibodeau's carelessness when it came to playing players too many minutes at unimportant times. Maybe under Hoiberg -- who, not for nothing, is a former player himself -- we'll see guys getting more rest and nights off?
Is This A Make-Or-Break Year For Tony Snell And Doug McDermott?
The sign of a great organization is not one who moves quickly, but one who can recognize reality the quickest. In relation to Snell and McDermott, the sooner the Bulls find out what they have -- the better. If it's concluded that Snell's not an NBA-level performer on a nightly basis, then it might be best to just cut bait. This is probably the season for him. And while some folks might feel McDermott be allotted more time to develop, I posit: Doug McDermott is a month-and-half younger than Tony Snell. They'll both turn 24 this season.
Although, so long as the Bulls control both Snell and McDermott on cheap rookie deals, then this probably isn't a pressing issue to them. Despite the injury, they signed Dunleavy to a three-year deal this summer as insurance, which in turn buys Snell and McDermott time. My fear, though, is the team waiting on something that just never appears. Teams get passed by when they react on impulse, or if they become stagnant. I get that young players need time to grow, but the clock is ticking, to be sure.
Where does Jimmy Butler Go From Here?
To be honest, I really have no idea how Butler follows-up on his breakthrough performance of last season. But at the same time, there's a definitely new set of expectations for Jimmy. He's clearly the best player on the team. And with that comes added responsibilities, pressures and opportunities. I don't think we're at the point where Superstar Jimmy Butler is an unquestioned sure thing quite yet. That's not to say I think Jimmy's incapable of repeating or even out-preforming his stellar 2014-15 season -- he can totally do it. I just want to see one more season of badassery in the books before I give Jimmy the benefit of the pebble-sized doubt that remains.
Derrick Rose's Civil Suit
The basketball side of things alone present a ton of questions, but Rose's pending civil case for an alleged gang rape is a much more serious matter. Look, we still don't know a lot about this case. In a weird way, it felt like one-day news, but that ends today as Rose will surely be asked about the case. Legally, he's not in a position to disclose a whole lot. It's doubtful we'll gain any sort of insight, but please, I urge you not to jump to any conclusions and let the due process run its course.
Uh, The Bench?
Barring unforeseen improvements from Snell and McDermott, or unforeseen contributions from Bobby Portis, this might be the worst bench unit the Bulls have had since 2010. The backcourt -- Aaron Brooks, Kirk Hinrich and E'Twaun Moore -- is basically the opposite of reliable. Taj Gibson is coming off offseason ankle surgery, so we don't really know what's going on or what to expect there. The lone bright spot figures to be Nikola Mirotic, but it's worth wondering whether his contributions would be better situated in a starters role. All in all, I have no clue how deep this team is. But my sneaking suspicion is that they're not as deep as some people might think they are.