By Argie |Grigorakos
With the opening of training camp officially just around the corner for all 30 franchises in the National Basketball Association, Chicago Bulls fans can feel excited as their favourite team will once again take the hardwood floor for what should be an entertaining 82 games season plus playoff run. They will begin their 49th season as an organization, chasing their 7th banner in their franchise history. Many experts have chosen the Chicago Bulls as title contenders, but there will be plenty of question marks as the season plays out. The roster and their coaches will have to answer many questions as each game is played. Roles and team chemistry will have to be handled delicately, and interestingly enough different storylines and subplots will unfold as the season goes along. There will be plenty for all Bulls fans to carefully observe, and here are arguably the 5 most important factors to look out for:
Derrick Rose’s Health
Undeniably the most important factor for not only the team roster, but the whole organization and the sports city of Chicago is the health of Derrick Rose. The title chances of the Chicago Bulls lay heavily on the soon to be 26 year old, and quite frankly he must prove to be durable enough to withstand the rigors of a gruelling NBA season plus playoff run. Close to 82 regular season games must be played by DRose, plus playoffs, in order for the 2014-2015 season to be a success story for the Chicagoan. Last season, Derrick only played his first 10 games before tearing his meniscus, and that was coming off rehab of a torn ACL from the spring of 2012. It is understandable that many NBA observers are being cautiously optimistic about his 2014-2015 campaign. Even though Derrick Rose greatly struggled this summer at the Basketball World Cup from a statistical standpoint, Chicago fans should feel some confidence as Pooh was able to withstand 9 games in 15 days which included a set of back-to-back-to-back. His athleticism seem to be at an elite level especially his speed, but his “rust” stemming from only playing a handful of games the last 2 years was evident. Repetition and actually playing the game against world class talent helped Derrick improve on his timing and basketball mechanics, which should be beneficial down the road. However, until Derrick Rose gets back to the elite level we are accustomed to see him at, observers will always question if he can get back to his MVP status. He will have to continue to fine tune his skills. The most important question that should remain is will his body withstand the marathon of an NBA season.
Will Tom Thibodeau Evolve as a Coach
As Derrick Rose rounds into basketball shape, another situation that should be carefully assessed throughout the season is the evolution of Tom Thibodeau as an NBA head coach. It can argued that Coach Thibbs may have the deepest roster since his tenure in Chicago began, and it will be interesting to see how he utilizes each and every player. Coach Thibbs has a reputation of playing his core players heavy minutes, which was somewhat understandable the last few years as he was shorthanded due to injuries and roster limitations, but this season should have no excuses as the current squad may potentially go 10 or 11 men deep. The roster is very versatile as it possesses talented bigs, capable 3 point shooters , and 3 very adequate point guards. Tom Thibodeau should have plenty to work with this season. Also, it will be interesting to see if Coach Thibbs applies any experience he gained from seating next to one of the best coaches of all time Mike Krzyzewski at the Basketball World Cup. Coach K had to manage the minutes of a number of gifted NBA players, and it was obvious that he succeeded in doing so as the USA won gold. From player rotations, to offensive schemes there was a lot for Thibbs to gain from his experience at the tournament play. Will he apply that experience to coaching in the NBA? Tom Thibodeau will be tested this up and coming season, as he will have plenty of offensive weapons to work with and it will be interesting to see how he incorporates the talent of each individual player . Also the dynamic of Derrick Rose returning may be carefully handled, especially early, and thus resting him often may be greatly considered. Thibbs will have to strategically manage that aspect as well.
The Roles of Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson
One of the hardest decisions coach Thibbs may have this upcoming season is the playing time of 2 of his big men Taj Gibson and newly acquired Pau Gasol and the reaction each has, as one may have to seat at crucial points of each game. During the 2013-2014 season Taj Gibson would play the entire second and fourth quarters, as he is an excellent defender. The situation left last years starting Power Forward Carlos Boozer distraught, and it would be hard to envision a 2 time NBA champion like Pau Gasol not feeling the same way. Last season, while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, Pau experienced major issues with then head coach Mike D’Antoni due to limited playing time. At times Coach D’Antoni would sit the Spaniard in fourth quarters as he preferred to go with a more perimeter oriented line up which left Gasol frustrated. Finally Gasol reached his boiling point and voiced his displeasure by saying after a game in Phoenix in late January last season, “I’m a competitor, I’m a guy that thinks I bring a lot to the table, and not being on the floor is something that I don’t like, I don’t appreciate”. Coach Thibbs will clearly need to treat the situation in a sensitive manner, but keep in mind Gasol is joining a team with championship aspirations, not a Western Conference basement dweller the Lakers were last year. Hopefully in this case winning will cure the issue. In Taj Gibson’s case, issues may arise as he will most likely again be playing in a six man role. Aggrey Sam, the CSN Bulls Insider, recently stated in an article, “Privately, Gibson isn’t too thrilled with the prospect of continuing to be a reserve, according to multiple people familiar with the situation, but the upbeat team-first player values winning and chemistry too much to make it an issue or distraction”. Gibson a few days later went on to refute the article on twitter by saying, “I like coming off the bench tho!!! Starting or coming off the bench really doesn’t matter. please miss me with the drama”. Taj did a great job diffusing the situation, but all NBA players are competitors, so it will be intriguing to see if Taj and Pau accept the roles carved out for them on the team.
The Impact of the 3 Point Shot
One of the storylines that surrounded the 2014 Bulls was the lack of scoring the team had, and more specifically 3 point shooting. General Manager Gar Foreman did a tremendous job adding much needed shooting to the Bulls roster in the form of rookie Doug McDermott, European sensation Nikola Mirotic and Aaron Brooks. They will join sharp shooter Mike Dunleavy as reputable long distance scorers at the most fitting time, as Derrick Rose rejoins the team. He will need all the space on the floor in order to penetrate the defence, and ideally the shooters the Bulls have now should provide that. The way rookies Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic adapt to the offense schemes implemented by Coach Thibbs will be critical, and ultimately the efficiency they shoot with may determine how good this team can really be on the offensive end.
The last few years the Chicago Bulls have had the excuse of their best player being injured in terms of not being a major championship threat, but with the return of Derrick Rose and the clear upgrade of their roster, many NBA experts are picking them to at least be Eastern Conference finalists. It will be fascinating to see this team play with legitimate championship aspirations, and see the level of intensity and concentration they can reach in order to achieve the ultimate goal of an NBA championship. The spotlight will be brighter, and expectations may be higher than ever for this group. How will these players react to the pressure of being contenders, especially the rookies? Anxiety will be at an all time high, and it will be intriguing to see how players like Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose respond to the challenge. This team has faced so much adversity the last few years, and an opportunity like the one in front of them right now may not come around again. The journey they are about to embark on is the most exciting off all, as it is truly unknown and full of many possibilities.