Chicago Bulls: Prediction: 1st in Eastern Conference
2014 Record: 48-34
Coach: Tom Thibodeau
Significant Additions: F Pau Gasol (free agent), F Doug McDermott (draft trade), F Nikola Mirotic (draft rights), G Aaron Brooks (free agent), G E'Twaun Moore (free agent)
Significant Subtractions: F Carlos Boozer (amnesty), G D.J. Augustin (free agent), G Jimmer Fredette (free agent)
Projected Starters: C Joakim Noah, F Pau Gasol, F Mike Dunleavy, G Jimmy Butler, G Derrick Rose (8/10):
Okay, this won't exactly be the sweetest shooting starting five, but what they lack in marksmanship they'll make up for in size and athleticism. Not too many backcourts have two guys who can move at the breakneck pace of Rose and Butler and if Rose is even 85 percent of his old self, he'll be able to create numerous open shots for everyone else with his constant penetration, and it'll lead to easy put-backs for their bigs. If Rose can shoot it at all, the Bulls will have an above-league average offense. Gasol and Noah should be a terrifying combo up front. They're interchangeable on hi-lo sets because both can pass it so well and Gasol has excellent shooting range for his size, all the way out to the three-point line. Either guy can play center when paired with Taj Gibson as well, so the Bulls will always have two great players at the four and five. Dunleavy can be a productive starter as long as he's not over extended but Thibodeau may elect to start rookie Doug McDermott since he might be more reliable as a knockdown shooter working with Rose. Noah and Butler are both elite defenders and Thibs' schemes to cover for the others. Gasol has slipped badly in that regard, but he still has that length and it's virtually impossible for him to not be an upgrade over Carlos Boozer.
Projected Reserves (8/10):
Gibson is the best reserve four in the league bar none and has been on the floor down the stretch over Boozer for years. He's a superior post scorer than Noah and his bounce will pair well with Gasol. He also gives the squad another terrific defender. Nikola Mirotic has been among the best players in Europe for a couple years and he's another guy with size who can stretch the floor, though he'll have to fight for minutes. Nazr Mohammed, 37, is still around and can buy a few minutes if there is injuries or foul trouble for the others. McDermott doesn't seem like Thibodeau's type of player and he may struggle in space defensively, but he'll bring scoring off the bench if they can free him at all. It really does make more sense to start him. Tony Snell came on late as a rookie and though there doesn't figure to be many backup minutes behind Butler, he's someone Thibs can use if he feels some of his other guys aren't playing hard enough. Kirk Hinrich, similar to Dunleavy is not capable of holding up long term if you need him to be a productive starter but he should be one of the best backup points in the league and can start here and there when Rose is being rested. Hinrich is one of the best defenders in the league at his position. Aaron Brooks is another dude who they can use as a sparkplug when no one has it going and how much he plays will depend on Rose's health.
Coach/Front Office (8/10):
Thibodeau has shown his defensive chops for a number of years but now he'll have to adapt on the fly with a roster that's not only more talented than any he's ever had but also one that skews offensively. He'll have to remember what it's like to coach Rose again and how to balance his touches with Noah's ability to facilitate offense from the high post. It'd be a waste to neglect Noah's skills (or Gasol's) just because Rose is back. Thibodeau will also have to show he can ration minutes like a regular coach now that he actually has a deep bench. It's an embarrassment of riches for a coach who's always been more comfortable being the shorthanded underdog. Hopefully he's put some thought on how to preserve Rose and I'd like to see him rested on the back-to-backs, personally. GM Gar Forman keeps a low profile and he's collected a lot of talent, but it remains to be seen how the pieces will fit. Forman will face scrutiny if McDermott bombs and the guys they drafted originally, Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic, light it up for the Nuggets.
Team Rating: 80 (2.5x Starters Rating + 1.5 Reserves Rating + Coach Rating) x 2 = 80
Did You Know: Thibodeau was not a fan of the league experimenting with a shorter, 44-minute preseason game last week between the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics. In fact, the NBA originally scheduled the Bulls for the experiment but league executives quickly went with a Plan B once they realized it would generate too much negative publicity for Thibodeau making Jimmy Butler run suicides for four minutes after the game.