The Bulls were supposed to be the counterexample to super teams. They had a single superstar in Derrick Rose, surrounded by a deep supporting cast of quality NBA starters. Whereas super teams relied on multiple stars surrounded by guys in minimum contracts, the Bulls had viable starters and interchangeable pieces. But what happens when a team with one star loses that star to a major injury?
When Derrick Rose collapsed to the floor in the closing minutes of Chicago's Game 1 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in last year's playoffs, Chicago's 2012-13 season seem to crumple with him.
Rose is still rehabbing after tearing both his ACL and MCL, but the Bulls are saying they expect Rose back at some point this season. While it is certainly possible (medical advancements have shorted recovery times for these types of injuries), it remains unlikely that Rose will be able to return in time to salvage the season for the Bulls.
Without Rose, Chicago is still a good enough team to remain competitive. Tom Thibodeau finally received his contract extension, and is a good enough coach to wring more wins from this roster than they actually deserve. But it will still be a long an painful season for the Bulls. A lost year if ever there was one.
With the hopes for a championship wearing a suit on the bench, Chicago went into full money-saving mode. They did sign Kirk "Kurt" Hinrich to fill in for Rose, but allowed CJ Watson to leave. Nate Robinson was brought in as the back-up point guard. While I'm fine with Robinson as a short-term backup, Hinrich over Watson is a baffling choice. Hinrich was the rare instance of a move where Chicago did not cut salary this offseason. But like their other moves, it did weaken the team.
Chicago then traded away Kyle Korver to Atlanta for...nothing at all. They received a trade exception, but that seems likely to expire unused. The Bulls then declined to match Houston's offer sheet for Omer Asik. Asik was a valuable cog in Chicago's big man rotation, sharing time with Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. To replace Asik, the Bulls signed Nazr Mohammed and Vladimir Radmanovic. While both are big bodies that are technically capable of playing organized basketball, neither can contribute at the level Asik did for Chicago.
Chicago also released Ronnie Brewer, but that move is a little more understandable. The Bulls were able to sign Marco Belinelli for considerably less money than Brewer was slated to make, and he should provide similar production. As a side note, Brewer is a guy I always thought was about to make the leap and become something special, but I just found myself agreeing with the decision to release him in favor of Marco Belinelli. The NBA is a weird thing, y'all.
Chicago will lose far more basketball games than their fan base has grown accustomed to. Expect to hear grumblings and boos from the masses of Bulls fans (because although Chicago has some great fans, a huge portion of their fan-base is reminiscent of Lakers fans in terms of entitlement). Nonetheless, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the Bulls sneak into the 7th or 8th seed this year. Additionally, should the Bulls land the 7th or 8th seed, I predict they will do so with a worse record than two Western Conference teams that miss the playoffs.
Chicago's season will be defined by Rose. His shadow will hang over every loss. His return will be met with great anticipation. His production upon his return will be deeply scrutinized (as deeply as Sportscenter scrutinizes anything, anyway). Even though they very well could still make the playoffs, Chicago is the first team of the 2012-13 season to embrace the mantra, "there's always next year".
A parting thought out the Bulls. Let's say the Bulls sneak into the playoffs, with Rose returning a month or so before the end of the regular season. Rose will have had enough time, presumably, to re-adjust to the speed of the game, and regain his confidence with regards to running, cutting, etc. Let's say this scenario plays out, because it's not all that unlikely at this point. Do you think any team in the East will want to play Chicago in the first round?