No shortage of talent, depth as Bulls open camp
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The Bulls Friday opening training camp for the 2013-14 season, and this is the best Bulls roster I’ve seen since the 1997-98 season.
The starting lineup to open that last championship season was Michael Jordan, Ron Harper, Toni Kukoc, Jason Caffey and Luc Longley. Scottie Pippen had held off surgery until September and didn’t play until January. Dennis Rodman had missed the preseason trip to Paris with an injury and began the season late. Harper was a few years away from the end of his career at 33; Longley was in decline as well and soon to go out with a shoulder separation from surfing. And Pippen would years later admit even as he did return he was never the same player as his explosiveness was gone after that surgery.
Which isn’t also to say this Bulls team is going to win a championship.
The NBA is deep in talented teams this season, and the Bulls have yet to show they can sustain a playoff run or even a regular season.
But while the Bulls led the league in wins in coach Tom Thibodeau’s first two seasons, 2010-11 and 2011-12, they were a surprise team in 2010-11. And they were a team holding its breath through injuries in 2011-12. Which in the end proved not for long enough as Derrick Rose suffered his catastrophic knee injury to open the 2012 playoffs and was lost for all last season.
The Bulls, though they had a few threatening seasons with their Baby Bulls of Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Ben Gordon, were never truly serious contenders until Rose assumed a major role with the team.
So this season with Rose’s return becomes first and mostly a daily examination, at least for the first few months, of Rose’s ability to remain healthy and recover his previous playing ability.
All the preliminary indications are positive. But no one will truly know, including Rose, until those regular season games begin.
So if you can assume Rose playing at a high level, you also look at one of the best starting lineups in franchise history.
Rose is a former league MVP.
He’ll likely play in the backcourt with Jimmy Butler, an emerging potential high level player given his all around play and defensive abilities. Though he is becoming a starter to open a season for the first time, Butler may be the best all around shooting guard the Bulls have had since Jordan.
Gordon was a much better scorer and shooter. But he was a major liability on defense. Harper was a smart veteran, but long robbed of his athletic ability. Jalen Rose likewise was a defensive liability and past his best years. Consider also this Bulls core won 62 games in 2010-11 with Keith Bogans starting at shooting guard.
Luol Deng is a two-time All-Star and all-defensive team player along with All-Star and all-defensive team center Joakim Noah. Carlos Boozer has been an All-Star and member of a USA Basketball gold medal winning team. The bench includes another former all-league defensive player, Hinrich, and in Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Taj Gibson three players who could start on many teams.
One can make the case the Bulls never have started such a decorated five with four reigning and former All-Stars, a league MVP and three all-league defensive players.
Obviously, Michael Jordan, Pippen and Rodman are Hall of Famers. So one doesn’t compare any teams with those. But those teams were three-peat champions. And they started the likes of Longley and Harper, neither of whom would probably start for this Bulls team.
Again, it hardly guarantees a championship or close.
One reason may be because there’s a Bulls dynasty type team in the league. That’s Miami, going for its three-peat and a fourth consecutive Finals appearance, which even the Bulls never reached.
Sometimes you are born at the wrong time.
Like Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing were.
They all should have and could have led their teams to titles.
But when they were at their best they effectively were blocked by Jordan.
Sometimes there’s a guy just too good, like Russell with a half dozen Celtics Hall of Famers, Magic and Kareem in the 80’s in the Western Conference and Jordan in the 90’s.
It could be LeBron now.
He’s kept Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony and basically all the top guys away from titles, and in his prime no one else may win one. Ewing, Barkley and Malone got close. But Jordan generally closed them out. It could be the same with James.
This is going to be a problematic season for Miami to win again.
There’s the obvious question regarding the seemingly declining physical health of Dwyane Wade. It’s been a hard 10 years for him, and he’s not a big guy.
But even the experience of the Bulls shows how difficult it is to win that third consecutive time. As great as the Bulls were, and there’s few who deny Jordan being the greatest, the Bulls barely got through those third title seasons. And they had much more talent than Miami.
The Bulls looked out in the 1993 conference finals against the Knicks, trailing 2-0 as they had to open on the road without home court. They also didn’t have home court in the Finals and were an unlikely John Paxson three away from a Game 7 on the road.
Then in 1998, the Pacers just about had the Bulls in Game 7 in Chicago in the conference finals. And without home court in the Finals, Jordan had to pull off a miracle ending to win in Salt Lake City.
And that was a Bulls team that wasn’t in their fourth season of going through all four playoff rounds. And with best of seven in the first round now compared with best of five then. So that’s a lot of games on those Miami legs.
It’s also a very rugged and well matched league this season, which doesn’t much help the Bulls, either.
A case can be made for the Indiana Pacers or Brooklyn Nets to be Finals teams. Both are exceptionally deep with tough players and a Nets group from the Celtics who will be better in the playoffs with more support than they had in Boston.
Then the Western Conference is loaded with a rejuvenated Houston team with Dwight Howard, Oklahoma City, one of the rare teams these days with two high level stars once Russell Westbrook returns and the Spurs, a moment from a championship last June. There’s tough outs like Memphis and Golden State.
So you can have a really good season and be a really good team and not win a championship and not get to the Finals this season. Several teams will experience that frustration.
But this 2013-14 Bulls team looks like it can be very good, the season long caveat being the health and recovery of Rose. But assuming it goes well, the Bulls look to have a star, a potentially great defense, one of the league’s top coaches, a strong bench, three or four players who’ll make bids to be on the All-Star team and the first team since 1997-98 that truly opens a full season with a chance to play into June.
It should be fun. It starts Friday.