Top 20 questions facing the 2010-11 Chicago Bulls
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It was 20 years ago the Bulls began a season for just the third time ever by starting 0-3. What? You mean that’s not the anniversary the Bulls will be celebrating this season? Oh, right. There’s that first championship in franchise history anniversary as well.
Yes, it was 20 years ago the Bulls began their march to a dynasty and six championships in eight seasons.
It was a season, like this one in 2010, with big hopes and expectations. And one that began somewhat shakily in 1990 with three consecutive losses. It could be an uneven start as well this season with a new coach working as head man for the first time, at least eight new players and a road heavy opening schedule made up of mostly contending teams.
So in the ongoing spirit of championship dreams, here are the top 20 questions facing the 2010-11 Bulls:
1. Do they have a shooting guard?
There may be bigger issues to develop. But going into training camp with a pretty set rotation, the biggest question—other than Carmelo Anthony’s fate—is shooting guard. Ronnie Brewer is penciled in as the starter and is a high level defender and decent mid-range shooter. But, ideally, you’d like to have a two guard who can space the floor better. The titular backup, Keith Bogans, is a journeyman not considered as high level a player. There were considerable talks regarding Portland’s Rudy Fernandez. But the Trail Blazers’ reluctance, the price and Fernandez’ somewhat erratic stance about remaining in the NBA seems to make that unlikely for now. Shooting guard is likely the only starting position with any theoretical competition, though Brewer appears way ahead for now.
2. Was Carlos Boozer worth it?
It’s been a remarkably positive off season given the failure to attract LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh, the preseason targets a year ago. But Boozer, despite being a lower priority, seems a good fit. There have been questions before about his toughness and willingness to play through pain. But he provides the Bulls' first true low post scoring presence in decades and if he can remain healthy, there’s no reason to believe the Bulls cannot be serious contenders.
3. Will Derrick Rose’s summer wear him out?
With neither James nor Wade coming and a trade for Carmelo Anthony less than unlikely, Rose will be the team’s leader for years to come. He had a long summer of basketball as a starter for the USA Basketball World Championship gold medal team. I suspect he’ll be limited in camp and the preseason, and the question is how much to limit his minutes early in the season. It will be a delicate balancing act for new coach Tom Thibodeau as Rose will push to play.
4. Is the new coach ready?
Thibodeau is an NBA veteran whom everyone knows and respects. But no one has ever officially seen him run a team. He was something of the Buddy Ryan to Mike Ditka with the Celtics—and we now know Ryan was the real force and impact coach on that team and not Ditka—though Doc Rivers was the overall driving force for these Celtics champions. Now, Thibodeau gets his first sole head coaching job. And as Ryan found out, it’s not so easy sometimes to be in that chair a few feet away. I believe he’ll be good and ready and we know he’ll be prepared. But he still has to do it, and for the first time he’ll be asked to explain every day what happened. It can get annoying.
5. How tough is the schedule?
It’s a difficult one to start. I know, everyone plays all the same teams and all have 41 home and 41 away. But the first part of the season, especially with a new coach and new roster, carries significance. Seasons often build off momentum, and you don’t want to dig a hole and begin to freeze up. The first seven road games in November are against teams given a chance to win 50 games or more and compete for the Finals. And it has three sets of back to backs on the seven game Western trip.
6. How long will it take for the roster to meld together?
It looks pretty good with the addition of a scoring post player and some veteran reserves. Going into camp, the Bulls have 12 players on the roster. Seven are new. The league minimum is 13, so there will be at least eight new players and possibly nine of the Bulls keep 14 to start. This isn’t fantasy. You just don’t count the stats. Yes, three of the new guys played together in Utah. But players need to adjust to tendencies, even simple ones like how someone will set a screen, what angle they take running the court, where they like their shots, even where they like to catch the ball before shooting. It takes time, and more with the more new players you have.
7. How will Luol Deng deal with the additions and Carmelo Anthony rumors?
Deng had a good summer leading the Great Britain team. But he returned to the same song he’d heard before, this time with the community clamoring for him to be traded for Carmelo Anthony. Plus, now with Boozer, he’ll likely fall a bit farther back in scoring priority. Will he accept his new role? Though Thibodeau is a more creative offensive mind, more like Scott Skiles, and figures to have Deng back to slashing more than standing in the corner as he did with Vinny Del Negro. Plus, Deng has been sharp in informal workouts at the Berto Center this month shooting threes, and one observer said he’s regularly making 20 to 25 threes in a row in drills shooting from the corner and wing. Perhaps he can emerge as that other three point threat as it was Skiles who moved him off the three point line when he was coach. I know this is heresy among fans, who most love to hate Deng as they often did with Hinrich. I know. Deng is no Carmelo. But Deng still averages 17 points and seven rebounds and it’s not like without Anthony you are missing 25 points.
8. Where will Kyle Korver play and is he really Ashton Kutcher?
He is that other designated three point shooter, though supposedly in a reserve role behind Deng. He had injuries last season, but is supposed to be healthy now. A larger issue is whether he can play shooting guard. It’s possible given the limitations of Brewer and Boguns, Thibodeau will use Korver more in the backcourt. If so, can he defend his position?
9. Is James Johnson a bust?
Oh, him. Yeah, we almost forgot. Johnson, the No. 16 overall pick in the draft last season, has been the forgotten man after playing little last season and being unable to find a role. He’s been a committed worker this summer, or so the word goes, and has changed his loose lifestyle by eliminating a lot of the distractions he had last season with so many hangers on. He’s lost weight and has worked to be a designated defender given his unusual quickness with size. He’s shot the ball better this summer, some teammates say, and might be able to play some shooting guard as well given his quickness. It’s a major season for him as he could fall out and find himself forgotten like a Joe Alexander or Adam Morrison.
10. How good is Omer Asik?
The Bulls don’t want to put too much pressure on him, but they are privately more excited than some observers about his ability to contribute more quickly. I thought he looked competent in the World Championships, but somewhat a project. It’s agreed he doesn’t have much offense, but given his size and willingness to play hard and work relentlessly, the team feels he could come along and be a contributor reasonably soon and move in as backup center. For now, he’s regarded as third string center.
11. Can Kurt Thomas be as good as Brad Miller?
Thomas is considered the backup center, and he was impressive in the playoffs last season with Andrew Bogut out and playing a major role in the Bucks going to a seventh game against Atlanta. But he’ll be 38 next month and the question is how much he can play. Noah has had injury issues in two of his three seasons, and the hope is he discards those bad sneakers he wore last season and his plantar fasciitis is gone. Thomas is a wily veteran, but the Bulls have to hope Asik can come quickly and at least contribute some.
11. What’s going on with Noah’s extension?
He isn’t going anywhere for two years. Sure, he can be a restricted free agent after this season, but the Bulls certainly would match any offer. He can play it out, but that would be some risk to go for two years the way he plays when an eight-figure annual offer is on the table. My guess for now is Noah isn’t signing anything until Carmelo Anthony is traded. Noah has no interest in playing in Denver, so Denver would not accept him in a deal without a signed extension. He’s not about to sign one and be traded. I’d say it’s 50/50 now he signs the extension before the late October deadline. It’s all about money now and the question is whether Noah wants to be disgustingly rich or filthy rich. So far, his representatives are asking for obscenely rich. There was a report Noah went to France to visit his father and also supposedly to send a message to the Bulls about unhappiness over negotiations by not working out. It was nonsense as Noah has been at the Berto center working out regularly almost all summer and probably as much or more than any player and the Bulls have been encouraging him to back off some.
13. Who’ll be the 13th man (and maybe 14th or 15th)?
The Bulls have 12 on the roster now. They have to add at least one more player for the league minimum of 13. They could keep up to 15. If they add someone out of training camp, it likely will be unguaranteed at the beginning to retain flexibility if trades become available. The Bulls are likely to bring in free agents Brian Scalabrine, John Lucas III, Roger Powell from Illinois, Chris Richard and Kyle Weaver, who previously played for Oklahoma City. With the bigs, the Bulls know Richard from last season and Thibodeau knows Scalabrine from Boston. Lucas played well on the summer league team and the popular Powell has been around the team working out on and off the last few years. Weaver is intriguing, a big defensive guard who has improved his shooting range. He’s been hurt, but now is healthy and could fill in at that needed two guard spot.
14. Do they have an adequate backup point guard?
C.J. Watson isn’t exactly a point guard and a bit more of a scorer. Though he should still be an adequate backup as Rose plays big minutes. Little John Lucas is little, and we don’t know if he’ll make the team, anyway. The Bulls have to get Rose off the floor a reasonable amount of time as there is a chance for a decent playoff run. Though he is just 22 (next week), so I’m not that concerned about his playing time. He likes to play and doesn’t do much else. The point is you don’t much replace your star. If Rose is out for any extended time, it doesn’t matter who the backup is. You’ve got trouble.
15. Can Taj Gibson accept a so-called demotion to the bench?
Gibson became a surprise starter last season amidst Tyrus Thomas’ inevitable meltdown. Gibson became the surprise rookie of the season. Now, he becomes a backup to Boozer, who does average about 35 minutes per game. That doesn’t leave a lot for Gibson, who seems as unselfish a player as you’d ever want. I assume he also picks up minutes in smaller lineups playing with Boozer and some at center because of his excellent defense despite being about 6-8.
16. Can and will Derrick defend?
It’s sort of like looking for a makeup smear on Catherine Zeta-Jones. Rose was more defensively attuned in the World Championships, especially in trying to get steals. His man defense still left something. For all Vinny did well, he wasn’t a very good defensive teacher and Rose didn’t develop much defensively. That should change under Thibodeau.
17. Will the Bulls make a trade?
I believe they will. Not yet as I see them getting at least into December with the same team. It’s at that time that players acquired in the summer can be traded. I don’t see any major changes, but the team has something over $2 million in cap room remaining and likely will keep whatever players they take from camp on non guaranteed contracts until those deals have to be guaranteed in January. I expect Carmelo to be traded elsewhere, but Fernandez could come back on the market and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another shooting guard at some point.
18. Can Miami win?
I don’t think so. Will the Bulls, instead? I doubt it, but I think the Eastern Conference playoffs will be wide open. I assume LeBron plays a form of point guard, and then we see if he’s OK with Wade getting the points. There’s no true center and a questionable front line. And how much will LeBron and Wade have to accommodate Bosh’s scoring to keep him engaged? I do think they’ll be awfully good and win a lot of games. But they seem to have a sense of entitlement already. It will take work. And then can Erik Spoelstra keep Pat Riley in the executive suite. They have a lot more than 20 questions, but we all can’t wait to see.
19. Can the Bulls win the Central Division?
It’s no walk over, but they should. The Bucks seem to be the biggest threat, though I think I’d go to 40 questions with them: Bogut’s health, ball stoppers Maggette and Salmons playing together, Jennings’ shot. But if they are healthy and make shots they could be tough. It’s difficult to see Cleveland recovering with Mo Williams already experiencing some sort of LeBron remorse and Byron Scott not being told yet that LeBron isn’t resigning. I don’t see Tracy McGrady haunting the Bulls in Detroit.
20. So how many wins will be the Bulls get?
I don’t want to be held to this quite yet since camp hasn’t started and no one has actually seen anyone play together at all. I believe the start will be slow and they’ll improve later like in Skiles’ first full season when they started 0-9 and won 47. I’ve got 49 for now, but I’ll get on the record again before the season opener.