Bulls not concerned with media predictions heading into season

There are so many mysteries around Chicago sports these days. Like whether Craig Kimbrel remains a Cubs plant to unhinge the White Sox, who will be the Bears starting quarterback next week after winning with backup Justin Fields and why only we seem to believe the Bulls are better than a .500 team.

"I never try to put too much thought on how Vegas or whoever comes up with the odds they come up with," DeMar DeRozan was saying as these new Bulls prepare for their first preseason game Tuesday in the United Center against Lauri Markkanen's Cleveland Cavaliers. "Because at the end of the day you don't know how hard we are working, how bad we want something, how much we are fighting for something. It's bigger than just somebody's predictions and how we are approaching it. This is an opportunity of a talented group that has a chip on their shoulders. You kind of run faster when the dog is chasing behind you; that's the type of mentality we have to have going out there playing this season."

Not that this is a story of hometown favoritism. After all, the Bulls haven't been the local media and public's favorites the last few seasons. But the general consensus lately has been positive about the trades and free agent acquisitions that led three of the top summer free agents to choose Chicago following a midseason trade for an All-Star center.

The Bulls were 31-41 last season in the late starting Covid year. That projects to 35 wins in an 82-game season, which the NBA returns to starting Oct. 19. So the Bulls replaced:

-Perennially injured Wendell Carter Jr. with two-time All-Star center Nikola Vucevic.

-Often injured and struggling forward Markkanen with four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan.

-Sluggish point guard Tomas Satoransky with dynamic point guard and No. 2 overall draft pick Lonzo Ball.

-Veteran reserve sixth man Garrett Temple with LeBron James favorite Alex Caruso.

Which is all worth maybe a six or seven-game improvement to about a .500 team with a good chance to make the play-in tournament?

That's it?

It's what most of the wise—if not wisest—guys are saying with virtually all the Las Vegas betting experts and services projecting a Bulls over/under at about 42 wins this season. I scanned the internet, which always is a risky endeavor and generally requires wearing a hazmat suit and plenty of room freshener. So I could have missed something, but I found just one site, Bleacher Report, predicting more than 43 wins for the Bulls. They projected 47. ESPN's prediction was a losing season for the Bulls at 40-42. Most of the NBA and sports radio projections were around that .500 season.

It would be an improvement and a chance to play at least one of those meaningful games for the first time in five years. Which is something. But is that all?

DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine pose during a Bulls Media Day shoot

No one at this time of year in the NBA is that concerned since no one has lost a game. And few dare make many bold predictions. After all, it's better for job security to surprise than disappoint.

But with three recent All-Stars including incumbent Zach LaVine in the starting lineup, the addition of a true point guard for the first time in several years, a potentially deep bench with high scoring Coby White a seventh or eighth man when he returns from injury and a second season with veteran coach Billy Donovan, the Bulls even based on talk radio conversations here seem to be a contender for perhaps other than the top two or three places in the Eastern Conference.

Could we all be that wrong? With all that basketball expertise?

"I think one of my assistants had mentioned to me, maybe this was a week or two ago, that a lot of the projections and predictions and stuff last year I think we were projected to finish maybe 11th in the East," noted the cautious Donovan. "This year we're projected to finish ninth. So it's not a lot of change. I don't really worry about where we're being projected or picked. It's going to be a matter of, ‘Can we do it?' And it's hard for me to sit there and say where we're at because I haven't seen (all the) guys.

"When you have three really good offensive players and you're trying to gel and mesh those guys together, one of the things that happens if you've got guys with really good IQ and they can really make the game easier and we can get in space and we can kind of attack and get two on the ball and spray it to the next guy, generally that's when you become a really efficient team," said Donovan. "But can we maintain that? And what does that look like against half court defenses? Like I said, I think the biggest thing for us is we have to run. We got too slow last year after the trade deadline. We've got to play faster. We have to be in great shape. I think if we do that then I think we're playing to the group's strengths."

It would seem, I guess from at least our vantage point, that there are so many more strengths this season. Of course, injuries can derail any hopes. But every team is vulnerable.

It just seems unlikely the Bulls could face anywhere near as much disruption this season as they did last season. LaVine had a Covid absence for an extraordinary 11 games late last season, far longer than almost everyone else who had similar symptoms. Both DeRozan and Vucevic have played in a higher percentage of games in their careers than Carter and Markkanen.

The Bulls opened last season with famous non combatants like Cristiano Felicio, Otto Porter Jr. and Luke Kornet. With White and Patrick Williams injured and unavailable to start the season, LaVine will be the only one available of the 17 players from last season's opening day roster. Valuable role players like Derrick Jones Jr., Tony Bradley, Troy Brown Jr. and Stanley Johnson are lined up instead of Denzel Valentine and Ryan Arcidiacono.

Could it be that most everyone here, including the players, is so anxious for the Bulls to return to competitiveness that we are exaggerating and embellishing? Could it be? Nah, not us.

"I've been on teams where we were picked to be in the tank and then win 50 games and make it to the third seed in the Eastern Conference," said DeRozan. "I've heard it all; you can't indulge it. You can't let history depict what your future is going to be like. You just have to go out there and set the tone and take on the challenge. With this group of guys and the talent we have everybody is willing to take on whatever that next challenge is.

"I know the trials and tribulations we went through with those teams to get there," added DeRozan. "There was always doubt every single day even when the success came; there was consistent doubts and the chatters. It's a tough thing to do. You just need to understand that. These guys want to see what winning is like first and foremost. We've got guys who have been along the right trail. It's tough, it's going to get hard."

Which is when we insert one of those motivation phrases, like when the going gets tough...

Better for these Bulls, as NFL coach Bill Parcells said, "You are what your record says you are."

Let's just watch then. I'm predicting at the very least more entertainment.