Sam Smith's top ten games for the 2017-18 regular season

The NBA Monday unveiled the schedule for the 2017-18 season with a subtle message to the Bulls’ kids: Be ready!

The Bulls featuring a rebuild around youngsters like Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine, acquired as a result of the trade of All-Star Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves, open the season with road games in Toronto and Cleveland sandwiching an Oct. 21 home opener against the San Antonio Spurs.

All are potential NBA finalists. Then after a home game against the Atlanta Hawks, the Bulls host the powerful Oklahoma City Thunder with MVP Russell Westbrook and Paul George. And then even without the presence of the circus in the United Center, the Bulls play a brutal stretch of nine of 12 road games, most in the Western Conference in a familiar close to November.

The Bulls this season switch to red home jerseys. Talk about seeing red.

And so off go the Bulls on their new journey as perhaps the league’s youngest team, one which will endure that early challenge and, in the process, get a close up glimpse of the NBA’s best and brightest.

The Bulls’ marquee game, which is their only exclusive TV game of the season with no local broadcast, is the Feb. 9 return of Butler to the United Center. The Bulls also are in Minneapolis later in February just after the All-Star break. The Bulls after a road heavy first half with most of their road games and back to backs, which are down to 14 this season, will see the champion Warriors in the United Center Jan. 17.

That reduction of back to backs is one of the new priorities of the NBA schedule, which eliminated four in five night sets and limits those of five in seven days. The season also opens earlier, Oct. 17. Boston at Cleveland and Houston at Golden State will tip off opening night with the Bulls starting on the road in Toronto Oct. 19. The Bulls with their new roster also were dropped from the Christmas Day schedule. That day that has become an NBA special featuring it’s top teams will deliver the Cavaliers and Warriors and games involving the Timberwolves, Lakers, 76ers, Wizards, Rockets, Thunder and Celtics.

The trade deadline was moved up to before the All-Star game, which will be Feb. 18 in Los Angeles. The regular season will end April 11 and the playoffs will begin April 14. The draft lottery is May 15 and the draft is June 21.

Here’s a look at the top United Center games of the 2017-18 season:

1. February 9 - Minnesota Timberwolves

It’s the return of Butler and his first game against his former team. The Timberwolves figure to be one of the league’s most improved and exciting teams in the second season under former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. They also added free agent point guard Jeff Teague and feature top young center Karl-Anthony Towns with Andrew Wiggins. And old buddy Taj Gibson. It will be quite the homecoming. It’s the first of the two games this season with the Timberwolves, both in February.

2. January 17 - Golden State Warriors

The dynasty. With their second title in three seasons and having two of the league’s most appealing players in Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, the Warriors appear on the verge of one of the great title runs in NBA history. They retained and added to their depth and can claim being both the top offense and best defense. They appear like the late 1990s Bulls, a team few believe can be seriously challenged. The Bulls will be in Golden State Nov. 24 just after Thanksgiving for the other game between the teams. That game is the close of a four-game Western trip and six road games is a 13-day stretch that rivals the old circus trip.

3. December 4 - Cleveland Cavaliers

Derrick Rose and LeBron James? Yes, things change in the NBA. With the apparent trade request of Kyrie Irving, Rose could be the starting point guard for the Cavaliers by then. The Bulls will be in Cleveland Oct. 24 in their third game of the season to see the Cavs for the first time. The Cavs still are considered the favorite for yet another rematch with the Warriors in the Finals, though the story of this NBA season could be as much whether LeBron James opts out to become a free agent and leave Cleveland after next season.

4. January 8 - Houston Rockets

Can they be the ones to upset the Warriors? They added Chris Paul in the big offseason move and remain in discussions to acquire the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony. Could those three coexist? Can Paul and James Harden? It wasn’t a good defensive team and they traded their best defender, Patrick Beverley. Can they score 150 per game? Mike D’Antoni probably asks why not.

5. November 4 - New Orleans Pelicans

Better get a look at them early before they trade DeMarcus Cousins? This is one of the bigger understated stories season with Cousins and Anthony Davis, arguably the league’s two most productive big men. Talk about coexisting. Jrue Holiday returns and should be healthy to start the season. It’s also probably a last stand for coach and management.

6. December 11 - Boston Celtics

Are they ready to knock off the Cavs with free agent acquisition Gordon Hayward? Rookie Jayson Tatum was the star of summer league, but there are questions with Isaiah Thomas going into his final contract season and Avery Bradley traded. Did they give up too much depth? Can they be better than 53 wins? Remember, the Bulls almost had them in the first round. Should they have passed on Markelle Fultz?

7. December 18 - Philadelphia 76ers

It’s the first home look at The Process, the 76ers decade of dumping. Can Joel Embiid stay healthy? Is Ben Simmons? That’s back to back No. 1 overall picks as rookies with Fultz. And Dario Saric was one of the best last season. The 76ers may be a playoff team, but only in an Eastern Conference that’s going to have a loose definition of All-Star.

8. January 26 - Los Angeles Lakers

Razzle dazzle. The hope for rookie Lonzo Ball is that he is traveling without family. Ball has been drawing—many from his own family—comparisons to new Lakers president Magic Johnson. And not by Ball’s exploits as an executive. He’s one of many to watch in one of the strongest rookie classes in years. The Lakers—pssst, quiet—supposedly have James and George lined up to join them next summer in the latest remaking of the Lakers dynasty. Though many ask why if James wants to win titles he’d leave the Eastern Conference.

9. Oct. 21 - San Antonio Spurs

It’s the Bulls home opener and perhaps for the same reason they got left off the Christmas schedule, the Spurs get pushed down the list of attractions. But they looked closest to beating the Warriors until Kawhi Leonard was injured. OK, challenging the Warriors. Pau Gasol is back and LaMarcus Aldridge still is there. Can Tony Parker recover? They have questions, but always seem to find answers.

10. October 28 - Oklahoma City Thunder

Another feature attraction for the Bulls in the first two weeks with Westbrook and George and yet another team aching for a shot at the Warriors. Westbrook is the reigning MVP and George supposedly is heading for Los Angeles. But the Thunder is taking a shot at one run to perhaps persuade him otherwise. And they’ll be passing to Doug McDermott. The Bulls the next game go to Miami with one big question for the team about the fate of Dwyane Wade. Is this his final season? One of his final appearances in Miami? That’s to be played out. The Bulls don’t see the new downtown Detroit arena until March when they also play for the last time in the Bradley Center as the Bucks move into a new arena next season.