STATE OF THE FRANCHISE:
Chicago was an up-and-down team in 2009-10, reeling off several win streaks as well as some losing ones, including a 10-game streak without a victory from February 27 to March 19. Somehow, the Bulls were able to right the ship and go 10-4 from that point on to make the playoffs as the eighth seed with a 41-41 record. Chicago battled valiantly in the opening round, but the Cavaliers proved to be too much and took the series 4-1. Head coach Vinny Del Negro, who endured a turbulent year and appeared to lose his team, was relieved of his duties. He was replaced by career assistant Tom Thibodeau, who gets his first shot at a head-coaching job.
The Bulls had targeted July 1 – when LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade would become free agents – for a for a long time, making moves over the past two years to clear cap room. In 2009-10, they traded away Andres Nocioni and chose not to re-sign Ben Gordon. Last year, Chicago dealt John Salmons and Tim Thomas during the season, then moved Kirk Hinrich to Washington on draft night for a pick. At one point, it looked like every Chicagoan’s fantasy would come true – there were whispers all three stars could be headed to Chicago – but ultimately the trio decided to sign with Miami.
GM Gar Forman rebounded nicely, adding Carlos Boozer to the fold with a five-year, $76 million deal. Unfortunately, Boozer will miss the beginning of the season after suffering a broken hand. However, Forman also made a couple of other key moves. He filled two major needs – long-range shooting and an athletic two-guard – by inking Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer. Forman also signed J.J. Redick to an offer sheet, but it was matched by the Magic. Forman brought in depth at guard with C.J. Watson and Keith Bogans and also added forward in Kurt Thomas, who provides a sage presence in the locker room. Lastly, Omer Asik, a second round pick in 2008 out of Turkey, also will join the team for the upcoming season.
The presence of Derrick Rose, fresh off a solid performance at the World Championships, as well as the depth in the frontcourt and improvement at the two-guard, should help Chicago contend for the Central Division crown. They will be a handful for any team once the playoffs begin.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
The Bulls are set at four positions, with Rose starting at point guard, Luol Deng at the three, Boozer at the four (when healthy) and Joakim Noah at center. Brewer should see most of the minutes at shooting guard, but he will split the minutes with Korver and Keith Bogans, both of whom, especially Korver, provide the three-point shooting that was lacking last year when the Bulls finished 28th behind the arc. In addition, Korver may see time at the three. C.J. Watson will see time at both guard spots, as will Bogans, who may be the best defensive guard on the roster.
Taj Gibson, who proved to be a steal at 26 in last year’s draft, backs up Boozer and will start while Boozer is out. James Johnson, selected ahead of Gibson in 2009, is way down the forward pecking order. Chicago signed Kurt Thomas to add some defense and leadership, and Asik replaces Brad Miller and provides an upgrade defensively with some length, but neither will likely play significant minutes.
Joakim Noah: Despite modest scoring (10.7 ppg), Noah was one of the biggest steals in fantasy drafts last year, thanks to 11.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.5 steals and 1.6 blocks per game to go with solid shooting percentages (50.4 FG%, 74.4 FT%). Don't let those numbers fool you – there was a two-month stretch over February and March where a plantar fasciitis injury not only caused him to miss games but also hampered his performance when on the court – he averaged just 16 minutes and five rebounds over that 12-game span. Bottom line, Noah might be the top challenger to Dwight Howard to lead the NBA in rebounding given a full year of health (though the addition of Carlos Boozer could admittedly lead to fewer boards).
Kurt Thomas: Thomas was brought in to replace Brad Miller as the veteran center in Chicago. He will be looked on to provide leadership and a defensive presence.
Omir Asik: Asik is somewhat of an unknown because a broken collarbone and then a knee injury made him a non-entity the past two years. He is expected to bring some length to the defense.
Luol Deng: Deng did a couple things last season that he hadn't done either recently or, in some cases, ever before. For starters, he stayed on the court. Having averaged only 56 games over the previous two seasons, Deng (just barely) crossed the 70-game threshold last year. Moreover, Deng averaged more minutes per game (37.9) than ever before, just beating out 2006-07's average of 37.5. Those two feats alone very likely made him a value to owners who drafted him late. Deng also made modest, but notable, improvements in three-pointers (32 made on 38.6% shooting) and blocks (0.9 per game versus a career average of 0.6). The addition of Boozer will have less of a deleterious effect that most think, as Deng should see more open mid-range jumpers and be able to return to the cutting/slashing style he used before playing Vinny Del Negro’s screen-and-roll approach.
Carlos Boozer: Boozer has the ability to post a double-double nearly every night and is one of very few players with the potential to average 20-and-10 – he came up just shy last season, averaging 19.5 points and 11.2 boards in 78 games for Utah. However, Boozer will start the year on the sidelines after breaking a bone in his right hand in a fall at home in early October. His initial prognosis was eight weeks, so Boozer will likely miss most, if not all, of the season’s firs month. Boozer is strong on the glass, but with Noah on his squad, he may lose some boards. Of course, games played is a significant category for Boozer – a notoriously slow healer, Boozer played in just 37 games in 2008-09, 33 in 2005-06, and 51 in 2004-05. Like most top bigs, Boozer shoots a very high percentage from the floor – 56.2 percent from the field last season and just under 50 percent on his career. Unlike the truly elite forward, he doesn't give you much beyond the points, boards and shooting and is a very poor shot blocker.
Taj Gibson: – Gibson, selected 26th overall last year, became a surprise starter at power forward and joined Brad Miller as the only Bulls to play all 82 games. He led rookies with 7.5 rebounds per game and 49.4 percent shooting, while his 1.27 blocks per game ranked second. The addition of Boozer relegates Gibson to the bench, but he still should see decent minutes at various frontcourt positions and will start while Boozer is sidelined.
James Johnson: Johnson, selected 16th by the Bulls last season, fell behind Gibson on the depth chart. With Boozer and Gibson in Chicago, Johnson will see much of his time at small forward, but needs to be in better shape to even earn minutes there.
Derrick Rose: Rose is one of the best scorers in the league at his position, and though he's able to dish out seven or eight assists on ay given night, he's basically an average-or-below player in every other roto category at this stage of his career. Of course, that might not always be the case – this year, Rose will have an opportunity to produce in other categories, simply because his Bulls will be the deepest they've been since the last Michael Jordan championship squad. The addition of Carlos Boozer – which gives Rose a clear "option 1a" in the offense and a top-flight pick-and-roll partner – is particularly significant, as Boozer will eliminate some of the "I have to take the big shot" pressure off Rose and allow him to expand his game. In addition, Rose excelled at the World Championship and spent the offseason working on his outside shot to push his range to the three-point line, both of which should bode well for him taking the next step this season.
Ronnie Brewer: Guards who don't hit three-pointers are almost universally useless, but Brewer is the rare guard who gains value in other ways. Though he averaged a miniscule 8.8 points per game last season and had a grand total of eight three-pointers, Brewer records enough steals (1.6 per game last season) to reside on the fringes of relevance. Brewer, who the Bulls almost selected instead of Thabo Sefolosha in 2006, should get a chance to start for Chicago and could be the perfect running man for Rose. The two can both handle the ball and create lanes for the transition game.
Kyle Korver: Korver is a better fantasy player than you think. At his peak, playing 30-plus minutes per game, Korver was a legitimate top-100 player even while scoring only 11 or so points per game – almost entirely thanks to his three-point shooting. He's still the same guy on a per-minute basis. The problem has been getting the playing time: Korver averaged only 18.3 minutes per game last year. He moved with Boozer to Chicago this offseason, and while he is behind Deng on the small forward depth chart, he should also see time at the two. Korver is being counted on to fill a major need for the Bulls – three-point shooting – so look for both his minutes, and production, to increase.
C.J. Watson: Watson will back up at both guard spots. He will see most of his time behind Rose but will be used in tandem with Rose at times to push the ball up the floor. That said, Watson is a better scorer than passer, so expect to see some big games mixed amongst ones where he provides minimal production.
Keith Bogans: Bogans adds depth to Chicago's group of shooting guards that includes Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver. He only averaged 4.4 points and 1.2 assists last year with the Spurs, but his value comes more as a high-energy defender who can also shoot the occasional three.
Kyle Korver: Even with, and especially after dealing, John Salmons, Chicago struggled from three-point rage. The Bulls need a consistent outside threat to take advantage of the addition of Carlos Boozer, the inside presence of Joakim Noah, and the ability of Derrick Rose to break down the defense. Korver fits that role perfectly, so look for him to get more minutes than he has in recent years.
Ronnie Brewer: Brewer’s ability to the run the floor will help him get minutes, but the Bulls added several other players in Korver, Watson and Bogans who can also play the two. While Brewer should have a decent year, he won’t make the big jump that many expected when he first signed with Chicago.