The Chicago Bulls entered this summer as a franchise who has lived and died on the knees of their star player Derrick Rose of late.
When he was healthy, they made it to the Eastern Conference finals and were in the discussion as being one of the best teams in the league. When he has been injured, they have simply been a team that fights hard to get to the playoffs but can't advance very far once they get there.
This is the first summer since 2010 where they have had the chance to significantly shake up their roster. They went into free agency knowing they needed one thing and one thing badly: scoring.
There's no question that the Bulls are an elite defensive team behind coach Tom Thibodeau. Without Rose though, they have struggled to keep up offensively. Even with a healthy Rose expected to return for the start of the 2014-15 season, they knew they needed more scoring to compete for a title.
The Bulls went hard after Carmelo Anthony to solve their offensive woes, but they fell short of signing an elite star yet again when he decided to re-sign with the Knicks.
Bulls fans are all too familiar with chasing star players from other teams, as they have also fallen short on signing LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and even Tracy McGrady in recent memory. Has the sky fallen yet again? Are the Bulls destined to grind out another season, only to fall short in the playoffs due to a lack of offense?
When Anthony told the Bulls that he was going to re-sign with the Knicks, they quickly moved to Plan B and brought in a very valuable piece in Pau Gasol. He's not what he was in his prime when he was traded to the Lakers, but he still has at least a couple productive years left in his career.
Gasol is an excellent passer out of the frontcourt, and he and Joakim Noah will now make up arguably the best passing frontcourt duo in the league. He can score in the post and has a solid jump shot, so he will certainly help the team on offense. Adding Gasol to replace the recently amnestied Carlos Boozer is a big upgrade for the Bulls. They also still have Taj Gibson as their super-sub off the bench, making them one of the best frontcourts in the league.
When you watched the Bulls play last season, the other common theme to their lack of scoring was their lack of depth. Players like Noah and Jimmy Butler were forced to play very heavy minutes because Thibodeau just didn't feel comfortable with his options on the bench.
Everyone rags on Thibodeau for playing his star players big minutes, but looking at the Bulls bench over the last couple of seasons, can you really blame him? Nazr Mohammed certainly was no reassuring option to put on the court when Noah needed a rest last season. Mohammed is a valuable guy in the locker room, but he might have the worst vertical in the league. The Jimmer Fredette experiment didn't work either as he could barely sniff any playing time.
The Bulls went on to address their depth concerns by finally bringing over Nikola Mirotic from Europe and trading up to draft Doug McDermott. Both players can shoot and can impact the team right away even when taking into consideration Thibodeau's hesitation for playing rookies. Mike Dunleavy still appears to be the favorite to start at either small forward or shooting guard alongside Jimmy Butler, but he is better served to come off the bench. If McDermott can get off to a hot start, he or the improving Tony Snell could cut into Dunleavy's playing time. Dunleavy might remain the token starter but should eventually end up playing reserve minutes. The Bulls have done that in the past with Richard Hamilton and Keith Bogans, as both started for stretches but didn't play heavy minutes late in games.
Captain Kirk is back yet again to help anchor the second unit and is part of the heart of the team. The Bulls also made an underrated signing by bringing in Aaron Brooks to help make their lack of depth a concern of the past. They still could use another backup center, but Gasol can help spell Noah as well. There have been rumors that Mohammed wants to play again, but it's unclear if the Bulls will bring him back, and I hope they don't. They didn't play him last season even when they were desperate, so why waste a roster spot on him again this year? If I'm the Bulls, I try to convince Jermaine O'Neal to take the veteran minimum and sign with the team. He's a much better option at this point than Mohammed and would fill out the roster nicely.
As we look forward to the fall and another long grind of the NBA regular season, there's hope in Chicago that this is the season that Rose stays healthy and their addition of Gasol and depth helps lead them to a championship.
As for the possibility of trading for Kevin Love ... don't get your hopes up Bulls fans, it's not going to happen. Just be happy that this is a solid roster that's going to make some noise in the playoffs, and when it's all said and done, they might be playing for the Larry O'Brien Trophy.