The Tom Thibodeau-led Chicago Bulls epitomize a hard-nosed and scrappy defensive team.
The last two seasons the Bulls have played full-throttle basketball throughout each and every regular season game, ultimately earning two consecutive number 1 seeds in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
But with a high seed comes lofty playoff expectations and in turn, pressure.
After falling to the Miami Heat in the Conference Finals last season, the Bulls headed in to this year’s playoffs fully expecting to have a rematch with the Big Three to see who would represent the conference in the NBA Finals.
But as you all know, the landscape of the Bulls’ playoff run would soon be turned out of their favor.
After the Bulls’ opening-game win against the 76ers, the news broke that the Derrick Rose injury that hushed Chicago was indeed a serious one, as the former Rookie of the Year and MVP had torn his ACL and would be out for the remainder of the playoffs.
Based on lots of articles posted around the web and calls into the Chicago radio station, I’d say the expectation was that the team could still make the Eastern Conference Finals and possibly at least make things interesting against the Heat. So no, there was no concerns that the Bulls wouldn’t be able to get past Philadelphia in the series that they already possessed a 1-0 lead.
But the rest, as we like to say, is history.
Chicago went on to drop four of the next five games and become the 5th number 1 seed to be eliminated by an 8 seed in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Yeah, it’s tough executing without your MVP point guard and All Star-caliber center, Joakim Noah, but the Bulls were still the favored team since Philly struggled so mightily this year after getting off to a 20-9 start on for the regular season.
But superior in talent or not, the Bulls were not superior with execution the rest of the series, which is why the 76ers were able to pull out all of the low-scoring, closely fought games.
The feeling around the Bulls’ fan base was that the loss was inevitable and served as sort of a mercy-killing, since it was believed the Bulls wouldn’t be able to contend for a Championship any longer.
In a chat I had with ESPN Chicago Bulls beat writer, Nick Friedell, you could hear the lack of optimism in his voice. He said something along the lines of “Yeah, we certainly can win this series but, well, I don’t know, maybe.” It was that kind of cautious optimism that was the pattern from the Bulls’ faithful throughout the past week and a half, or so.
So when the Bulls playoff run was doused on Thursday evening, the first thing on fans’ minds was “Really? It’s over? Like that?” but it quickly shifted to “Well do our chances extend into the future?”
And now what you all want broken down, here’s the outlook for your Bulls the next couple of seasons…
Next year, the Bulls will battle injuries yet again. Derrick Rose will probably miss about half of the season due to the torn ACL, and Luol Deng could very likely miss time after he gets surgery to repair the torn ligament in his wrist, which he previously opted to wait on. Not to mention, who knows if Noah’s injury from this past weekend will have any lingering effects.
Outside of the core players, the shape of the team could look pretty different next year.
The team is not in a great position financially, and may have to watch as some very valuable role players head elsewhere. To put it simply, if the Bulls want to add a scorer or any proven player with a big contract, they’ll have to part ways with role players Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, and Kyle Korver, or at least two of the three. Lots of people like myself are confident that youngster Jimmy Butler can take over Brewer’s role and that the team can easily replace a spot up shooter in Korver.
With that being said, the Bulls did prove that they can win an impressive amount of regular season games behind Thibs even when significant players are out of the lineup, so if the club opts to stay with those guys instead of adding anyone else major, the Bulls may have a very similar lineup next year.
But fast forward to the latter half of the regular season next year when teams’ playoff spots start shaping up, I still look for the Bulls to be in the top 3 seeds of the Eastern Conference, with Miami not going anywhere and Indiana looking like they’re only going to keep getting better with experience. So if that is indeed the case, there’s still a solid shot that the Bulls will get their chance at the Heat in the playoffs yet again.
And while it gets much more complicated, the Bulls are in a good situation after next year. But it involves long explanations about things like the luxury tax, amnesty players, and so forth. So that discussion is for another time.
So Bulls fans, rejoice in the fact that the team will be in contention for a championship next year. We’re not going to face that big of a drop off. But it may be a long, tedious process to get there. So bare with the team come next winter, it’ll turn out all right. And in the words of Stacey King, “If you’re scared, buy a dog!”
This story was originally posted on IUSportCom.com, a great sports site brought to you by Indiana University’s finest. Check that out, in addition to Zach’s Chicago White Sox blog, GrabSomeBench.com and follow him on Twitter at @zach_gropper & @Grab_Some_Bench.