I think given his druthers, Team President Gar Forman would like a team that plays hard every night but finishes just out of the playoff picture putting the Bulls in the lottery giving them a solid chance to add an impact player to a 2013-14 team built around a fully recovered Derrick Rose (he’s missing the first 2/3 of the season after knee surgery) plus Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Marquis Teague, Euro-stashie, Nikola Mirotic (a sweet shooting power forward whose arrival will mean that Carlos Boozer will meet the Amnesty clause), and whatever impact player the 2013 draft yields.
What will get in the way of that aim is that the rules dictate that eight teams participate in the Eastern Conference playoffs and I’m just not sure there’s a way that these Bulls can finish ninth or lower. They’ll be without D-Rose for most of the season, but we’re talking about a group that went 18-9 without him last season. The conventional wisdom is that this year’s Rose-less team isn’t as good as last years. I agree that Omer Asik’s departure hurts the bench D, but the Bulls “Bench Mob” for the last two seasons has been one of the best defensive units in the history of NBA. They can decline a bit without causing too much pain to the team’s W-L record. New Bulls like Marco Bellinelli and Vladimir Radmanovich aren’t anyone’s idea of defensive aces, but neither were former Bulls Kyle Korver and CJ Watson,. In other words, it’s probably coach Tom Thibodeau’s schemes, not necessarily the players (though Gibson is an exception) that have built the Bulls extraordinary D. I think the Bulls will still have a top five defense and that alone will win them enough games to finish among the Eastern top eight.
But where? The Eastern Conference has three teams that are heads and shoulders above the rest: the Miami Heat, the Boston Celtics, and the Indiana Pacers. The rest is a jumble. Brooklyn’s fine as long as their frontcourt starter’s health holds up. Ditto Atlanta. I have trouble seeing the Rose-less Bulls finishing behind either the 76ers or the Knicks. Philadelphia is thin in the backcourt and the Knicks are old and brittle. In other words, I could see the Bulls vying for the 4th seed when Rose comes back in February or so. They could be a dangerously under-seeded playoff team whose postseason serves notice for 2013-14.
I think that would make Forman happy too. It certainly would warm Thibodeau’s heart. But that might just be the fan in me overtaking the analyst.