By David Schuster-
(CBS) — As the Bulls get ready to open up training camp next Tuesday for the 2014-’15 season, it’s not farfetched to say that this might be their most talented roster since the Michael Jordan era. Certainly it’s the deepest roster since then, and that’s exactly what John Paxson and Gar Forman set out to do during the summer months.
Go back in time to last season’s playoff series against Washington and you’ll see what a difference six months have made. In that series loss to the Wizards, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau really only had seven players at his disposal, and some of them were hiding injuries that hindered them. Now, you’ll find a complete roster of 14 players, with 12 of those 14 capable of contributing.
Back, of course, are Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, Mike Dunleavy and Tony Snell. And added to the nucleus are a healthy Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Aaron Brooks, E’Twaun Moore, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic. Cameron Bairstow and Nazr Mohammed round out the current roster.
Rose, of course, will be the focal piece for Bulls fans as he (once again) returns from a serious knee injury, his second in the past 30 months. But unlike last season, this time Rose played competitive basketball in the summer, having won the gold medal Team USA at the World Cup in Spain. Rose was far from his MVP form of a few seasons back.
In fact, he looked plenty rusty — but most importantly he showed that he could play without hardship, and the burst of speed is still there. Don’t kid yourself, Rose will certainly have his ups and downs as the NBA season unfolds, but he’ll have plenty of time to get back to possible All-Star status. And with the deepened roster, he won’t have to take over immediately.
That’s exactly what Paxson and Forman had in mind when they went to work to broaden the roster. They’ve strengthened themselves in all facets. They needed more shooting, and that’s where McDermott, Mirotic and Brooks come into play (all shot at least 39 percent from 3-point land last season). They wanted more inside scoring, and Gasol can still easily do that in spite of just turning 34. Gasol basically replaces Carlos Boozer from last year’s team. Boozer was as much of a lightning rod for criticism as any player ever in Chicago.
He still gave you close to 20 points and 10 rebounds during his tenure with the Bulls, but his defense was matador-like and his effort at times was lacking. Gasol has never been known for his defensive prowess, but he’s at least four inches taller than Boozer and that will come into play in matchup situations. He’ll also be much more reliable on the offensive end of the court and will mesh well in the Bulls locker room.
McDermott and Mirotic are the wild cards on this year’s team. Both are extremely talented but come in with question marks galore. McDermott was a flat-out scorer in his four years at Creighton. He can shoot from anywhere on the court and also has the ability to score on the inside, but he’s still a rookie and Thibodeau, in general, doesn’t play rookies much at all. However, Paxson and Forman moved up in this year’s draft to get McDermott and will demand that he sees action — and perhaps a lot of it. The same will be true for Mirotic, who joins the Bulls after being successful over in Europe. Mirotic combines good size (6-foot-10) and great shooting range and can play either of the forward positions. That gives Thibodeau another matchup nightmare for the competition.
You know what you’re getting from Noah, Gibson, Hinrich and Dunleavy, but the beauty this season is that they will have reinforcements off the bench and won’t be counted on to do as much. Hopefully for Chicago, they will will be much more rested come playoff time. And that’s where Thibodeau comes into play.
Even with an incredible regular season record and Coach of the Year award to his name, he still has a nasty habit of wearing his players out. Paxson and Forman have expanded the rosters to almost “Thibodeau proof” it from being broken down and tired come April, May and June. But don’t think for a second that they haven’t had some very serious discussions already with their coach on how they want all the players to be used this season so as to make a serious playoff push come next spring.
It has now been 16 years since the Bulls last won an NBA title, and there have been some quality chances for another since. But this upcoming season may be their best one since Jordan hit that jump shot in Utah and played his last game in Chicago. This season should be highly successful and a lot of fun, and I can’t wait for it to start.
David Schuster is a reporter, update anchor and weekend host for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @Schumouse.