By David Schuster-
(CBS) Yes, it’s that time again. The beginning of the NBA season, and what a dandy it promises to be, both locally and nationally.
So let’s get it out of the way, without further ado: I’m going out on a limb and predicting that the Bulls will win their seventh championship in franchise history.
Dare I say (sorry, Dave Wannstedt) that “all the pieces are in place.” But they are. There’s a much improved roster and, more importantly, a much deeper one.
The Bulls begin the campaign with 14 players on their roster, and 11 of them are legitimate rotational weapons. Coach Tom Thibodeau has begged for more shooters, and he now has them. Previously, the team lacked enough size and depth in the frontcourt, but no longer. And though the Eastern Conference is much improved, the Bulls should be the class of the bunch.
Let’s take a closer look at this Bulls roster. Of course, it all starts with Derrick Rose, and fans will hold their collective breaths all season long to see if Rose can hold up. It’s understandable, as he’s sat out most of the last two seasons recovering from knee injuries.
But if the experience of the FIBA World Cup and the NBA preseason has shown us anything, it’s that Rose is 100 percent healthy and has shown flashes of the MVP form he had three in 2011-’11. In the words of Stacey King, Rose is still “too big, too strong, too fast and too good.”
The rest of the starting five will be comprised of Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah. There’s lots of valuable experience there, and it will be important for them to quickly blend together.
The same will be true for a bench that includes Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich, Aaron Brooks and rookies Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic. McDermott and Mirotic will frustrate you — and Thibodeau — at times with their young mistakes, but by season’s end they will also be much more experienced and help to win a lot of games.
The one question still to be determined is how Thibodeau will blend all this talent. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Thibodeau is the biggest key here. Though a great coach, he’s stubborn and has repeatedly overused his players in years past, breaking them down by season’s end. Hopefully, Thibodeau has learned from his past and will fully utilize the deep roster that upper management has bestowed upon him.
As for the rest of the East, obviously Cleveland will be the big hurdle waiting in the end. LeBron James is still the best player on the planet and coupled with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, they form an incredibly talented trio of stars. But the Cavaliers don’t have the same size and depth up front that the Bulls do, and their bench has numerous questions. In the long run, I believe the Bulls would beat them in a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals series.
My other playoffs teams in the East: Washington, Toronto, Miami, Brooklyn, Indiana and Detroit. (Sorry Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony, you’ll be outside looking in.)
In the Western Conference, it will be another dogfight with four teams battling it out for the top spot and just as good a battle for the last playoff positions.
Here are my playoff picks in the West: L.A. Clippers, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Golden State, New Orleans, Houston, Dallas and Portland.
Come next mid-June, it will be the Bulls and Spurs. When the dust settles, I see Chicago prevailing and a party beginning.
David Schuster is a reporter, update anchor and weekend host for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @Schumouse.