As the top seed heading into the playoffs, the Bulls were primed to make a return-trip to the Eastern Finals and challenge Miami for conference supremacy.
Those plans were quickly derailed when point guard Derrick Rose blew out his knee in the closing moments of Chicago's first round Game 1 win against the 76ers.
The Bulls failed to win another game as the offence went south without the direction of its MVP guard, who's availability for 2012-13 is now also in doubt.
Young Core - Besides Carlos Boozer and Richard Hamilton, the Bulls are still a young team that will only continue to grow and get better. In Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, Chicago has two of the game's premier paint defenders. On the perimeter, Rose will be entering his fifth season in the league upon his return, but is still only 24, while small forward Luol Deng is 27. Rookie point guard Marquis Teague should also provide solid insurance for the injury plagued Rose, whose return is expected to again make the Bulls a top contender.
Bulls fans are hoping MVP point guard Derrick Rose can regain his previous form when he returns from injury.
Defence That Doesn't Rest - Besides his playoff injury, the Bulls also played without Rose for 27 games during the regular season and posted an impressive 18-9 record. The major reason for that was their defensive dominance. Tom Thibodeau's squad led the league in opponent's two-point percentage and were among the best at forcing turnovers and rebounding. His ball-pressure defense that relies on big men to protect the rim took a hit in the off-season with the losses of Ronnie Brewer and Omar Asik, but the core performers are still in place, so there shouldn't be too much drop-off in 2012-13.
Bench Losses - Although their starters, minus Rose remained intact, Chicago's second unit underwent major change in the off-season. In addition to the losses of high-level defenders Asik and Brewer, the team will be without sharpshooter Kyle Korver and scoring guards John Lucas III and C.J. Watson. The Bulls did a solid job replacing their departed backcourt backups by drafting Teague and signing Nate Robinson, but their frontcourt replacements are not on the same level as their predecessors. With Rose sidelined indefinitely, the Bulls will need contributions from their entire roster to ensure a return to the playoffs, so the decrease in depth may present a problem.
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Without Derrick Rose a spot in the top 12 is all the Bulls can get.
Carlos Boozer needs to pick up the scoring slack. He's ranked 37th.
Rose's Injury - With so many high-level athletes including Adrian Peterson and Terrell Suggs defying the expected recovery timelines typically associated with ACL injuries, there was hope that Rose could make a similarly speedy recovery and rejoin the team around the All-Star break. However, five months after surgery, his rehab doesn't appear to be going as quickly as his NFL brothers. Speaking during training camp, he told reporters that he has not yet even begun to test the knee by making cuts and that he is "scared" of even attempting to do so. The Bulls chances of contending for a title depend on his return to full health, but that may be an unrealistic expectation at this point considering the apparent lack of progress he is making.
X Factor: Luol Deng
Coming off an injury-plagued 2011-12 season, the Bulls need a bounce-back season from Deng to off-set the loss of their point guard. The former seventh overall pick saw his points per game drop by over two, while his shooting percentage was the lowest of his career. Scoring was a concern even with Rose in the lineup, so without him Deng will need to step up or Chicago will have a tough time keeping pace with the East's more prolific offences.
What to Expect
Minus Rose, the Bulls will have to win primarily with their defense and that means plenty of low scoring, grind-it-out contests. It doesn't promise to be pretty, but Thibodeau should find a way to keep the team in a playoff position long enough until their MVP point guard returns, hopefully at some point late in the season.
Tim Chisholm's Offseason Grade
In light of Derrick Rose's horrific Playoff injury, the Bulls opted to go cheap this season.
They shed their vaunted bench crew (Omer Asik, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson and John Lucas III), which will see them take a massive step back after finishing with the East's best record last season.
Expect their stellar bench defense to take a hit, too, with Marco Belinelli, Nazr Mohammed, Vlad Radmanovic and Marquis Teague replacing the aforementioned bench mob.