How easy was it for the Chicago Bulls last season?
Well they won the Central Division by a whopping 25 games over Indians and the Pacers, Bucks, Pistons and Cavaliers finished a mighty 207 games below .500 collectively with a winning percentage of .369.
Led by MVP Derrick Rose the Bulls cruised to a 62-20 season that ultimately saw them lose in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat in five games. A fifth game by the way that saw them blow a 12-point lead with less than three minutes to go and Rose missing a free throw that would have tied the game then a three-pointer at the buzzer.
Given the state of the NBA and superstars choosing to leave, the Bulls made certain their leader wouldn't be going anywhere and signed Rose to a five-year contract extension just last week.
The Bulls that take the court on Christmas Day against the Los Angeles Lakers won't look much different than the team that left the court against Miami back in late May. The one big addition, though, will be shooting guard Richard Hamilton, who comes to the Bulls after spending the last nine years with Detroit.
"On this team, there are no ball hogs," Hamilton said recently. "There are guys trying to make plays for each other, guys always helping each other out. That makes the game so much easier."
2010-11 Results: 62-20, first in Central; Lost in East finals to Miami.
ADDITIONS: G Richard Hamilton, G Jimmy Butler.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
FRONTCOURT: The Bulls seemingly struck out on the major free agent players last offseason, but did land Carlos Boozer, who turned out to be a major disappointment in his first season in Chicago.
As has been his custom for most of his career, Boozer struggled mightily on the defensive end last season. However, he did at times show signs of the player who was once a 20-point, 10-rebound a night player for the Utah Jazz.
"Criticism is all in how you take it," Boozer said recently. "At the end of the day, some people take criticism the wrong way. I take it as motivation. Criticism motivates you. That's the way I've been my whole career. And I'm very motivated, to say the least."
Boozer has great movement skills, can finish around the basket and run the floor. Aside for his lack of defensive skills, another knock on him has been his ability to stay on the floor and last year was no exception, as he missed 23 games because of injuries.
Luol Deng remains one of the smartest players in the league and his mid-range jumper is tailor-made for Rose's playmaking ability. The versatile Deng is one of the most underrated players in the NBA and is solid at both ends of the floor.
Center Joakim Noah plays with great energy and is already a top-tier low-post defender. Although, that defense failed him last year in the playoffs. It got so bad that at one point both he and Boozer were off the court when the Bulls threw away Game 5 in the Eastern Conference finals.
Noah has virtually no offensive skills. His wingspan and athletic ability enable him to wreak havoc at times and he loves to run the floor but to be an upper echelon player at the NBA level, Noah must polish those offensive skills.
BACKCOURT: Rose showed just how good he was last season winning the league's MVP award. The dynamic Memphis product, who grew up in Chicago, averaged 25.0 points and 7.7 assists last season. On the heels of that terrific season, the Bulls locked him up with a five-year extension, worth a reported $94 million.
"We are thrilled that we have signed Derrick to an extension. On top of being a great player, what has set Derrick apart is his make-up, character, drive and his leadership," Bulls general manager Gar Forman said in a statement.
"That being said, we believe his greatest asset is his loyalty to his teammates, to our organization and to the city of Chicago. We look forward to having Derrick in a Bulls uniform for years to come, as he helps lead us in our quest to become a championship team."
Rose will have a new running mate in the backcourt with the team inking veteran guard Rip Hamilton. The 33-year-old averaged 14.1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 55 games (39 starts) last season for the Detroit Pistons.
Hamilton is one of six players in Pistons franchise history to reach the 11,000-point plateau and one of five players to score 50-plus points in a game. He led the team in scoring for eight of his nine seasons.
"We are excited to welcome a player, and person, with the credentials of Richard Hamilton to our organization," said Chicago Bulls general manager Gar Forman. "Rip has been a winner at every level. His resume speaks for itself, and we are confident that he will be an excellent fit with our team, both on and off the floor."
BENCH: Thibodeau's hands are all over the bench, as Omer Asik and Taj Gibson are two of the best defenders in the game. Asik spells Noah from time-to-time and you can make the case that had he not gotten hurt against the Celtics in the ECF last season, the Bulls would have won that series.
Gibson is a game-changer at the defensive end. There is not much he can't do. He blocks, he rebounds, helps on bigs and guards, and is even reasonably capable offensively when set up.
Quite simply those two are Thibodeau's stoppers.
Thibodeau's second unit won't light up the scoreboard, but they have the ability to just shut good teams down cold. If Chicago needs some scoring off the bench, though, it comes from Kyle Korver, who can shoot from anywhere on the court.
When Rose comes off the court C.J Watson is the one who spells him.
COACHING: Already one of the great defensive strategists in the game, Thibodeau made a seamless transition from well-regarded assistant to head coach last season. His attention to detail as opposed to his predecessor Vinny Del Negro drew rave reviews from the tough Second City media. Then again having a player like Rose makes a lot of coaches look real good.
OUTLOOK: The sky is the limit for this Bulls team. Expectations are sky high and the talent level is there to match it. Perhaps this young team was overwhelmed by the moment in the ECF against Miami, or more likely the injuries, especially to Asik and Boozer finally caught up to them. Injuries are a part of this game, though, and given the truncated schedule they could wreck havoc on a team like the Bulls, who with players like Noah and Boozer have a tendency to be injury prone. However, other than losing Rose for an extended period of time, this is a team that should be able to overcome anything given their bench depth and will once again battle for a conference crown.