CHICAGO – Welcome back, Derrick Rose. Welcome back to title contention, Chicago Bulls.
With their superstar point guard back after missing a season after knee surgery, the Bulls are once again taking aim at LeBron James and the Miami Heat for supremacy in the Eastern Conference and a shot at the NBA championship.
Our No. 1 goal is winning the title, Rose said. We’re not worried about anything else. We’re not worried about what people say about us or what’s going on on the outside. We’re just worried about the Bulls and how good we get every day.
Of course, there’s a good reason why the Bulls believe they can be No. 1. That’s because the man who happens to wear that uniform number is back.
Without Rose, the Bulls were good enough to win 45 games and advance a round in the playoffs despite a long list of injuries and illnesses down the stretch.
Now, their superstar is healthy. The question is: Can Rose regain his MVP form? And how soon?
Rose has looked like his old explosive self in the preseason, scoring 22 points against the Detroit Pistons and following that up with 32 against Indiana, but the intensity is about to ratchet up a notch or two.
Here are five things to look for this season:
Rose insists he’s coming back better than ever. If he does, that’s a scary proposition for the rest of the league. The former league MVP said he added muscle during his time off, which he thinks will in turn add range to his jumper and help cut back on the wear and tear his body absorbs. If nothing else, Rose’s presence takes pressure off the rest of the team.
With an expiring contract, Luol Deng’s time in Chicago could be coming to an end. He did not get an extension in the offseason, so it looks as if he will hit the open market. A two-time All-Star, Deng has averaged 16 points and 6.4 rebounds over nine seasons.
Getting Rose back is huge for the Bulls. But it would help if Joakim Noah stayed healthy. He was limited by plantar fasciitis in his foot for the second time in three seasons, and he missed time in the preseason because of a lingering groin injury.
Butler’s bigger role
After making a jump in his second season, Jimmy Butler could be poised for another big step. He’s now the starting shooting guard and Rose is back. That could translate to plenty of opportunities for him. As it is, he played well last season, averaging 8.6 points mostly as a reserve.
The Bulls insist coach Tom Thibodeau and general manager Gar Forman are on the same page. Still, it’s worth keeping an eye on them after Forman let top assistant Ron Adams go in the summer. It was an unusual move because head coaches usually set their staff.