Season preview: Chicago Bulls
With a rookie coach/point guard, the Bulls should expect some growing pains
The talent is decent, but Chicago lacks a leader and consistent low-post threat
Vinny Del Negro will have his hands full dealing with a crowded backcourt
SI.com will analyze each of the NBA's 30 teams as regular-season tip-off approaches. For a complete list of team-by-team breakdowns, click here. The information in the "Go figure" category below is provided by Roland Beech of 82games.com.
Bulls at a glance
Last season: 33-49
Notable addition: Derrick Rose (R)
Notable loss: Chris Duhon (signed with Knicks)
Coach: Vinny Del Negro (first season as NBA head coach)
Reasons for hope
1. A Rose in winter. In a monumental break for the franchise, the Bulls overcame a 1.7 percent chance in the 2008 draft lottery to get the rights to the No. 1 pick. General manager John Paxson used it on Memphis freshman point guard Derrick Rose, a Chicago native with the skills and leadership qualities that could soon put him with Chris Paul and Deron Williams on the list of great young NBA playmakers. It might take some time for Rose to learn the pro game, but the Bulls believe they have their cornerstone for years to come. Early reports from the preseason have been promising, with Rose possibly even getting the nod as the opening-night starter. "He's going to have the ball a lot," Del Negro said.
2. Past success. After last season's 33-49 campaign that saw coach Scott Skiles get fired on Christmas Eve, it is easy to forget that the Bulls were considered an up-and-coming Eastern contender the previous year. Led by Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon and Andres Nocioni, Chicago won 49 games in 2006-07 and made a third straight playoff appearance. The Bulls hope that last season's debacle was an aberration due to contract issues and trade rumors, and that those players will return to form in '08-09. "Last year all of us had a bad experience, so we're trying to learn from that," Deng said. "We know we can't slack off and think we're talented enough."
3. New voice on the bench. Skiles earned high marks during the first three years of his Chicago tenure for getting his teams to defend and play hard on a nightly basis. But there is no getting around the fact that his intense style grated on some of his players. Paxson hopes Del Negro will bring a jolt of energy and renewed spirit to the locker room, especially from younger players such as Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah. Thomas, in particular, is a freakish athlete who could break out as an X factor for the Bulls.
Reasons for worry
1. Time to grow. A rookie coach and rookie point guard is hardly a formula for instant NBA success. Del Negro, in fact, has never coached before (not even as an assistant) at any level. Rose just turned 20. The Bulls have Hinrich to play the point guard position when needed, and Paxson brought in longtime assistant coaches Del Harris and Bernie Bickerstaff to help Del Negro with X's and O's, but there are likely to be serious growing pains at those two key areas this season.
2. No team leader. Even before last season's disaster, the Bulls lacked a clear go-to guy and team leader who could take charge on and off the court. Hinrich, Deng, Gordon, Nocioni, Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes are solid NBA players, but none is a true superstar who can carry a team. Chicago, in fact, has not sent a representative to the All-Star Game since Michael Jordan made his final appearance as a member of the Bulls in 1998.
3. Low post is still lacking. After being unable or unwilling to lure Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol in recent years, the Bulls once more enter the season without a reliable low-post scoring threat. Gooden, 27, is a decent option on the block, but the 6-foot-10 power forward is known more for cashing in on the offensive glass and hitting the mid-range jumper. Without a big guy to draw double teams and run the pick-and-roll with Rose, the Bulls have to work too hard all the time to get open shots.
Keep an eye on ...
The crowded guard spots. Gordon's decision to re-sign with the Bulls gives Del Negro a potential 20-point scorer. But it also adds to a backcourt that includes Rose, Hughes, Hinrich and Thabo Sefolosha. Del Negro is going to have a headache keeping everybody happy while not letting trade rumors affect team chemistry again.
Hinrich last season shot 14.3 percent in clutch time (a five-point game in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime), the worst among players with at least 100 minutes in that situation.
The Bulls boast impressive depth on the perimeter, and there appears to be a renewed spirit in the locker room. But Rose and Del Negro will have to make a rapid NBA adjustment, and the lack of a low-post scorer will hamstring the offense. Barring a trade for some inside help, Chicago appears headed to the lottery again.
Sports Illustrated's NBA preview issue will be on newsstands Wednesday, Oct. 22.