COMMENTARY | The Chicago Bulls enter the 2013-14 season with high expectations.
Derrick Rose is back. Jimmy Butler is in line for a breakout season at shooting guard. The starting frontcourt is among the NBA's best. It can be a special season in Chicago.
There are some question marks, however, that could derail any hopes of reaching the Finals. From the number of minutes allotted by head coach Tom Thibodeau to the health of some key players, Bulls fans have legitimate reasons for concern.
Here are five of the most pressing:
Minutes. Minutes. Minutes.
Tom Thibodeau must find a way to curtail the number of minutes his stars log. They need to put the time in for this team to be successful, no doubt, but Thibodeau needs to consider the big-picture implications of playing his starters for extended minutes in games that are out of reach. It really is that simple.
To be fair, Thibodeau does not play his starters more than any other coach in the NBA. Portland Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, for example, had three players -- LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and Damian Lillard -- average more than 37 minutes per game last season.
The reason that managing minutes appropriately is so important for Thibodeau is that some of his players are either battling lingering injuries, or are reaching the stage in their careers where health becomes an ongoing issue.
Speaking of lingering injuries and ongoing health issues, look no further than Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich. Noah has had an issue with plantar fasciitis for the past couple of seasons. Now, Noah is a gamer and tries to play through it, but oftentimes that only sets him back. The Bulls will need to get at least 70-75 productive games from their center in order to make an extended run. Proper rest will be a key for him.
Hinrich, on the other hand, does not have any one thing wrong with him. Rather, he gets hurt all the time. Last year, he missed time with injuries to his foot, elbow, back, and calf. This season, he is suffering from back spasms. If it isn't one thing, it's another for the guard, and his importance cannot be underestimated.
Both players must stay healthy in order to avoid losing in the first or second round of the playoffs.
Derrick Rose's knee
It appeared that Rose's return from ACL surgery was going well. Then word came that he would miss some time because of what the Bulls described as "left-knee soreness," per NBA.com. They may be right. It may not be a big deal at all. If Rose's knee does not hold up this year, though, the Bulls are in a world of trouble and have no chance at an appearance in the Finals.
How productive will the bench be?
The production the Bulls get from the bench will come down to how Thibodeau manages it. It is no secret that after the starting five, the roster is very thin. If he can find a way to work Nazr Mohammed, Mike Dunleavy, Marquis Teague, and Tony Snell into the rotation with some regularity, that lack of depth will not be as noticeable.
If Thibodeau settles into the same seven guys, however, the Bulls could run out of gas after the All-Star weekend. Getting the bench involved early in the season could help to minimize any potential impact on production should one of the starters miss time.
The top of the Eastern Conference
The Pacers already have a formidable starting five, so the front office set about to remodel the bench. The additions of Donald Sloan, C.J. Watson, Solomon Hill, Luis Scola, and Chris Copeland were made with the expectation that a deeper bench will get them past the Heat, via NBA.com. Considering how much more depth the Pacers have, a matchup with them in the Eastern Conference semifinals is not something the Bulls are looking forward to.
It goes without saying that the Heat set the bar for excellence in the NBA. They have, after all, won the NBA Finals each of the past two seasons and show no signs of slowing down. LeBron James is at the top of his game, Dwyane Wade is still a formidable guard, and Chris Bosh does just enough to take some of the pressure off both of them. With a solid bench, and a maturing coach in Eric Spoelstra, the Heat are the biggest concern for the Bulls.
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