It's a new day for the Chicago Bulls, but not the type characterized by a rising sun and fresh start. As a frustrating offseason has given way to the preseason, this feels more like a morning started by waking up on the wrong side of the bed: the ones that lead to spilling coffee on your khakis, stepping in a puddle, experiencing unexpected car trouble. The preseason rarely fails to yield optimism for even the league's most hopeless teams, but the Bulls' harsh reality is spelled out in plain sight with cameras rolling on the exhibition games. As if the seeing Kirk Hinrich back in his old No. 12 jersey as Chicago's starting point guard didn't cement it, it's Carlos Boozer, for Christ's sake, who has taken Derrick Rose's spot as the last member of the team announced at home games.
And this is where the true despair comes from. The critical-thinking sector of the fanbase spent all offseason bemoaning the destruction of the "Bench Mob" and the cheap impostors who took their roster spots, but that was never the Bulls' biggest problem. Yes: not even trying to get better counts as a felonious offense, but it hardly registers as a shock. The Bulls took the conservative route, did all they could to minimize the luxury tax and appear committed a to long-term plan that involves jumping back into the free agency fray for a max-contract player a summer or two from now. This isn't the only way they could have gone about their business, but it might be the easiest method to sell.
Complaining about the Bulls' offseason is almost on par with the too-liberal college kid who thinks they can construct the country and its government inside a diorama: this ain't no Utopia, and even something that seems painfully obvious isn't always that way in practice.
So it's with battered enthusiasm and a tattered roster that the Bulls begin this season, one that probably won't be very much fun. How could it be? After the last two seasons, Bulls fans have been spoiled. No one expected this team to become the league's very best (in the regular season, at least) in 2010-2011, and their ability to sustain that winning percentage last season while Rose, Richard Hamilton and others fought constant injuries was perhaps even more impressive. The Bulls were damn fun these last two seasons, and it's a bummer not to have them back with another shot at an NBA title. Get over it, kid: times change, people move on. The Bulls' new reality isn't a pleasant one, but what are you going to do: boycott basketball?
It's important to remember why this team was successful in the first place, and it wasn't because of talent. The Bulls overachieved even when they were fully healthy because Tom Thibodeau is perhaps the NBA's best tactical coach, and it's comforting knowing he'll around this year, and for the four seasons that come after it. Health permitting, the Bulls still could win a lot of games this season, very likely more than they lose. *Health permitting* is the key phrase: even if you don't rush to judgments on "Bench Mob 2.0", it's still a safe bet that these Bulls won't be as deep. If Joakim Noah or Hamilton -- hell, even Hinrich or Boozer -- goes down for months at a time, the Bulls could be fighting for their playoff lives. If everyone stays on the court, though, this team will probably do what they've always done under Thibodeau: grind out games, find a way to win.
It's natural to worry about the offense without Rose, and it's a very valid concern. How will this team score? It depends on several factors: Hinrich regaining his stroke, Boozer staving off regular season regression, Luol Deng fighting through torn ligaments in his wrist. They'll need something out of the bench, too, as Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson will be expected to carry the offense some nights. Over the last two seasons, there were specific instances when the old guys -- Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson, even John Lucas III -- were up for the task.
Aligning expectations will be critical for the fanbase this season, and not just in terms of wins and losses. Even if the Bulls end games with more points than their opponent, this season will be more trying than fun. There are defensive wars of attrition ahead, and they won't be salvaged by nightly acrobatics from Rose.
The Bulls have been dealt a crappy hand this season, but they have no choice but to play it.
2. As a personal rule, I try not to watch too much preseason action in any sport, and the Bulls' bummer of an offseason has helped me stick to my beliefs. You had to chuckle at this tweet from ESPN's John Hollinger, though.
Watched Bulls-Wolves this AM. Perhaps the single ugliest game I've ever seen. Let's speak no more of this.— John Hollinger (@johnhollinger) October 14, 2012
Indeed, our Bulls have been pretty bad so far during their 1-2 preseason start. Carlos Boozer is shooting just 36 percent from the floor, and the team is 6-for-46 from three-point range. Shout-out to Blog-a-Bull for reminding us "Kyle Korver's trade exception surprisingly not getting it done."
Another interesting preseason development: Jimmy Butler going the Luol Deng route and playing all 48 minutes against the Timberwolves. I might try to find fault if it was anyone else, but Lord knows Butler needs the work. I'm not as high on him as some are -- the fact that there appears to be a contingent that believes he's *already* better than Ronnie Brewer is puzzling, to say the least -- but his development is certainly of paramount importance to the new bench. Jimmy can still get to the line, here's hoping he finds some serenity on the court and learns how to shoot.
3. Other Bulls preseason happenings to be aware of:
- Kyrylo Fesenko promises to never stop joking.
- The Bulls get treated like celebs in Champaign.
- VladRad threw down a killer dunk against Tyler Zeller.
4. I liked the selection of Marquis Teague in the 2012 draft, though even his most ardent supporters likely don't expect too much out of him as a rookie. Those lack of expectations only became reinforced hearing Thibodeau talk about what the rookie has to do to break into the rotation.
"You have to learn how to be a pro first," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Then you have to practice well. Then you have to learn the league. Then you have to learn your teammates. Once you do those things and know how to do your job, you may get an opportunity to play. But it's a big step going from college to pros. Everything is based on performance."
Hahaha. Welcome to the league, rook.
5. Rose may be gone from the court, but he certainly isn't gone from our consciousness. The point guard has had the opportunity to focus on some non-basketball ventures as he rehabs his torn ACL, most notably his partnership with local pizzeria Giordano's. If nothing else, it's at least given you a new Facebook cover photo: