Chicago Bulls: Player breakdowns
Position: Shooting guard. Age: 31. 2011-12 salary: $5,000,000.
Season recap: Korver worked hard during the summer to improve his overall quickness and showed improvements on the defensive end. His lateral movement was better and he shot almost 44 percent from beyond the arc. He also improved his rebounding and played through several nagging injuries throughout the season. Still, there were games where he was a non-factor and he couldn't find his shot. For the second consecutive year, Korver couldn't find much rhythm in the postseason and didn't even register a point in three games.
Season highlight: On March 10 against the Utah Jazz, his former team, Korver erupted to the tune of 26 points, seven rebounds and six assists. He was 10-for-16 from the field and found a groove that all shooters talk about. The performance showed once again why Tom Thibodeau loved having him on the floor so much; Korver's presence and ability to knock down long range shots opens up the floor for the rest of his teammates.
Season lowlight: Games 3-6 against the Philadelphia 76ers in the playoffs. Korver was just 2-for-10 and ended up only playing a combined 11:35 in the final two games as Thibodeau decided to play Rip Hamilton and Ronnie Brewer more.
Quotes: "He's a pro," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said of Korver in March. "He will never stop shooting nor do we ever want him to stop. That's his strength. When he has an open look at the three, we want him to take it all day, every day. In a very good way, he has a short memory. He always thinks the next one is going in. He's a great shooter."
What's next?: The Bulls have to decide whether they want to bring Korver back next year since his contract is not fully guaranteed. Given the Bulls' uncertain cap space, Gar Forman and John Paxson may decide that Korver's $5 million price tag is too much and they have more pressing needs elsewhere. In the meantime, Korver will continue to work out in Santa Barbara, California with some of his trainers and wait to see what happens over the next couple of months.
FINAL GRADES: Regular Season: B-. Postseason: C-.
Tom ThibodeauSeason recap: Thibodeau had plenty of success in his first year with the Bulls. He led the team to 62 regular-season wins and an Eastern Conference finals berth. He quickly earned the trust and respect of his players by spending countless hours in the gym and watching hour after hour of tape. That dedication to his craft, and the fact that the Bulls became one of the best teams in the league, made Thibodeau a very popular figure within the fan base. The Bulls were widely praised for giving the lifelong assistant a chance to be the man in charge, although, like the fans, Thibodeau's frustration with how his team finished the season was palpable after a Game 5 meltdown against Miami.
Season highlight: May 1. The day Thibodeau was named coach of the year. After waiting so long for the opportunity to run his own team, it was easy to understand why the award meant so much to him. Thibodeau came in with a plan of the things he wanted to do in his first year and he executed most things to near perfection. The key for Thibodeau was that he got Derrick Rose to buy into his system early on, and because of that the rest of the Bulls players had no problem falling in line. If Rose wasn't too big of a star to be cursed out by Thibodeau, they couldn't say anything when Thibodeau said the same things to them.
Season lowlight: Aside from the obvious frustration during the end of the Miami series, Thibodeau's biggest blunder all year may have been the fact that he inserted John Lucas III at the end of a late November game in Denver. Lucas, who was signed earlier in the day, and had come to the arena straight from the airport, proceeded to miss both foul shots, leaving the door open for Carmelo Anthony to hit a game winner at the buzzer.
Final grades: Regular season -- A | Postseason -- B-
“Notes: People criticized Thibodeau during the postseason for failing to make adjustments at different times. While there's no questions I think he stuck with guys a little too long here and there, the bigger issue for the Bulls was that they simply didn't have the type of game-changing talent to finish games against Miami. Rose was the only guy Thibodeau had who was in the same class as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade offensively. No matter what kind of adjustments he made, it wouldn't make up for the fact that the Bulls didn't have the type of firepower they needed in that round, especially since Rose seemed to be worn out at the end of May.
Our goals are always the same. We concentrate on exactly what's in front of us; we strive for improvement each and every day. We know perfection is hard to achieve. We know you can't really get there, but you strive to get to being as close to it as possible.” -- Tom Thibodeau
What's next?: Thibodeau isn't going to know what to do with himself once the lockout hits. There's no doubt he will continue to watch copious amounts of film, but it will be a struggle for him to not be able to work/talk to his players. He will survive, though, and whenever the lockout ends he will have the Bulls ready to play.
Season recap: Rose had the best season of his career and raised his game to a new level, becoming the youngest MVP in NBA history at 22. He worked hard last summer on improving, and that work paid off as he developed a more consistent long-range shot. Rose carried the Bulls offensively all year, especially during the first month of the season when Carlos Boozer was out because of broken hand. Rose pressed as hard as he could to produce in the postseason, but his body seemed to wear down at the end of the postseason due to all of the intense defensive pressure he was facing.
Season highlight: Rose had plenty of ridiculous highlights all year. He scored a career-high 44 points in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks. He recorded his first triple double on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Memphis. He was voted into his first All-Star game as a starter in February. But his Feb. 17 game against the San Antonio Spurs may have been his best. Rose was dominant all night, scoring 42 points and almost single-handedly destroying one of the best teams in the league. That particular game gave him even more confidence heading into the All-Star break.
Season lowlight: Rose had his moments during the postseason, but as a whole, he would be the first one to tell you he could have played a lot better. He simply didn't shoot the ball well on most nights because he was bothered by the near constant double teams. Specifically, in the last four games of the Eastern Conference finals, Rose struggled to find any kind of offensive consistency. He was just 32-for-98 in the final four games and didn't make the type of game-changing shots that everyone had become accustomed to seeing throughout the year.
Final grades: Regular season -- A | Postseason -- C
“Notes: Rose never likes telling anyone if he is hurting because he doesn't want to use injuries as an excuse, but the ankle injury he suffered in the Indiana series bothered him. He was hesitant to make cuts during certain points and his trademark explosion seemed to come and go as he settled for a lot of jumpers. Rose knows that he must continue to work on his conditioning and the Bulls know they must get him another scorer on the wing to take some of the pressure off him offensively.
The way I look at it within myself, Why not? Why can't I be the MVP of the league? Why can't I be the best player in the league? I don't see why [not]? Why can't I do that? I think I work hard. I think I dedicate myself to the game and sacrifice a lot of things at a young age and I know if I continue to do good what I can get out of it.” -- Derrick Rose's preseason expectations
What's next?: Rose once again will spend a majority of his time working with his trainer, Rob McClanaghan, as they try to get his body back in order. After a large portion of last summer playing with Team USA, Rose realizes that he must give his body time to recuperate. He desperately wants to win a title in Chicago and he knows he fell short of his ultimate goal last month. Losing to Miami in the Eastern Conference finals will motivate him to get even better.
Season recap: Whenever Tom Thibodeau called Thomas' name he was ready. The problem for Thomas was that Thibodeau didn't really use him during the first two months of the season. But when Joakim Noah had to get thumb surgery in mid-December everything changed. Thomas came into the starting lineup and the team didn't really miss a beat until Noah returned after the All-Star break. Thomas didn't play as much after that point in the year, but he did provide the Bulls with a stabilizing presence every time he hit the floor and in the locker room.
Season highlight: In a January 24 game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Thomas played almost 44 minutes, racking up 22 points and nine rebounds. Just six games before that, Thomas pulled down 18 rebounds in a road game against the Indiana Pacers. None of his teammates seemed surprised Thomas had so much success, although they constantly reminded him just how old he was.
Season lowlight: After playing well since coming into the lineup in December, it had to be tough for Thomas to watch his team from the bench during most of the postseason. After playing 24 minutes in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Indiana Pacers, Thomas' minutes slowly decreased to the point that he didn't play during a stretch of eight games until Omer Asik went down with an injury at the end of the Eastern Conference finals. Plenty of fans clamored for the presence of "Big Sexy" during the postseason, but Thibodeau decided Asik was a better option.
Final grades: Regular season -- A | Postseason -- B
“Notes: Thomas was everything the Bulls thought he was going to be. A solid locker room guy who could produce when needed. The great thing about Thomas, as Thibodeau noted repeatedly throughout the year, was that if he sat on the bench for weeks at a time and was then called upon on a moment's notice, he would come into the game and play well. He was a well-respected teammate who offered advice when asked. He truly seemed to enjoy his role on the team this year, although, like all players, he wished he could have played more.
I've been known as the guy who can hit that shot my whole career. But the last couple of years, my shots have been down. But I just love playing, and when it's there, I just try to be a team player.” -- Kurt Thomas after Jan. 24 game vs. Bucks
What's next?: The question for the Bulls now is should they re-sign Thomas? He'll be 39 whenever the new season starts and the team may decide it wants to go in a younger direction. Having watched Thomas play all season though, there's no doubt in my mind that he can still be a productive NBA player in spot minutes. He was the perfect insurance policy for the Bulls this season and he can certainly fill that role for them again if Thibodeau and company so desires.
Salary: $5.5 million
Role for Bulls in 2010-'11: The star. Coming into his third season, the Bulls need the 21-year-old to elevate his game to the next level and become a legitimate top-10 player this season. He is expected to run the team and average 20-25 points and will be looked upon to make the clutch shots down the stretch. Rose has also started becoming more vocal in practices and should become a louder leader alongside Joakim Noah.
What happened this summer?: Rose spent the summer living in the gym, as usual. The difference is that he wasn't in the Berto Center, he was with Team USA training for the World Championships in Turkey. Rose was a key part of the team's gold medal run and was continually praised by Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Best-case scenario: Rose makes his second All-Star team by averaging 25 points a game and leading the Bulls to 50 wins. After working on his long-range jumper all summer, the difference is evident early on. His ability to consistently hit jumpers forces defenders to pick him up earlier and spaces out the floor for the rest of his teammates. Rose clicks instantly with Carlos Boozer and the two feed off of each other as Rose averages 7-8 assists a game. His ability to drive to the rim makes him one of the top two point guards in the league and his defense improves considerably under Tom Thibodeau's tutelage.
Worst-case scenario: Rose's shot is still not solid enough to scare defenders and they crowd him in the blocks and force him to dish to teammates on the wings. Rose's defense has not improved enough for Thibodeau's liking and guards continually beat him down the floor and frustrate him -- as that frustration seeps into other parts of his game
Bottom line: Rose is a star and should become a bonafide superstar this season if he stays healthy. If the Bulls are intent on contending for a title, Rose has to be the man who leads them there. With his work ethic, there's no reason to doubt him when he says he wants to be the MVP this season. Rose may not win the award this season, but he will be a legitimate threat for years to come.
Player: C.J. Watson
Salary:$3.1 million. Signed a three-year deal in the offseason, after being acquired via a sign and trade with the Warriors. The third year of the deal is not guaranteed.
Role for Bulls in 2010-'11: Derrick Rose's wingman. Watson is expected to serve as Rose's primary backup and should also see time on the floor with the 21-year-old All Star as well. New coach Tom Thibodeau expects to use Watson at both guard positions and is excited about having the Tennessee alum in his rotation.
"[Waston is] a terrific young player," Thibodeau told me earlier this summer. "[He has] the ability to back up the point and also play some 2. He's very versatile in the sense that he can get the ball up the floor very quickly, make decisions, shoot the three, and he's a solid defender. He can defend two positions."
What happened this summer?: Watson's name popped up in media reports long after his deal to the Bulls became official. He was rumored to be involved in a relationship with boxing champion Floyd Mayweather's ex-girlfriend. It's a rumor his father flatly denied in published reports. Aside from that, Watson spent time working out in his hometown of Las Vegas and continuously reiterated how happy he is to be a Bull.
Best-case scenario: After averaging 10 points and three assists last season, Watson continues to improve and becomes more than just an insurance policy for Rose. He is able to give the Bulls a quality presence off the bench and gives Rose the ability to play off the ball when needed. He can space the floor for his teammates and make plays as the leader of the second unit.
"I have a pretty much all-around game," Watson said told me in July. "I can shoot, pass, play defense, score. I just try to go out there and do the best for my team and bring the energy off the bench. Just try to be there every night and win games."
Worst-case scenario: Watson struggles to find his role alongside Rose and gets frustrated early with a lack of playing time. After shooting 47 percent from the field last season, he can't find his rhythm outside of Don Nelson's offense. Thibodeau's defensive-first style is tough to get used to and Watson isn't able to provide the offensive spark everyone expected, leaving Rose to play heavy minutes once again.
Bottom line: Watson should be a nice piece for the Bulls this season. He has the ability to score and should be able to play well with Rose. His presence on the floor should give Rose a lot more opportunities to score and his ability to get to the basket should give Thibodeau reason to smile.
Salary: $5 million. First year of three-year deal signed this summer.
Role for Bulls in 2010-'11: The dead-eye. Sure, Korver will be asked to play better defense and help in other areas, but he was brought in for one reason: To be the long-distance bomber the Bulls lacked last season. The 29-year-old is a 41-percent shooter from behind the arc over his career and is expected to get plenty of open looks playing alongside Derrick Rose. Korver shouldn't have any problem fitting in with his new team considering he will play alongside former Utah teammates Carlos Boozer and Ronnie Brewer. He is expected to backup Brewer on the wing.
What happened this summer?: The Bulls moved fast to sign Korver after missing out on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. They knew they needed a sharpshooter, and he was one of the best on the market. Bulls GM Gar Forman tried to sign Orlando Magic guard J.J. Redick to go along with Korver, but the Magic matched the offer sheet and the Bulls quickly moved on to signing Brewer. Korver has dealt with an ongoing wrist injury for the past few seasons, but he says he is healthy and ready to go when camp starts next week.
Best-case scenario: Korver shoots the lights out and gets continuous open looks playing alongside Rose. Whenever the Bulls need a boost off the bench he provides one by knocking down a few jumpers and changing the momentum of the game. He improves defensively playing in Tom Thibodeau's system, and he becomes an important cog in the team's push down the stretch, hitting big shot after big shot.
Worst-case scenario: Korver's defense isn't up to par, and he gets in Thibodeau's doghouse early. He doesn't hit from the outside and slumps from the three-point line, leaving Chicago fans to wonder why Forman felt so compelled to sign Korver in the first place and pining for the days of Ben Gordon.
Bottom line: In just 52 games last season, Korver shot 54 percent from behind the arc. If he comes anywhere close to that number again the Bulls will be happy. His presence on the floor and his ability to stretch the defense should make him one of Rose's favorite players to play alongside.
Salary: Signed a three-year $12.5 million deal in July, although third year isn't guaranteed.
Role for Bulls in 2010-'11: Brewer is expected to be a lockdown perimeter defender and should fit nicely into new coach Tom Thibodeau's system. He's proven he has the ability the score, averaging almost 14 points a game two seasons ago for the Jazz. But he struggled to find the same consistency last year due to a hamstring injury. If he stays on the floor, he should get plenty of open looks by playing alongside Derrick Rose. The key for Brewer will be to improve on his three-point shooting, he has a 23 percent clip from behind the arc over his career.
What happened this summer?: The Bulls moved quickly to sign Brewer after striking out with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. While he doesn't have the star power of the other two, management believes that he will be able to slow each one down if they meet Miami in a seven-game series. The organization believes that the 25-year-old will become an even better player in the next couple of seasons with a little more seasoning.
Best-case scenario: Defensively, Brewer is as good as advertised. He steps in to become the starting two guard and becomes a fan favorite because of his hard-nosed style. The extra time he's spent in the gym pays off as he finally starts hitting long distance shots. Rose's ability to penetrate gives Brewer even more room on the perimeter to hit open jumpers, and he averages 15 points a game in his first year in Chicago.
Worst-case scenario: The hamstring injury he spent most of last season trying to get over is still bothering him and he doesn't display the type of defensive prowess he did with the Jazz. He still can't a three-pointer and Thibodeau is forced to play Kyle Korver a lot more down the stretch in games. Brewer becomes unhappy with his role and Bulls fans remain unhappy because they're stuck watching Brewer and Korver instead of James and/or Wade.
Bottom line: If Brewer plays solid defense, hits open jumpers and continues to improve on his long rang shooting management will be ecstatic. If he struggles, fans will continue to wonder what might have been and what the Bulls could have done differently to be more like the Heat.
Player: Keith Bogans
Salary: Bogans signed a two-year deal last month for about $2.5 million, according to Bulls.com. The second year is not guaranteed.
Role for 2010-'11 Bulls: Bogans is expected to become a veteran leader on the team and should give the Bulls a defensive-minded presence off the bench. He played for Tom Thibodeau in Houston, and understands what the new head coach will ask of his players. Bogans will be an important locker room presence and confidant for both players and coaches.
What happened this summer:? Bogans started fifty games last season for the Spurs, averaging four points a contest. He told me the reason he signed with the Bulls was because he is convinced they can win a championship.
"A realistic goal is this team can definitely win a championship," he told me. "There's no ifs, ands or buts about it."
Best-case scenario: Bogans quickly becomes popular in the locker room and helps players adjust to Thibodeau's system. He gives the Bulls solid minutes off the bench and is able to give Ronnie Brewer a breather when he gets into foul trouble and the team needs to slow down an opposing wing player. When called upon, Bogans knocks down open jumpers and is able to hit the occasional three-pointer.
Worst-case scenario: After shooting 40 percent from the field a year ago, Bogans struggles to find his shot and is buried on Thibodeau's bench. He isn't the same defender that he used to be and can't find minutes in the rotation. His presence in the locker room is overstated as he becomes unhappy with his role on the team.
Bottom line: If Bogans plays solid defense, makes the occasional open shot and bonds with the younger players, his time in Chicago will be viewed as a success.
Salary: N/A; first year of rookie deal. 2008 second-round draft pick by Blazers; obtained by Bulls via trade.
Role for 2010-'11 Bulls: The Bulls expect big things from Asik, but they realize that it will take him time to adjust to the NBA game. The team is hoping that he can develop into a quality backup center behind Joakim Noah and provide quality minutes throughout the season. Kurt Thomas will most likely open the year as the first center off the bench, but Asik should be able to start making an impact at some point.
What happened this summer?: Asik played for Turkey's World Championship team and held his own through most of the tournament, averaging almost nine points and seven rebounds a game. Before the tournament, Asik spent some time at the Berto Center working out with coaches and meeting some of his new teammates.
Best-case scenario: It doesn't take long for Asik to adapt to the NBA game, and he quickly becomes one of the better backup centers in the league. He learns from watching Noah and listens to Thomas at practice and peppers each with questions throughout the year. He develops a solid relationship with new big-man coach Ed Pinckney and lives at the Berto Center working on his moves. Unlike most European players who first come into the league, Asik displays an aggressiveness in the post and becomes another enforcer for the Bulls.
Worst-case scenario: Asik struggles to earn consistent playing time and finds himself parked on the bench for most of the season. He looks lost on the floor when he is in the game and coaches don't trust him to play heavy minutes. If Noah goes down with an injury, the Bulls are forced to look for another veteran to play alongside Thomas because Asik isn't ready yet.
Bottom line: Asik is a great unknown to this point. He looked pretty solid during the World Championships and from the brief workout I saw at the Berto Center, he looks like he isn't going to be afraid to knock somebody over in the post. New coach Tom Thibodeau realizes that Asik may not be ready to contribute right now, but he is confident that the rookie will be at some point this season. The organization believes it has found another diamond in the rough in Asik.
Role for 2010-11 Bulls: Thomas is expected to play the role that Brad Miller played last season. He may not have the outside shooting capability that Miller possessed, but he is a veteran big man who can still pull down five rebounds a night and play solid defense when needed. He played well for the Milwaukee Bucks during last year's first-round playoff series and will be expected to do the same here in Chicago. The veteran will be asked to play the role of mentor to Joakim Noah and Omer Asik as each continues to find his way in the league.
What happened this summer?: After Miller signed a free-agent deal with the Rockets, the Bulls moved quickly to lock up Thomas and are banking on him being a leader in the locker room all year. After 15 years in the league, the big man has seen it all.
Best-case scenario: Thomas fills the void Miller left in the locker room and becomes a confidant to Noah. He gives the Bulls 10-12 solid minutes off the bench every night and works with Asik to ease his transition into the NBA. The veteran also passes on words of wisdom to young players such as Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and James Johnson, becoming another coach on the floor. When the playoffs come around, Thomas is at his best, providing quality minutes and hitting the occasional open jumper.
Worst-case scenario: Thomas and Noah don't hit it off and clash about various locker room issues. Thomas appears to have lost more than a step as over a decade and a half in the NBA finally catches up with him. The Bulls are left to rely upon Asik, an unproven rookie, and have serious issues if Noah goes down with an injury like he did last year.
Bottom line: If Thomas becomes a team leader and can give the Bulls a few solid minutes off the bench during key points in the season then his signing will be viewed as a success.
Salary: $14.4 million, first year of five-year deal he signed this summer
Role for Bulls in 2010-'11: As long as Boozer stays healthy, he will be a great fit for the Bulls. He provides the low-post presence that will complement Joakim Noah well, and he should be able to average 20 points and 10-12 rebounds a game like he did in Utah. Boozer is excited to play with Derrick Rose and both understand how important they will be to each other's success. Expect the pair to make a living running the high pick and roll.
"He's tight," Boozer said of Rose earlier this month. "He can play. With our combination of what we have on our team, with myself in the post, with D-Rose at the point guard spot, Joakim [Noah] plugging that middle up, Luol Deng being very versatile on the wing, I think we have a team that can rival anybody. I think we'll be able to compete against every team in the league."
What happened this summer?: Boozer has said and done all the right things since signing his new deal. He told ESPN Chicago that the Bulls have the ability to win a title, and he believes that Rose has the ability to lead the team for years to come. In many ways, he is a better fit for this team than Chris Bosh would have been, a belief that Bulls general manager Gar Forman reiterated when he was introduced. He isn't afraid to bang in the post, and he is the back-to-the-basket scorer that should give Rose even more room to operate. After winning a gold medal during the Beijing Games in 2008, Boozer and the rest of his teammates sat out the World Championships. The burly forward says he feels great and has been bouncing around Chicago looking for a new place to live and enjoying the city when he's not working out at the Berto Center.
Best-case scenario: Boozer avoids the injuries that plagued him at times in Utah and produces an All-Star caliber season. He clicks immediately with Rose, and the duo runs the pick and roll so often that fans are reminded of John Stockton and Karl Malone. Boozer, Noah and Deng combine to form one of the best frontlines in the NBA as the Duke alum becomes a popular locker room figure because of his hard-nosed play.
Worst-case scenario: Boozer gets hurt early in the season and fans question his toughness from the outset. He and Rose have a hard time getting on the same page and clog the floor up for the rest of their teammates. He doesn't become the double-double machine he has been his entire career and his contract ends up making Deng's deal look palatable.
As a quick aside, the day Boozer and the Bulls agreed to the deal, I was asked to go on a talk show in Salt Lake City. Granted, the hosts may have been a little biased in their assessment of his play, but the prevailing theory they had for Chicago fans was, "Buyer Beware." Boozer developed a reputation as a guy who didn't always play through injuries (he missed 138 games during his six seasons in Utah) and looked out for himself. The guys in Salt Lake City admitted that he was a great player, but they didn't sound broken up that he was leaving. Only time will tell what kind of reputation he develops in Chicago, but it's worth noting what people have said about him in the past.
Bottom line: If he stays on the floor and produces like an All-Star, Bulls fans will be ecstatic, and Boozer will be beloved. If he doesn't, people are going to look back at the free-agent class of 2010 and wonder how the Bulls whiffed so badly with so much on the line.
Player: James Johnson
Salary for 2010-11 season: $1,713,600, in second year of rookie deal
What happened this summer?: Johnson definitely got into better shape, but it didn't seem to help him on the court. He didn't play very well during summer league games and couldn't consistently hit the open looks when they did come his way. He continues to be mentioned in myriad of trade possibilities, but no other team wants to take a chance on him at the moment given what he did last season.
Best-case scenario: Johnson continues to get into better shape and improves his basketball IQ while watching copious amounts of tape with Thibodeau. He plays better defense and proves to the coaches that he can hit a mid-range jump shot when needed. He earns minutes as a spark off the bench and continues to show flashes of the player he became at Wake Forest.
Worst-case scenario: He has the same kind of year that he did a season ago. He can't find minutes under Thibodeau, he puts on the weight that he worked so hard to take off this summer, and he continues to make questionable decisions when he is on the floor. In short, he continues to make fans wonder what Gar Forman and Co. saw when they drafted him.
Bottom line: Yes, Johnson is just 23, but he is already at a critical stage of his career. He has to re-dedicate himself to the game and start making plays when given the chance. If he doesn't, it will be hard for him to ever crack a rotation in the league.
As we get set for the upcoming Bulls season, let's take a closer look at each player on the projected roster. It’s a roster which has been the subject of more debate and excitement than any other in recent memory.
Player: Taj Gibson
2010-2011 salary: $1,117,680, in second year of rookie deal.
Role for Bulls in 2010-’11: Gibson will be a jack of all trades for Tom Thibodeau this season. After starting most of last year under Vinny Del Negro, Gibson continued to show improvement as the year progressed, averaging nine points and almost eight rebounds a game while playing in all 82 regular-season contests. He proved to be one of the biggest steals of the draft at No. 26, earning an invitation to play in the Rookie/Sophomore Game during All Star Weekend. Unlike most rookies, the USC alum embraced the concept of defense, and he became a Del Negro favorite because of his team-first attitude. At 25, he is more mature than most young players who come into the league.
With the addition of Carlos Boozer, Gibson will come off the bench this season, but he still is expected to get plenty of minutes as one of the better sixth men in the league. He can play both forward positions and will most likely be used as a defensive presence late in games. After struggling to find his offense in the beginning of last year, Gibson has spent a lot of time in the gym working on his jumper, and he should be able to expand his range.
The key for Gibson will be to stay healthy. Yes, he played in all 82 regular season games last year, but like Joakim Noah, he battled plantar fasciitis for most of the season. Gibson worked throughout the summer with the Bulls' training staff to get rid of the recurring medical issue, and he told me a couple weeks ago that he is finally healthy.
What happened this summer? Aside from the almost constant therapy to get rid of the plantar fasciitis, Gibson was the subject of a lot of trade rumors. It was rumored that he could be part of a package to Toronto for Chris Bosh, or more recently as part of a deal that would send Carmelo Anthony to Chicago. Clearly, the Bulls aren't the only team that sees Gibson's potential for years to come. He understands that his name will continue to pop up as part of trade speculation as long as he is playing well.
"Every time I turn around [I hear something]," he told me a few weeks ago. "But it's a part of the game. My coach in high school -- and even my dad -- told me when your name doesn't pop up then you have to be worried. But that's what happens when you have a good season and people seem to see that you have a lot more potential -- it's great. I'm just looking forward to getting to the season and hopefully getting even better."
Best-case scenario: Gibson once again plays in all 82 games and continues to improve. He shoots the ball with even more confidence and continues to play solid defense in Thibodeau's new system. He provides the Bulls with the energy off the bench. His ability to play multiple roles for this team, including an improved low post game, allows Thibodeau to use him constantly as a backup to both Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer and pushes him towards a Sixth Man of the Year Award.
Worst-case scenario: The plantar fasciitis which just won't seem to go away returns and knocks the young forward out for a few months. His range doesn't get any better, and he struggles to find the consistent playing time. The injury lingers for the entire season and hampers his ability to play the type of defense that Thibodeau desires, thus limiting his minutes on the floor.
Bottom line: Considering Gibson shot 49 percent from the field last season, quickly became a solid locker room presence and played defense with more enthusiasm than most rookies have to spend their first checks, the Bulls will be happy if he has exactly the same kind of season that he did a year ago.
As we get set for the upcoming Bulls season, let's take a closer look at each player on the projected roster. It’s a roster which has been the subject of more debate and excitement than any other in recent memory.
Player: Luol Deng
2010-11 Salary: $11,355,850; contract runs through 2013-14
Role for Bulls in 2010-11: Deng can become the silent assassin on Tom Thibodeau's team this season. The Duke product has the ability to go off for 25-30 points in any game, averaging 17.6 last season. With Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer manning the post, and Derrick Rose creating space off the dribble, Deng should be able to get open looks throughout the season. There's no doubt Thibodeau will try to get him to drive to the hoop more and create, but if he can consistently hit 15-18 foot jump shots and play solid defense, everyone on the coaching staff will be happy.
Deng is only 25 years old and has enough talent to continue to blossom. Expect the new coaching staff to push him even harder on the defensive end and try to produce more of a two-way player. When motivated, the Duke alum plays solid defense and can frustrate a defender on the offensive end because of his length and jump shot. But too often last season, Deng would play extremely well in spurts and then disappear for the rest of the contest. He'd hit several jumpers in a row or play great defense for a few stretches, but then you wouldn't notice him after that. Thibodeau has praised him several times over the last few months since he was hired, and he expects big things out of Deng this season.
As always, the biggest key for the forward is staying healthy. He missed 12 games last season due to injury and has missed 64 games over the last three combined. If he can stay on the floor and produce throughout an entire season he will have a big year alongside all the new faces in the Bulls lineup.
What happened this summer?: Deng started playing for Team Great Britain in preparation for the 2012 London Games, and by all accounts looked good doing so. His name surfaced constantly during the free-agent process as the Bulls tried to dump his hefty contract to free up more space for the marquee free-agent class. Deng's name has surfaced once again in the last week because of the rumors swirling about Carmelo Anthony's desire to play for the Bulls. Aside from injuries, Deng's biggest problem is that he signed a contract befitting a young superstar, but to this point in his career he hasn't lived up to the promise. He is a very good player, but he is not the type of player anyone wants to acquire right now, considering he has four years and almost $52 million left on his deal.
Best-Case Scenario: Deng plays in all 82 games. He hasn't done that since the 2006-2007 season. He averages 20 points a game and becomes an even better defender under Thibodeau. Deng works on driving the ball to the hoop more and creating contact instead of usually shying away from it. He also extends his range just a couple more feet to start taking more three-pointers, thus freeing up more space for Rose. After taking just 49 three pointers over the past three years, Deng actually attempted 83 a season ago and connected at a 39 percent clip.
Worst-Case Scenario: He gets hurt and Chicago fans continue to question his toughness. He doesn't look for his shot as much and refuses to take it strong to the hoop. His tendency to take jumpers from just inside the arc limits the amount of room Rose and Co. have to roam. The good thing for the Bulls is that they have a lot more depth in Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson and Kyle Korver to plug in for Deng if he goes down again. The bad news is that Deng's contract will only make another injury harder to swallow for a fan base that is starting to lose patience.
Bottom Line: Keep playing. If Deng is staying out of the trainer's room, and can stay healthy all year, it would go a long way toward dispelling the "soft" tag he has developed in Chicago over the last few seasons.