In just over a month the Chicago Bulls open training camp and begin working on what figures to be a promising season. Derrick Rose is back, Joakim Noah had a summer to rest his perennially injured foot and they might have found a long-term shooting guard in Jimmy Butler after his development last season.
But there are still plenty of questions for a team that hopes to return to the NBA's upper echelon with their star back leading the way.
1. Will Rose play at an MVP-level in his first season back from knee surgery?
Count me in the group that believes that after a few months of working out the kinks, Rose will be back to playing like his old self. He is too talented, and has worked too hard on his game over the course of his rehab to believe that he won't be the same player again. He knows there will be pressure on him to perform the same way and he is looking forward to proving all of his doubters wrong.
2. How does Tom Thibodeau make sure his team is healthy at playoff time?
The key for Thibodeau is to follow through on his intended plan. He already stated this summer that Joakim Noah's minutes would come down and that Luol Deng's workload may shrink by a few minutes here and there. He must follow through on that plan now -- even if it costs the Bulls a few regular season wins. Bulls management will continue to try and remind Thibodeau that there is a bigger picture in place, but it will up to the coach to take his foot off the gas ever so slightly. He is well aware of the criticism he receives. Now he has the chance to change the perception regarding how he doles out minutes.
3. Will the uncertain Bulls futures of Deng and Carlos Boozer be a distraction this season?
Only if both players struggle to contribute early on -- and that's not likely given how solid both have been the past couple seasons, especially Deng. The safest bet is that both players will hit on the fact that they just win this season and they'll see what happens after the season ends. Having said that, both are both smart and they can see the writing on the wall. It's a near certainty that the Bulls will amnesty Boozer at the end of this season and Deng's future with the Bulls is up in the air unless he decides to take a significant pay cut, an option that appears unlikely at this point.
4. Can Butler replicate his playoff success for a full 82-game season?
Butler has spent the summer working on his game and appears confident that he can take the next step in his progression this season. He is going to have an impact this season, but I don't believe it will be as big as the one he had during the playoffs last year. Without Rose, Deng and Kirk Hinrich on the floor during much of the playoffs, Butler was asked to play all 48 minutes most games and be a force on both ends. With Rose back in the fold he won't be asked to do nearly as much. The key is that Butler must find a rhythm with Rose, who he has not played with much in his career. If Butler continues to play solid defense and develops a consistent jumper, his season will be viewed as a success whether his minutes get cut slightly or not.
5. Will the Bulls be dealing with Noah's foot problems again this season?
Yes. Until Noah proves he can stay healthy for an entire season this will continue to be a problem for the Bulls. The All-Star center spent the summer working out with his personal trainer and close friend, Alex Perris, but both he and the Bulls know that they must find a way to get the plantar fasciitis in order. Thibodeau noted Noah's minutes would come down this year -- but it's a situation the organization must continually monitor throughout the season.