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|If the trio pictured above can stay healthy, the Bulls are in good shape.|
DEERFIELD, Ill. -- The only way this Chicago Bulls' season will be viewed as a success in the years to come is if Derrick Rose is standing atop a stage in Grant Park with a victory cigar in his mouth. After being summarily dismissed by the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals last season, the Bulls know an NBA title is the next logical step. In order to make that goal a reality, here is what has to happen.
First, the Bulls must remain healthy. It's imperative during a lockout-shortened season that the Bulls find a way to stay away from the injury bug. Luol Deng played in every game last season. Derrick Rose missed just one. Rip Hamilton, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah have all missed significant amounts of time during the past few seasons because of various injuries. Obviously, that simply can't happen again if the Bulls want to win it all.
In order to take the next step in their postseason development, the Bulls must also find an offensive complement for Rose. Boozer has the talent to fill that role and has talked about how he is motivated to have a much better season after such a poor performance in the playoffs last year. Hamilton should also be able to create more room for Rose to roam on the floor, because unlike Keith Bogans, opposing teams will have to keep a closer eye on the veteran shooter.
If Boozer and Hamilton play like they have shown in the past and Rose and Luol Deng remain consistent, the Bulls should have enough offensive power. Defensively, the Bulls appear to be in great shape. They were one of the best defensive teams in the league throughout last season. Noah has shown that when he is in the lineup, and healthy, he is one of the best defensive anchors in the league.
There are really only two main questions as far as this side of the floor goes.
Can Rose take the next step in his defensive development? And more importantly, can Boozer actually play consistent defense this year? Thibodeau seems to be optimistic that Boozer can improve and is encouraged that his power forward shed close to 20 pounds in the offseason. If Boozer plays the way the veteran coach thinks he can, there is no reason the Bulls can't win it all.
The Bulls had one of the best benches in the league this season which should give them even more of an advantage over most teams in this condensed 66-game sprint. Thibodeau has already noted that he may go to the bench even sooner than normal early in the year because of the hectic pace of the season. Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson, Taj Gibson all proved they could handle the job last year. Now they'll be asked to do the same thing with rookie Jimmy Butler in the fold.
More than anything else though, if the Bulls are going to be win a title this year, they must rely on Rose more than ever late in big games. The 23-year-old was unbelievable in the regular season, routinely hitting big shots and making huge plays. When he played the Heat though, he looked like a frustrated freshman against the varsity. The Heat's size, specifically LeBron James, drove him crazy. Rose has gone out of his way to tell the media that he takes full responsibility for that loss and that it's his "fault" the Bulls couldn't beat Miami. Even if that isn't truly the case, Rose knows he must find a more productive way next time around.
He spent time watching film all summer and making sure the same problems don't arise if the two teams meet again later the spring. The Bulls need to trust that Rose learned from his mistakes and that all the frustration he put on himself turned into motivation heading into this season. If Rose can find a way to knock down more shots and create more plays against Miami, and any Western Conference team in a seven game series and Boozer decides to dedicate himself to playing defense full-time this year, there is absolutely no reason to believe there won't be another party in Grant Park later this summer.