Bloom Or Bust?
No Rose, but they still have Thibs
There's one major reason why I still believe the Chicago Bulls can win 50 games this season.
The Bulls' coach has a system in place that his players buy into, and it's based on playing solid defense and playing hard no matter the opponent.
"It's very important because not every team plays hard," Richard Hamilton, a 13-year NBA veteran, said last week. "And if you play hard you can win a lot of games just by playing hard. For us, that's our identity. We want to do stuff the right way, we want to play the game the right way, and we want to play hard."
The Bulls have been written off by many this season because of Derrick Rose's knee injury. It's understandable given how important the former MVP is to the team and the impact he has on the offense. But it's not like this has come as a surprise. Thibodeau has had the entire summer to devise a new game plan without Rose. He's had months to coach his team and put them in the right situations to win, even without their star, who is expected to return later in the season. More importantly, he's had months to motivate them.
Don't buy for a second that the players aren't listening to what critics are saying. Obviously, they would love to have Rose back, but there is certainly a part of each of them that wants to prove they can win without their main man.
Rose has become such a focal point for everything, but the Bulls still have a talented roster, fronted by starters who have all played at a high level before. Kirk Hinrich, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Hamilton are all solid pros. If -- and I know it's a big if -- they stay healthy, the Bulls will have enough to win on most nights.
The Bench Mob is not the same as it was last season, and it will probably never be just as good because the old group had the type of chemistry an organization can't replace. But this group, in spot minutes, should be sufficient.
The Bulls aren't going to win a title this season. But they definitely have enough to be competitive every night if they stay healthy. That's because they'll play harder than every other team they face and they'll play defense.
Most of all, it's because they still have Thibodeau.
Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com.
Time to get real about this bunch
But while I'm optimistic about the human spirit, I'm not sold on the human limitations of the team's starting five and the limitations of the bench. And, oh yeah, Rose's absence.
After two years of magic, it's easy to have faith in Thibodeau's wizardry and predict 50 wins. I believe in Thibodeau's methods, but it's time to get real. He's had a deep team around Rose. Not necessarily the most talented team, but depth has been a bonus the last two seasons. Things have changed.
My sole concern, pre-Rose's return, is that the starters won't be able to stay healthy with an increased workload. That's not disparaging those guys, it's just a simple prediction based on their individual injury histories. I hope I'm wrong and Joakim Noah puts together a monster season. Hey, Carlos Boozer played an entire season last year, a truncated one at that. No one is questioning Luol Deng's toughness after playing through a wrist injury. Anything is possible.
Would 47 wins be a disappointment for this team? After leading the league in victories the past two seasons, I guess disappointment would be a good term. But the Bulls didn't just lose Rose, they lost the guts of a defensively solid second unit.
Taj Gibson returns, and if a wild card like Marco Belinelli helps out fellow bench guys Nazr Muhammad, Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler, this team could keep pace with Indiana in the Central before Rose returns post-All Star break.
But if that happens, I'll be surprised. If and when Rose comes back this season, maybe this team can make a late charge. The Bulls believe they can win 50 or more. My expectations have been tempered.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.