A championship was almost certainly never in the cards for the Chicago Bulls this season. A mediocre year was expected out of this group, and frankly, the team has overachieved with a 34-26 record.
As usual, head coach Tom Thibodeau has his squad playing elite defense. The Bulls hold opponents to the third fewest points per game and pull down the sixth most rebounds per game in the NBA.
In spite of Derrick Rose’s absence, Chicago has even collected the eighth most assists per game.
What the team has achieved is noteworthy, but more often than not the offense stumbles.
The Bulls score the third fewest points per game and are in the bottom 10 in field goal and three-point percentage.
Fourth place in the Eastern Conference is nothing to complain about, but how much confidence should the average Bulls fan place in this team?
Some would say the answer lies in Rose’s performance upon his return.
Thibodeau declared Rose day-to-day according to ESPN reporter Nick Friedell on Tuesday. This is good news for anyone who thought No. 1 return was not going to happen.
What fans need to realize is that even if Rose comes back 100 percent healthy, he is going to be limited to 10 to 20 minutes a game for a while. There is even a chance that he will not play more than 30 minutes a night even once the playoffs arrive.
In addition, if fans think back to the team before Rose’s injury, they would remember a team facing the same issues this one faces.
When the Bulls beat the Miami Heat in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011, many thought they were on their way to the Finals.
Four games later, and every basketball fan in the world saw the Bulls inability to create offense when a superior defender such as LeBron James takes Rose out of the game.
Despite the different names on the jerseys, this is an incredibly similar team to the one that lost to Miami two seasons ago.
Now, James is playing at a level never before seen from him and the Heat are playing the best basketball since the King and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami.
Simply put, even with Rose’s return, the Bulls are likely incapable of getting past the Miami Heat and advancing to the NBA Finals this season.
Before the Bulls would even get a chance to take on the Heat, they may have to go through Indiana. With Paul George’s emergence, Frank Vogel’s team has found an offense to go along with an already strong defense to lead the Central Division.
The Bulls and their fans should not be focused on this season.
The team has a roster full of bloated contracts and remains too far above the cap to add difference makers over the offseason.
Without trades or using their one time amnesty option, the team will not have significant cap space until the 2016-17 offseason.
But there is much to be optimistic about three or four years down the road.
Nikola Mirotic may be ready to join the Bulls by then, Jimmy Butler could be ready to assume Luol Deng’s starting job, Boozer would be amnestied or packaged in some trade for Kevin Love, or the Bulls might receive the number one overall pick from the Bobcats in 2016.
No matter what happens, the Bulls will not be able to contend with the Heat, Pacers, or anyone that makes it to the Finals out West until they add more offensive firepower.
Bulls’ fans will be ecstatic to see Simeon’s finest return to the hardwood and they should be.
But for now, all fans should be realistic. Even with Rose, Chicago will advance no further than the Eastern Conference Finals.
David Israel is a senior sports communication major from Skokie. He is the Scout sports reporter.
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