The Bulls 2010-2011 season left Bulls fans with a bittersweet taste in their mouths. At the start of the season, if I went up to any Bulls fan and told them we were going to make it to Eastern Conference Championship, but come up short to the Miami Heat, just about every one of them would say it was a successful season. Because going into this past year, I don’t think any Bulls fans thought that we would be able to hold our own against the league’s newest villain. But today, if I went up to those same Bulls fans and asked them what they thought of this past season, they would say they were left wanting more.
We came into the season with realistic expectations of taking the next step towards an NBA Title, and left with unrealistic expectations that we were ready to taste sweet victory. But with a potentially long offseason ahead, the Bulls are heading exactly in the right direction that they want to be in to contend for a championship next year. Some may say that the lockout can only be a bad thing for this young Bulls team, but I see it a bit differently.
At the end of last season, the Bulls were a worn down basketball team. You could see it in Derrick Rose, you could see it in Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, and even Luol Deng who was an absolute warrior for us: we needed rest. Rose and Deng logged about as many minutes as any tandem in the NBA, and Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer were clearly not healthy throughout the playoffs. This offseason will give these players more time to rest after a minute heavy season, and more time to get completely healthy for the following season (whenever it may be).
Another plus about this coming lockout: improvement. Between his second and third seasons in the NBA, Derrick Rose made a leap into the NBA elite, and that’s not because of talent, it’s because of work ethic. Derrick Rose worked as hard if not harder on improving his jump shot and becoming a leader and role model on and off the court than any player in the league. When you see your team’s best player busting his ass in the gym day in and day out, it make’s you want to work just as hard and get that much better to help further contribute for the next season.
With an extended offseason, Rose will have a little more time to rest before going back to work on further improving his jump shot and defense, which did improve, but are still not at the level that they need to be. Luol Deng will be able to continue working on extending his range, which greatly improved last year going from .5 made three-pointers in 2010 to 1.4 made three-pointers in 2011. Joakim Noah will be able to work on his post game, which has also improved tremendously from where it was when he came into the league. As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar described, Noah could be a monster with some tweaking to his offensive game. And as we see game in and game out, this kid is an absolute workhorse. He does everything he can to make this team better, and this off-season that will mean taking the next step with his offensive repertoire. Lastly, this offseason will allow Carlos Boozer to return to the 20-10 threat we knew him as when we signed him this past off-season. Clearly Bulls fans were upset with Boozer’s production in the post season and they had every right to be, but if he’s ever going to go back to the player he was when we signed him, it will be this season. Boozer’s turf toe will heal, and he’ll get back to dominating the pick and roll game and knocking down the 14-17 footers that made him one of the league’s best forwards in Utah. The most disappointing thing about the lockout is that Tom Thibideau will not have a full off-season to work with Boozer on his defense, because that’s clearly where he needs to improve the most.
One last bonus of a possible lockout: a shortened season will place the Bulls in the playoffs right as they are peaking. A lot of writers have talked about what teams a shortened season will benefit most. The common answers have been veteran teams such as the Lakers, Spurs, and Mavericks, which does make sense because the less strain on older players like Kobe, Duncan, and Dirk the better. One team that hasn’t been mentioned though: the Chicago Bulls. This Bulls squad was playing as close to the best basketball that they could play at the home stretch of this season. Boozer and Noah were starting to mesh in the front court, Rose was pulling away in the MVP race, our three point specialists Korver and Bogans were knocking down shots as consistently as they had been all season, and the bench mob was as energetic as ever.
With a shortened season, the Bulls will enter the playoffs just about where they were peaking last season. As I watched the Bulls even in the first round of the playoffs last year, I could tell that they were not playing their best basketball. They were tired; they were injured; they needed a break. Even if we do not improve our roster much this off-season, just having the experience from this past season and adding another regular season of experience will make the Bulls a better team in next year’s playoffs. You have to believe that Rose will shoot above the abysmal 40% that he shot this past post season, Deng will be better rested to be more aggressive in the second half of games, Noah will be healthy and will have improved upon his offensive game, and Boozer will have healed and returned to form.
So while nobody wants to see any games missed for this upcoming season, there are undoubtedly positive aspects of a lockout for this young Bulls squad. After a smart draft by Gar Foreman taking Nikola Mirotic for the future and Jimmy Butler for more defensive help at the wing, it doesn’t seem as though the Bulls will make too much noise in a free agent pool that is rather depleted. With a longer off-season to rest and heal, a longer off-season to improve the aspects of their game that were clearly lacking in the post season, and a shortened season to allow the Bulls to peak at the right time, there is no doubt that the Bulls are poised to take the next step towards bringing a championship back to Chicago.