The Chicago Bulls have had an interesting few months since finishing the 2011-12 NBA season with the best record in basketball. From hopeful title contenders to questions of a rebuild in a matter of days, the Bulls are treading into uncharted waters without their star guard for the majority of the season. Here are three burning questions facing the team at the start of the regular season:
1. When will Derrick Rose return?
Rose tore his ACL in the 2012 NBA Playoffs, and while the former MVP is reportedly ahead of schedule there is still a lot of time left on the recovery timetable. Rose is projected back in February or March, and should be ready for the playoffs. The Bulls will likely be in the hunt for a 3-6 seed in a weak Eastern Conference, but will Rose be able to play at a level high enough to make the team a contender this coming season? Players typically need extended periods of play to regain movement, confidence, and overall flow of the game. Rose will not have the luxury of an offseason or large chunk of the regular season to get his game back. While team officials have stated they will not rush the all-star guard back, at what point in the season does it become too much of a liability to thrust Rose back into the starting lineup? Putting in a rusty Rose in key games down the stretch could be detrimental to both the success of the team and the health of its superstar.
2. How will Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson fill in for the injured Rose?
With Rose out for the majority of the regular season, newly added Hinrich and Robinson will be called upon to run the offense and keep this team in the hunt for the playoffs. Will the veteran duo be able to make enough of an impact to keep the Bulls towards the top of the conference? Hinrich is coming off his worst statistical season as a pro, but many blame his role in the Atlanta Hawks system for his deflated stats. While he is a great fit defensively for Chicago, Hinrich lacks the explosiveness and ability to penetrate that opens up the offense. Robinson is an intriguing addition, and could fill a need as a volume scorer. But will coach Tom Thibodeau give the former dunk champion the minutes he needs to produce?
3. The new “Bench Mob”
The Bulls have had huge turnover in the offseason, losing almost all of the “Bench Mob” that gave them an advantage in many games over the past two seasons. With a new group of veterans and cheap contract players, will the bench be as effective of a unit as the former squad? Looking at the comparisons, the only glaring loss was Omer Asik on the defensive end. Jimmy Butler should be able to replace and even surpass what the Bulls got out of Ronnie Brewer, who signed with the New York Knicks in the offseason. The Hinrich/Robinson combination should be a fine replacement for C.J. Watson and John Lucas III, and Marco Bellinelli is not a huge downgrade from Kyle Korver, and still has room to grow at only 26 years old. But the key to the old bench was their ability to play together as a unit, and it will be on Thibodeau to get the new additions on the same page.
Zach Mink covers the Chicago Bulls for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @zachmink12 for more news and analysis.