The Chicago Bulls season ended on Wednesday night with a Game Five loss to the Miami Heat in the second round of the NBA Playoffs.
After winning Game One, Chicago was overmatched in the rest of the series, as the team continued to battle injuries. Both Kirk Hinrich and Loul Deng were forced to sit out all five games, and Derrick Rose remained on the bench, like he had been all season.
The way the Bulls finished the season, though, should be an encouraging sign for next season.
In 2012-2013, Chicago won 45 games and finished as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. With a healthy Rose in 2013-2014, it will be surprising if the team isn’t significantly improved.
While there were constant questions regarding whether or not Rose would return late in this season, or even in the playoffs, there’s no doubt the point guard will be back next year. Rose has been medically cleared to play for two months, but hasn’t felt 100 percent. With another five months of rest, he is expected to be better than ever.
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It’s always unknown how an athlete will play when they first come back from a serious injury, but there might not be that same concern with Rose. The projected recovery time from an ACL tear is between eight and 12 months. Rose will have 17 months in between NBA games.
Rose has also used the time off to improve his overall game. In late March, he stated that he’s gotten much stronger since beginning his rehab.
In recent seasons, the Bulls have proven that they are among the league’s elite teams with a Rose at the helm. Two years ago, they led the East with a 62-20 record. Chicago followed that up with an even higher winning percentage in the lockout-shortened season.
Essentially, the Bulls will be trading nothing to add a star player next year. Rose was named the MVP in 2010-2011 and followed that up by averaging 21.8 points and 7.9 assists last season. If the Bulls were able to play LeBron James and company tough in these playoffs, they can expect to have a legitimate chance to beat them with a healthy Rose at the point.
The Bulls also have the intangibles in place. Tom Thibodeau has established himself as one of the best coaches in the NBA, and has been regarded as perhaps the best defensive mind in the game. Despite a depleted roster, Thibodeau kept the Bulls competitive and focused during the postseason.
The Bulls own the 20th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. The team doesn't necessarily need to get younger, but general manager Gar Forman could find a possible reserve center, or another scorer off the bench with the selection.
Two years ago, Rose and the No.1 seed Bulls also lost in five games to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, pairing Rose with Deng, Joakim Noah, a rising star in Jimmy Butler, along with the possible return of Nate Robinson, Chicago may have their best chance of reaching the NBA Finals since the retirement of a certain shooting guard in 1998.