It seems like it was just yesterday when the Chicago Bulls were ousted in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Miami Heat in just five games back in 2011.
Led by the reigning MVP Derrick Rose, it was a year filled with hopes of wining an NBA title, something that hasn’t traveled through Grant Park since 1998.
After finishing the regular season with the best record and gaining home court advantage throughout the playoffs, it seemed like nothing was going to stand in their way… except for LeBron James and the Big 3.
Just like the Detroit Pistons in the late 1980’s, the Miami Heat always found a way to prevent the Bulls from reaching the finals. Whether Rose was healthy or sitting on the bench while rocking a suit, Tom Thibodeau’s defensive schemes were no match for the Heat’s high-flying offense.
Flash forward to 2014. James has left for his hometown, Dwyane Wade’s health has severely affected his ability to perform at a high level and Chris Bosh‘s per game averages are slowly slipping each year.
Whoever head coach Erik Spoelstra puts out on the floor as his starting lineup will be nothing compared to when James wore the No. 6 jersey for four years.
Yes, I understand that they have upgraded their roster this offseason by adding the likes of Luol Deng and Danny Granger, but that doesn’t guarantee that the Heat are going to win their third championship in four years.
So this means that the Bulls have nothing to worry about right? Wrong.
In case anyone has forgotten, the Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron back on their roster. That’s right, the four-time MVP is heading home to finish what he started after being drafted by the team in 2003, to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy at Quicken Loans Arena.
OK, so they have LeBron James, who cares? It’s not like they have any other superstars on their team.
For those who don’t know what sarcasm is, let me remind you that the latest Big 3 is hitting the streets of Cleveland and will not disband for quite some time.
All I can say is … goodbye, Andrew Wiggins and hello, Kevin Love.
Cleveland does not have the patient to develop a first round draft pick and wait for him to mold into an impact player for a team that’s desperate for their first championship in franchise history. They don’t care that Wiggins could be the Canadian Michael Jordan and they certainly don’t care that they had to give up last year’s first round pick, Anthony Bennett and a future first round pick to acquire Kevin Love.
In reference to the world-famous cheerleading movie, Bring It On: In It to Win It, the Cavs are starving for success and are prepared to take the down the best of the best in the Eastern Conference …we’re looking at you, Chicago.
In all seriousness, while the deal doesn’t guarantee that the Cavs are in a position to be on top of the NBA mountain, they will be a force to be reckoned with.
Putting out a starting five that features Love, James, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao with Ray Allen, Mike Miller, Tristan Thompson, James Jones and possibly Shawn Marion makes for one hell of a squad.
But are the Bulls scared? Hell no.
Why? Because Derrick Rose said so that’s why.
The 25-year old told reporters during Team USA camp last week that the Bulls have a “legit chance to beat anyone in the league.” Whether it would be the Cavs, Spurs, Thunder or the Pacers, they’re going to bring their A-game.
“For us, I don’t think it will change anything,” Rose said. “We know that no matter who we play that we have a legit chance to beat anyone in the league. But we also know it’s not going to be easy at all because guys are getting better and guys are going to different teams. That’s why we’re in the NBA and why we love this game, for the challenge.”
This is also coming from the same Derrick Rose that’s been practicing in full stride at camp after suffering multiple knee injuries in the past couple years. Having a healthy Rose back on the floor will allow the Bulls to get over their recent playoff stride of consecutive exits in the first and second round.
The last time Rose played in the entire regular season was the same year Chicago was defeated by the Heat in the ECF. Starting in 81 games, the home town hero finished with 25 points, 4.1 rebounds and one steal per game, all career highs. He also had career highs in his free throw percentage (.858) and minutes played per game with 37.4.
If Thibodeau can find a way to get even a fraction of the Rose four years ago, then they’ll be fine against other talented franchises.
It does help that Rose won’t be asked to put all of the weight on his shoulders for the whole duration of the season. That’s why general manager Gar Forman’s intentions this offseason were to have a much deeper team when he went out and brought in a handful of free agents.
At 7-foot-0, 250 pounds, Gasol should have another opportunity to put up double-digit points in the paint as he did with the Los Angeles Lakers for seven years, despite being 34-years old.
But let’s not forget that the Bulls did sign Nikola Mirotic to a three-year, $17 million deal, as well as re-signing Kirk Hinrich and traded for first round draft pick Doug McDermott. It may not be the most sexiest moves this offseason, but it’s without a doubt some of the most underrated moves, making for a much deeper bench in 2014-15.
So the acquisitions of Gasol and others automatically makes Chicago a championship team? Absolutely not.
Setting aside the Cavs, the Eastern Conference may be as deeply talent right now as they’ve been in a long time.
Charlotte has improved, Washington has improved, New York has improved and Detroit has improved. These teams are not going down without a fight but the Bulls will deliver the knock out punch come playoff time if Rose stays healthy and the bench can do damage on a night-to-night basis.