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Big Season Ahead For Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls are hoping that this is the year they can return to full strength and represent the East in the NBA Finals.

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The Chicago Bulls will go into the 2014-15 season with championship aspirations yet again. They have seemed on the verge of breaking through for years, but have been tortured by the unfortunate inability of Derrick Rose to stay on the court. Rose electrified the league during the 2010-11 season on his way to the Most Valuable Player award. For the first time since the since Michael Jordan era, the Bulls had a legitimate superstar in Rose. The franchise locked Rose up the following December, signing him to a five-year, $94.8 million dollar extension.

But Rose played in only 39 games during the lockout shortened 2011-12 season, battling an assortment of ailments including a bruised toe, back spasms, a strained groin and a sprained ankle. Despite suffering a litany of injuries, Rose remained productive and averaged 21.8 points and 7.9 assists per game. The Bulls secured the top seed in the East and appeared poised to make a deep run in the playoffs.

We all know what happens next. Bulls fans, be advised that the next few paragraphs may reopen some painful wounds. Proceed with caution.

Late in Game 1 of the Bulls’ first round series against the Philadelphia Sixers, with the Bulls up 12 and 1:25 left on the clock in the fourth quarter, Rose attacked that rim. He exploded off the floor before coming to a powerful jump stop and springing back up toward the rim. This was a move that he had made time and time again, but this time he didn’t finish the play. This time, Rose seemed to panic in mid-air and dished the ball to the baseline. As soon as he landed, it was apparent something wasn’t right. Rose grimaced as he collapsed to the court, writhing in pain and reaching for knee, as concern overwhelmed the United Center. Every Bulls fan held their breath, hoping that the injury wasn’t nearly as serious as it appeared. However, soon after, their worst fears were realized: Rose was diagnosed with a torn ACL in his left knee and was projected to be out 8-12 months. Without Rose, the Bulls’ championship dreams were dashed and they couldn’t escape the first round against Philadelphia.

Numerous rumors were floated out that Rose may return late in 2012-13 season and those intensified with the team back in the playoffs. Rose was working out and the team was taking a day-to-day approach to his return, bringing his jersey to every game in case he decided he was ready to suit up and play. However, Rose felt that he needed more time and the Bulls wisely opted against rushing him back with an eye toward the 2013-14.

That’s when “The Return” was supposed to take place. With the start of the 2013-14 season came the day that Bulls and NBA fans alike had been clamoring for. Rose, after over a year and half lay-off, was ready to get back on the court. Understandably, Rose appeared rusty; he struggled mightily to start the season and at times appeared to lack the same lateral quickness that had made him such a special player in the past. While this was certainly a concern, the optimistic belief was that with time on the court, he would regain confidence in his knee and eventually return to his previous form.

Ten games into the season, in a game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Rose made a quick back door cut from the left wing and Joakim Noah attempted to connect on a pass from the elbow. The pass was deflected and stolen by Nic Batum and Rose stopped quickly and turned to get back on defense. As he approached half court, he slowed from a gingerly jog to a skip, before limping over to the bench as the play concluded. Not again. An MRI the following day revealed that Rose had a torn meniscus in his right knee that would require surgery, and he would miss the remainder of the season.

Fast forward to this summer, and hopes are high once again. Pau Gasol joined the Bulls on a three-year deal worth $22 million. Carlos Boozer, a player who was the target of much criticism, was amnestied. Rose will make his second attempt at a comeback and early reviews suggest that he looks good and is ready to go. Noah is coming off of the best season of his career. Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson are entering their prime and the next few years should be some of the most productive of their career. In addition, the team drafted rookie Doug McDermott and agreed to terms with Nikola Mirotic on a three-year, $17 million deal to bring the Euro star to Chicago. Bulls fans have plenty to be excited to about. The team looks like a contender in a conference that is completely up for grabs after the Miami HEAT’s breakup.

Last year’s first round pick Tony Snell may be somewhat overlooked and forgotten, but he is another player who can help push this team over the top. After a pretty solid rookie year, Snell is looking to build on that momentum and continue his growth as a player. Snell has been excellent as a member of the Bulls’ Summer League team in Las Vegas. He is averaging 20.7 points per game and shooting 47.9 percent from the field. He has excelled shooting the ball from deep, hitting 12 threes and shooting 52.2 percent from beyond the arc through three games.

“You have to work really hard,” Snell said. “Hard work pays off. I’ve been working hard all summer and it’s paying off right now. I’m just trying to show the rookies who are new to this game that you have to put your hard work in and it will pay off.”

While it is just Summer League, it appears Snell has made significant growth as a player. His time around Tom Thibodeau and team’s the veterans has benefited him and Snell has soaked up as much as he could. Summer League is an opportunity for Snell now to show the rookies and younger players what it takes to be a Bull.

“I learned from last year, my mistakes, picking up from the veterans, what they taught me and just try to carry it on,” Snell said. “[I’m] trying to be more of a leader out there, trying to show the rookies and everybody on this team you have to play hard and be more of a leader.”

An improved Snell is just one player who will be expected to provide the team with more depth, something this past year’s team was lacking. The Bulls will enter the 2014-15 season with arguably their most talented roster during the Derrick Rose era. The team is expected to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, if not the very best. Even with a strong supporting cast, the health and play of Rose will be paramount.

“He looks phenomenal,” Snell said of Rose. “He looks really great. We play one on one with each other and just try to get each other better and he looks great.”

This is John's second year with Basketball Insiders, after spending last season working as an intern. Based out of Milwaukee, he covers the NBA with a focus on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Central Division.

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