Who says the Bulls aren’t ready for 2012-13?


Jul 25

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Well, maybe it doesn’t look that bad for the Bulls in the 2012-13 season, after all.

It’s not good, mind you, at least as long as Derrick Rose is recovering from knee surgery, which should be at least half the season. You lose the league MVP or your star and you get worse.

There are no shortcuts: Bulls go from 27 to 38 wins in Michael Jordan’s rookie season. Bulls go back to 30 his second when he is injured. Bucks have league’s best record at 59-23 in 1973-74. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar breaks his hand in the preseason in 1974-75 and basically the same team without Abdul-Jabbar part of the season misses the playoffs with 38 wins. Lakers go to Finals in 1990-91 after winning 58 games. Magic Johnson announces he has HIV and the next season the same team wins 15 fewer games. In 1987-88, the Celtics have the East’s best record with 57 wins. With Larry Bird out all but six games the next season, the Celtics even with a healthy Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Reggie Lewis and Dennis Johnson go 42-40 and are swept in the opening playoff round.

You can wish and hope all you want, but there is no replacing a top star, and certainly not a league MVP.

Teams losing their main star generally average about 15 fewer wins (in any 82-game season) no matter what they do to compensate.

So write the Bulls down for 45 or 47 wins?

It sounds about right, though then you say they also lost six other players: Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, John Lucas III, Omer Asik, whose offer sheet the Bulls announced Tuesday they would not match, and Brian Scalabrine.

But none of that deterred Marco Belinelli, one of the league’s better three point shooters, as he met media at the Berto Center Tuesday for the first time as a Bull.

“When the Bulls called me I was so happy,” said Belinelli, who met reporters along with Kirk Hinrich, who returns to the Bulls after a two-year absence when the Bulls traded him to pursue free agents in 2010. “Chicago is the team (that) maybe wins (a) championship. I (can) play with a star, Derrick Rose. It is the best opportunity for me to grow up and try to win a championship.”

Belinelli, a native of Italy who averaged a career high 11.8 per game last season for New Orleans, said he also had talks with the Clippers, Celtics and Cavaliers. But he said he felt the Bulls presented the best opportunity for success. He also said after playing with Chris Paul he feels Rose is the league’s best point guard. We already have to like him as C.J. Watson, who knows the odds living in Las Vegas, landed with his new team in Brooklyn and declared Deron Williams the league’s best point guard. It’s also believed C.J. feels Kris Humphries is the league’s best cuckold, Joe Johnson is the league’s best money counter, Gerald Wallace is the league’s best creative hair stylist and Brook Lopez is the league’s best big man who avoids being hit by rebounds. C.J. also now speaks like Avery Johnson.

Belinelli’s English is not that great. Of course, neither is Shaq’s and he’s on TV. But Belinelli offered some rare player honesty and some defined hubris.

He said he was a shooter and said he was better than Korver. I don’t think he meant it to brag or as a slight to Korver. I just think he was trying to say he believes he can be more versatile.

“Maybe I can create something more than him,” Belinelli said when asked about replacing Korver’s perimeter shooting. “I think I can do more than him. I am going to try to do my best.”

He did seem earnest, but I don’t think he’ll be a better interview as Korver is one of the most personable and funny people in the NBA.

Asked about his defense playing for a defensive minded coach like Tom Thibodeau, Belinelli offered: “I think defensive player… not my best.”

You have to like that. Who admits that? But he did tell Thibodeau he’ll be a better defender than Thibodeau thinks he can be. I’m quite sure Thibodeau will take him up on that.

Hinrich also said he was thrilled to be back, and he put his money — or didn’t — where his wallet was. Hinrich had a three-year offer at more money from the Bucks. But he chose two years from the Bulls, and I’ll say I haven’t heard him this excited about playing since his early days with the Bulls. He’s down about 20 pounds, has junked one of the worst junk food diets you ever heard of, and after a journey through the Wizards fun house and playing for Atlanta in the “I’m not sure what to do with you” role Luol Deng had under Vinny Del Negro, Hinrich is anxious to jump start his career.

“My heart and my gut told me this is the right move for me and my family,” said Hinrich, whose offseason home has remained in the north suburbs near the Berto Center.

Hinrich, who is generally reticent with the media, did more one–on-one interviews than I saw him do in seven previous seasons with the Bulls. He smiled a lot and apparently still thinks there are Miami Vice tryouts with that perpetual growth of scraggly facial hair.

He admits to being depressed about the 2010 trade sending him to the Wizards. Less for the craziness there or even his inability to buy enough firearms to feel comfortable in the Wizards locker room. Or the Bulls giving Washington a first round pick so they’d take Hinrich. Take my point guard, please. But Hinrich said he saw the Bulls on the verge of breaking through in 2010-11 and he regretted missing that.

“I felt (the Bulls) had a chance to be really good and then I got traded,” said Hinrich. “I try to be professional wherever I’m at. It was tough to swallow at first. Not being able to be part of this team and then going to Washington and not a playoff team. But that’s behind me and I’m looking toward the future.”

With a two year deal and Rose due back sometime during the season, Hinrich said he feels that future could look good with the Bulls.

“It’s tough losing an MVP player,” Hinrich acknowledged. “Obviously, we’d love to have him back as soon as possible. But he has to be ready. I know the core guys will bring it every night, and in this league if you do that you have a chance to win.”

And the Bulls core should be competitive.

Noah and Deng clearly are top 10 at their positions.

You can make the case Boozer is as well, and certainly top half with career averages of 17 points and 9.9 rebounds.

The formula generally is you have three starters like that and you are a playoff team. So add Hinrich and Richard Hamilton to that and it sounds like at least 45 wins, especially with Thibodeau’s defensive schemes.

So let’s take a look at the roster, especially the much debated “Bench Mob” the team lost compared with whom they have now.

Center: Noah and Nazr Mohammed vs. Noah and Omer Asik. Edge: 2011-12. Asik is clearly the better defender and the Bulls will miss him. Though you just could not pay him $15 million in 2014-15 and have any chance to get a free agent at that time. Plus, how do you explain to Noah, working his stuff off, that his backup playing 14 minutes makes more money.

Power forward: Boozer and Taj Gibson both seasons. Though Mohammed is the titular replacement for Asik, Gibson probably will play more center in a three-player front court rotation, giving the Bulls more offensive options. Mohammed will likely be more for insurance in case of injury as few teams anymore play four big men.

Small forward: Deng and Korver vs. Deng and Jimmy Butler. Probably a slight edge to last season’s rotation, though Butler is a far better defender and has shown offensive abilities to get to the basket much more than Korver. If Butler comes on it could be an edge for this group. In actuality since the two and three positions are mostly interchangeable in the Bulls offense, Belinelli’s shooting is expected to offset Korver’s.

Shooting guard: Hamilton and Ronnie Brewer vs. Hamilton and Belinelli. Edge to this season’s group as Brewer had little offense. He was a better defender, but wasn’t able to spread the court, which hurts in that position. Plus, Hamilton was hurt much of last season not coming in sharp after the lockout. Going into what is, in effect, his contract year, the reports are Hamilton has worked hard this summer and on his shoulder as well to avoid a recurrence of that injury.

Point guard: Rose and C.J. Watson vs. Hinrich and Player to be named later. Obviously there is no comparison. But Hinrich is regarded much superior to Watson, who struggled to run any offense and wasn’t a good defender. When Rose returns, Hinrich will back him up and play some shooting guard, enabling the Bulls to use Belinelli at small forward as well. The Bulls will wait until later this summer to add another point guard, though rookie Marquis Teague will make a bid for some minutes.

Then there’s Vladimir Radmanovic, a good shooting power forward whom Hinrich played with in Atlanta and praised.

“A real matchup problem,” said Hinrich. “Great guy and a much better athlete than given credit for. I look for him to come in and knock down shots.”

Since he basically replaced Scalabrine, that seems a certain edge for this season’s group. Other than in fan interest during blowouts.

Last year’s reserves had an appealing sobriquet. And broadcaster Stacey King livened their reputations with his own creative offerings.

But Gibson, Belinelli, Butler, Radmanovich and eventually Hinrich coming off the bench should be at least as potent and effective, if not more so given youth and Hinrich’s defense.

And so where do they all end up?

Well, no one’s beating Miami in the East next season. I think the Nets will be good, probably second with a complete starting five, if hardly perfect. The Knicks have more talent than the Bulls, though Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t very effectively anywhere but center and Jason Kidd already is working to undermine Ray Felton saying he should start. That always presents the possibility of a soap opera. And then probably Boston to round out the top four. Though it all depends on 36-year-old Kevin Garnett (having played more than 50,000 minutes in his career) not only being healthy but being healthy playing center all season.

I’d have the Bulls about with Indiana. Noah matches Roy Hibbert. Boozer matches David West. Deng matches Danny Granger. Hamilton and Belinelli combined are more offense and less defense than Paul George. And Hinrich even without Rose matches George Hill. I didn’t think Indiana helped itself trading Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones for a backup center.

I don’t see the 76ers with Kwame Brown and Spencer Hawes their front line. The Bucks could be in there, though with a tiny, shooting backcourt. I don’t see Atlanta after losing two starters or Washington. And even if Dwight Howard stays in Orlando, you know that won’t go well.

Actually, sixth or seventh is probably where you’d want to be in the East if you were the Bulls. Miami is certain to be No. 1 and if you can get into the other playoff bracket away from them you have a chance to get to the conference finals. After all, the Bulls figure to get Rose back maybe with six weeks or two months left in the season. So then you add Rose to that group and have him getting stronger as games are being played. Other than Miami, who scares you? Of course, I’d be scared mostly about pushing Rose too hard. But that will be much debated next season.

The Bulls are pretty much done for this offseason. And maybe it isn’t as bad as it sounded a while back.

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