You know about Derrick Rose and the Road to Redemption. You know about his quest to overcome all the injuries. You probably remember the Adidas commercials that presupposed he wouldn't be out for long. You might have cynical opinions about his "MVP campaign" in 2010-11 that was really more of a post-Decision middle finger from the media to LeBron. You know that this preseason, like last preseason and the one before that, questions about his health and whether he will ever truly be back is how you begin Chicago Bulls season previews.
Many of those outlooks mention the injuries but also bring up the other new developments in Chi-town, like the arrival of Pau Gasol, who should hopefully be an upgrade over the amnestied Carlos Boozer. They discuss Jimmy Butler, who is healthy and ready for a bounce-back season. They talk about the intriguing additions of Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic. They talk about a team who's been in a three year holding pattern without its best player and hopes to return, now that he's healthy, to their rightful place as a Finals contender.
Of course, there are many things that could go wrong. For all of the Cavaliers' talent and hype, there is still a certain segment of fans and media cautioning that it takes awhile for team-building to take place. With all the moving parts and fresh additions in Chicago - reintegrating Rose, adding Pau, including new bench pieces into the mix - it's not as if the Bulls are a finished product attempting to hold off a new challenger. They're unproven, too. Can they gel? Can they stay healthy? Can Tom Thibodeau manage a team with older parts and save room in their collective tanks for a playoff run?
While Chicago appears to be Cleveland's biggest roadblock on the way to the NBA Finals, and is therefore a threat and an object of scorn, there must be a tiny part of every Cavalier supporter who hopes that Chicago is good enough (and healthy enough) to make the race for the Eastern Conference crown an entertaining one. Because if Rose is healthy, and Pau Gasol produces, and McDermott can give the bench a little scoring spark, and Jimmy Butler returns to his 2012-13 shooting form, and Joakim Noah plays like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, good is exactly what the Bulls will be.
Every protagonist needs an antagonist, every hero needs a villain, and every title contender needs a rival. If the Bulls fall flat, who else will play the part of the bad guy? The Heat would be a juicy nemesis for obvious reasons, but it's tough to envision them being good enough to pull off a run to the Conference Finals. The Hornets, Wizards and Raptors are fine teams on the upswing but probably aren't quite ready to challenge for an appearance on the game's biggest stage. The rest of the Eastern Conference is, quite frankly, not even worth considering.
That leaves us with Chicago. They've got a nice balance of young players and veterans. Their role players are comfortable where they're at. The coaching staff, problems with managing minutes aside, is one of the best in the league. The Bulls have posted a .622 winning percentage over the past three seasons despite getting just 49 games out of Derrick Rose during that stretch. Nate Robinson, Kyle Korver, D.J. Augustin and Marco Belinelli have all had career revivals under the tutelage of Thibodeau and his staff in recent years. In other words, they've got a way of getting the most out of what they've got. The burning question for this season: can their superstar remain healthy enough to take them from playoff pest to Finals contender?
An Eastern Conference Finals between Chicago and Cleveland would be chock full of storylines. Two superstars leading their hometown teams on a quest for a title. The contrasting styles of defensive intensity and offensive firepower. Two teams with new parts trying to gel quickly enough to get to the promised land. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving trying to "prove" that they "are winners," or something. Ghosts of Jordan and Ehlo and The Shot.
Anyone trying to forecast the Bulls' season wrings their hands over whether or not they'll be healthy. Recent history suggests they won't be, but they'll find a way to be relevant regardless. It'd be really, really fun if everyone was healthy enough to make it a race for both the number 1 seed in the East, and then meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, so that's what I'll predict. 57 wins for the Bulls (58 for the Cavaliers) and a showdown for the right to compete for a title.
If I'm wrong, you can make fun of my naive optimism and my Derrick Rose-colored glasses.