It’s now or never for the Chicago Bulls

By Mubarak Salami

When the Chicago Bulls lost to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals four seasons ago, there was disappointment surrounding the team and its fans. At the same time, there was also hope. Hope that perhaps this young team was just getting started.

Hope that with its nucleus of budding stars, this team would be a championship contender for years to come.

It’s 2014, and what do we have?

A couple first round playoff exits and more hope.

But this time, it feels like a desperate kind of hope. Almost like it’s anxiety or uneasiness.

In the NBA in any given year, there are usually four to five teams that actually have a legitimate shot to win the title. The Bulls, widely recognized as the class of the Eastern Conference, along with the Cavaliers, are in that group. The question is for how long?

Former league MVP and Bulls’ superstar Derrick Rose turned 26 years old this past Saturday.

Normally, I wouldn’t consider 26 to be old. For most players, it represents the start of the height of their career. However, for me, Rose’s birthday had an eerie feeling to it.

It’s because I know that every day Rose ages, the Bulls’ championship window closes. I know that for him, no future is guaranteed. The up-and-coming 22-year-old who won the league MVP in 2011 is now a veteran with two bad knees, who must prove he can still play at a high level.

Rose has played 10 games combined in the past two seasons. Two years of what was supposed to be some of the best basketball of his career, Two years of the Bulls competing for championships gone, completely wasted.

Enough of the past, now jump to the present.

The players once referred to as the “Baby Bulls”, Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, are getting older and older. Youth doesn’t last forever.

However, right now, everything seems to be in place for the Bulls. Rose is healthy, for now, and the roster is very talented.

There’s Noah, the heart and soul of the team. He is a player that truly exemplifies the gritty, hard-nosed attitude that is reflective of the city he plays for. Noah, the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year, will anchor a Bulls’ defense that should continue to be among the league’s best.

The Bulls have always been good on defense since Tom Thibodeau arrived in Chicago. Putting the ball in the hoop on a consistent basis has notably been the team’s Achilles’ heel.

Even with Rose, the underlying concern for this team has always been their offensive efficiency. Luckily this offseason, the front office addressed that issue.

They signed former all-star and two-time NBA champion power forward Pau Gasol. The talented seven-foot big man will provide an added dimension to a frontcourt that has struggled mightily to produce points.

The Bulls also brought over heralded international forward Nikola Mirotic from Spain. Mirotic is a “stretch four,” meaning that he has the ability to shoot the ball from three-point range, causing the defense to “stretch out” to defend him. His range, coupled with his ability to put the ball on the floor, will give Chicago an element on offense it has not had for years.

There’s also first-round pick Doug McDermott. The 2014 consensus NCAA Player of the Year is a very skilled forward who should be able to score at the NBA level right away.

All of these moves show one thing: The Bulls are going for it. They know that in this day and age you can only be an elite team for so long and the championship windows come and go.

For now, the Bulls’ window hinges on Rose’s creaky knees.

Mubarak is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @justm.