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Only time will tell if the new Bulls are an improved team

Updated: August 21, 2014 6:43AM



I wish the Bulls’ season could start right now — and not just because the Cubs and White Sox aren’t good. (But mostly because of that.)

There are more unknowns than knowns when it comes to this team, more unsolved mysteries than closed cases. And it should be fascinating to watch.

We don’t know whether Nikola Mirotic can play at a high NBA level, especially in his first season.

We don’t know how many nips age has taken out of Pau Gasol’s heels.

We don’t know whether coach Tom Thibodeau will ground Gasol down to the nub, though some of us can’t shake the image of the 7-foot, 250-pound Gasol exiting Chicago in three years measuring 5-7 and weighing 120 pounds.

We don’t know whether Derrick Rose can stay healthy. Maybe I should have put that first on the list.

We don’t know whether first-round draft pick Doug McDermott can play.

We don’t know whether Thibodeau will give minutes to McDermott because, in Thibs’ world, rookies bear a striking resemblance to missing persons.

If your world is all blue skies, then you probably disagree with all or most of my unknowns.

You think Mirotic can play because he dominated the Euroleague and you like the idea of a Bull who came to Chicago via Montenegro and Spain.

You think Gasol is the youngest 34-year-old since Dick Clark and will give the Bulls the secondary scoring threat they’ve been lacking.

You think Thibodeau has had an epiphany and finally understands that playing veterans big minutes in pursuit of regular-season victories isn’t very smart.

You think Rose’s surgically repaired knees not only are fine but are an improvement on what God gave him in the first place.

You think Thibodeau has decided that offense is the answer to any question and that he needs McDermott’s outside shooting.

You think the Bulls are NBA title contenders.

You might end up being right. I’m just not sure how anyone could have all the answers in July, especially with all these uncertainties.

But this will turbocharge your confidence: Gasol agrees with you.

‘‘I feel we have all the pieces,’’
he said at a news conference Friday. ‘‘We have all the elements to get there.’’

Let’s agree on this: The Bulls are going to be improved in 2014-15. Though he’s not Carmelo Anthony, Gasol figures to help them if he can avoid overuse injuries. If Rose stays healthy and even one other of those aforementioned unknowns is answered in the affirmative, then Gasol might be on to something. But that’s a lot of ‘‘ifs.’’

The best thing the Bulls have going for them — in July — is their depth. General manager Gar Forman has added more shooters to the roster. Shooters are people who propel the basketball at the rim in the hopes that it will go in and count for ‘‘points.’’

‘‘The shooting is something we wanted to address,’’ Thibodeau said.

Chatting with fans and listening to talk radio during the last week convinced me lots of people think McDermott will be an immediate contributor, based on how he has done in the NBA Summer League, and Mirotic is NBA-ready, based on what I don’t know.

Slow down there. The Summer League has about as much meaning as lint.

Mirotic, acquired on draft day in 2011, is intriguing. He has had lots of success in Europe. He’s 6-10 and can shoot from outside. Bulls fans of a certain vintage surely will think back to Toni Kukoc, whose skills were doubted before he joined the Bulls from Italy in 1993. Then he was a key cog in three Bulls championships.

Again, whoa. For every Kukoc, there are five Omri Casspis.

‘‘Coming to the NBA is a big adjustment, him learning the league, our system, our players,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘But he’s a guy who has played professional basketball for a long time and achieved at a high level. There will be a learning curve, but we’re excited to have him.’’

‘‘I strongly believe I am ready for the challenge,’’ Mirotic said.

We know the Bulls are going to be good, but we don’t know how good. Let me alter that: You seem to know how good the Bulls will be; I don’t.

How this all plays out — how the players jell, who lives up to the preseason billing and whether Thibs can evolve as a coach — is going to be as interesting as the games. Maybe more. I think we can agree on that.



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