Chicago Bulls roster 2013: Derrick Rose's return brings title hopes back to Windy City

Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE

The return of the 2011 MVP should vault the Bulls back into the ranks of the NBA's elite.

Once Derrick Rose tore his ACL on that fateful late-April afternoon in 2012, the 2012-13 season became a "treading water" year for the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls would do what they could to stay afloat until their superstar returned, and then perhaps they could make a deep playoff run.

Except, that return never came. Rose infamously sat out the entire season despite being cleared to play for months, opting for an extremely conservative approach to his recovery that drew the ire of many fans. The Bulls battled and clawed their way through the season, and despite a short-handed roster, beat the Brooklyn Nets in the first round before bowing out against the Miami Heat.

This upcoming season, Chicago will once again take aim at Miami. Only this time, the Bulls' former MVP will hopefully be along for the ride.

Projected starters

Derrick Rose -- Rose returning to his MVP form, or at least close to it, is essential to the Bulls' championship dreams. It has been nearly a year and a half since Rose has stepped on an NBA court, so there will likely be a bit of an adjustment period before he looks like himself again. How long it takes is anybody's guess, although considering how good of a player he is and all the work he put in during his rehab, it wouldn't be all that surprising to see him dominating again relatively quickly. Rose has put on 10 pounds of muscle, has worked diligently on his jumper and is allegedly quicker and more explosive than ever. There's reason for some healthy skepticism regarding Rose's return, but the star point guard is extremely confident in both himself and his team.

Jimmy Butler -- Butler has become a fan favorite in Chicago thanks to his tenacious defense, improved shooting and highlight-reel plays. Butler played very little in his rookie season, but he saw a major uptick in minutes last season because of injuries to Luol Deng. By the postseason, Butler was literally playing entire games and showed few signs of wearing down. The Marquette product was known for his defense coming into the league, and he has already built a reputation as one of the league's best wing defenders. Butler held LeBron James to his lowest field goal percentage out of Miami's four playoff series last year, and he has also had success against the likes of Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony. Perhaps even more impressive is the rapid improvement from long range. Butler shot 47.5 percent from three after the All-Star break and 40.5 percent in the postseason, per NBA.com.

Luol Deng -- Deng had an eventful 2012-13 season, dealing with several injuries and suffering through spinal tap complications at the end of the year that kept him out of the Heat series. Deng has used the offseason to recover, and he enters this season on the last year of his contract. There are plenty of questions surrounding Deng's future with the Bulls, so it will be interesting to see if that affects his play at all. Deng has made the All-Star team two years in a row despite posting the two lowest field goal percentages of his career, and the Bulls are hoping the return of Rose will help Deng's shooting. On the defensive end, Deng and Butler combine to form arguably the league's best wing duo, an ideal thing to have against Miami.

Carlos Boozer -- Boozer has been a whipping boy for Bulls fans the past few years because of inconsistent offensive performance and woeful defense. The big man averaged 16 and 10 last season, but he posted the lowest shooting percentage of his career and the Bulls were far worse when he was on the court. Per NBA.com, the Bulls were 7.7 points per 100 possessions worse with Boozer on the floor as opposed to on the bench. Boozer should be more effective with Rose back in the lineup, but because of his bloated contract and 2011 first-round pick Nikola Mirotic's possible arrival next season, the 31-year-old may find himself a victim of the amnesty axe next offseason.

Joakim Noah -- Noah has blossomed into one of the best centers in the league, and he'll once again be counted on to anchor Tom Thibodeau's defense. When healthy last season, Noah was a dominant defensive force, and he had a great shot at the Defensive Player of the Year Award before plantar fasciitis sidelined him toward the end of the year. The Bulls were five points per 100 possessions better defensively with Noah on the floor per NBA.com, and he also had to take on a larger role offensively in Rose's absence. In addition to being the Bulls' second-best player, Noah also acts as the team's emotional leader.

Key reserves 

Taj Gibson -- Gibson is one of the league's best defenders off the bench, which is why Thibodeau often trusts the big man at the end of games over Boozer. Gibson had the highest net rating on the team last season, according to NBA.com, and while his offensive game hasn't progressed as much as hoped, his defense alone makes him a valuable piece.

Mike Dunleavy -- The Bulls surprisingly used their full taxpayer mid-level exception this offseason to nab Dunleavy, who will play a key role off the bench as a shooter and ballhandler. Dunleavy will act as a mix between former Bulls reserves Kyle Korver and Marco Belinelli.

Kirk Hinrich -- Hinrich battled through an injury-plagued 2012-13, dealing with a host of random ailments. With Rose back, Hinrich's role will shrink, although he could be valuable as a reserve who can play both guard positions.

Nazr Mohammed -- Mohammed was dreadful the first half of last season, forcing Noah into major minutes. The Bulls would like to limit Noah's playing time a bit more this season, so it would be helpful if Mohammed showed more of the competency he displayed toward the end of the year.

Deep bench

Marquis Teague -- Teague played sparingly his rookie season, but he'll likely see a few more minutes this season after a strong showing at Summer League. The second-year man has impressive quickness with the ball, but a complete lack of a jumper allowed defenders to sag off him last season.

Tony Snell -- The Bulls wanted to improve their shooting this offseason, which is one of the reasons they selected Snell with the No. 20 pick. Snell also has nice length on the wing, and he could become an excellent defender under the tutelage of Thibodeau.

Erik Murphy -- Another shooter, the Bulls envision Murphy as a stretch 4 to help space the floor. The second-round draft pick out of Florida likely won't see much court time this season.

Head coach

Tom Thibodeau -- Since coming to Chicago in the summer of 2010, Thibodeau has transformed the Bulls into a defensive juggernaut. The past three years, the Bulls have finished no worse than No. 5 in defensive rating, with two league-best marks in Thibodeau's first two seasons in Chicago. However, Thibodeau has come under some fire for overworking his players, especially Deng and also Noah last season. Thibodeau has hinted that he will try harder to limit the minutes this year in order to keep his players more fresh for the postseason. One other situation to monitor is the relationship between Thibodeau and Bulls general manager Gar Forman. There have been reports of a rift after Forman fired Thibodeau's top assistant, Ron Adams, without Thibodeau's consent.

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