8:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Chicago -4
Old rivals sporting new looks attempt to get the 2014-2015 season off on the right foot as the New York Knicks host the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden in each team’s Season Opener. It was a Summer of change for both teams, as they both look to make amends for disappointing campaigns. Despite advancing to the Playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, the Bulls once again endured an injury-ravaged term, as former MVP Derrick Rose succumbed to yet another significant knee injury, prematurely ending his season for the third year in a row. However, Management put together an inspired offseason, jettisoning Carlos Boozer in favor of veteran Power Forward Pau Gasol, while selecting the likes of Serbian sensation Dario Saric and sharp-shooting Doug McDermott in the Draft. But of course, it all hinges on Rose, and whether or not his surgically-repaired knees can withstand the grind of another 82-game season.
Since earning MVP honors in 2010-2011, Rose has played in a total of 49 games over the past three seasons, missing the 2012-2013 campaign in it’s entirety. It’s anyone’s guess as to just explosive he still is, though the dynamic Point Guard was an integral part of the United States’ successful run through this Summer’s FIBA World Cup, and has looked impressive during the Preseason. It should be interesting to see if Tom Thibodeau indeed keeps him on a pitch count early in the season, or if he instead chooses to simply unleash the still just 26-year old star, who has posted career averages of 20.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 6.8 assists. One thing is for certain though; Rose in any capacity is a shot in the arm to what has habitually been one of the league’s most stagnant offenses; Chicago ranked dead-last in scoring (93.7), field goal percentage (.432), and two-point field goal percentage (.456), all the while playing at the second-slowest pace in the NBA, averaging just 90.2 possessions per 48 minutes. This is where Gasol’s presence (17.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists) should pay dividends; the supremely-skilled seven-footer will give Thibodeau an offensive threat in the post unlike any other in his four-year tenure, and should team with Joakim Noah (12.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists) to create an imposing tandem of bigs, further bolstering the league’s stingiest defense (91.8 points) in the process.
Meanwhile, Knicks’ fans are clamoring that at the very least the Bulls made the Playoffs, for New York was a train-wreck in 2013-2014, going a miserable 37-45 and missing the postseason for the first time in three years. This of course prompted Ownership to clean house in the Front Office, and hire Phil Jackson as the franchise’s new Basketball Czar, in an attempt to reach back to their glory years. As many predicted, Jackson in turn hired Derek Fisher, his former charge in Los Angeles, where they won five NBA Titles together. However, no sooner than the ink had dried on his retirement paperwork and no experience as even an assistant coach, the former Point Guard was hired to work a miracle on Broadway with a less than inspiring roster.
One of the biggest hurdles for Jackson and Fisher is the outrageously expensive, unbalanced roster that they inherited. Even with the presence of perennial All-Star Carmelo Anthony (27.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists) on the wing, whom Jackson resigned after a lengthy courtship in the offseason to a massive, five-year, $124 million contract, this is still a group void of quality talent and assets, making the immediate outlook for this season pessimistic. Outside of resigning Anthony long term, the most significant move Jackson made was trading both Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton for the likes of Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, and Wayne Ellington, along with a pair of 2014 Second Round Picks. Make no mistake, this was a necessary cap-clearing move to balance the books so that the Knicks can compete for Free Agents in two years, but in the present it looks like nothing more than a motley crew of journeymen set to fill out the string. It’s hard to fathom that any of those aforementioned players will improve upon New York’s dreadfully one-dimensional offense (98.6 points, .449 FG%, 20.0 assists) or bolster their oftentimes disinterested defense (.458 FG%, .371 3P%, 40.3 rebounds). After all, Fisher is expected to implement Jackson’s vaunted Triangle Offense, which has been notoriously difficult to learn in the past.