There must be some reward for winning the NBA preseason. The Stu Jackson Cup, maybe?
The Bulls have a chance to wrap up a perfect preseason Friday against Denver at the United Center. For history's sake, they went 8-0 during the 1989 preseason (eventual result: Eastern Conference finals loss to Detroit) and were 9-0 in 1992 (third straight championship).
Of course, the Bulls also went 5-3 during the 72-win preseason, so the record means little. Some more tangible measurements are Derrick Rose's recovery, injuries to Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich, along with an impressive group of Eastern Conference contenders.
So instead of gushing about an undefeated preseason, let's break out the 'worry meter.' On a scale of 1 (Thibodeau's preparation) to 10 (Carlos Boozer isolated against LeBron James), here's a look at where some current Bulls issues stand:
Derrick Rose regaining his old form.
Have you paid attention to the preseason? Rose has been ridiculous so far, from his point-a-minute pace over three games, to three late 3-point baskets against Oklahoma City on Wednesday, everything Rose promised seems to be coming true. His shot looks good. He's been confident. He's showing no fear going to the basket.
Rose has played in six of seven preseason games and posted these numbers: 21.7 points in 26.5 minutes, .507 field-goal percentage, .522 3-point percentage, .814 from the foul line. Referees always call more fouls in preseason, so it might be too soon to get fired up about Rose attempting 9.8 free throws per game. But you can't question his aggressiveness.
There's always a chance Rose could get hurt, or need some days off. But all signs indicate Rose's return will come with a vengeance.
Worry Meter: 2
Joakim Noah's lingering groin injury.
The Bulls are being smart by making sure this issue is gone completely before Noah takes the floor. In the big picture, Noah playing in Tuesday's regular-season opener at Miami means little. Maybe it's a chance to see how well Dexter Pittman protects the basket against former teammates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
This next part hasn't changed since the end of last season: Between his plantar fasciitis and groin strain, playing Noah fewer minutes this season appears to be a good idea. We'll see how that goes.
Worry Meter: 6
Will coach Tom Thibodeau work the Bulls too hard?
During a preseason conference call Tuesday, TNT analyst Reggie Miller suggested the Bulls' biggest rival this season isn't Miami or Indiana -- it's health. For the past month, Thibodeau has stressed the importance of practicing hard, but he does give the team plenty of days off.
For all the talk about heavy minutes, Luol Deng is the one player whose minutes per game are consistently among the league leaders. So maybe this whole topic is overrated. One place where it's easy to find fault was late in the 2011-12 season -- not long before Rose tore his ACL -- when Rose played heavy minutes against New York and Detroit in his first game back from injury absences. It's also safe to say Rose's workload will be watched carefully this season.
Worry Meter: 5
Kirk Hinrich's concussion.
Hinrich probably has a better chance of playing against Miami than Noah. The veteran guard will have smaller role this year, but the Bulls have probably accepted the fact that he'll run into some injury issues from time to time. The question is whether the third-string point guard will be 20-year-old Marquis Teague or 38-year-old Mike James.
Worry Meter: 2
Will Luol Deng's expiring contract create a distraction?
This is a tough one. If the Bulls get a decent offer for Deng before the February trade deadline, it would be tough to say no and risk losing him for nothing next summer. It seems obvious there's a big difference between Deng's potential market value and what the Bulls feel comfortable spending at the moment.
In the interest of competition, it would be a shame if the Bulls can't make a playoff run with their ultimate defensive lineup intact -- Deng and Jimmy Butler ready to tag team James, with Hinrich available to pester Wade.
Worry Meter: 7
Ultimately, the Bulls will miss Nate Robinson.
Robinson makes a return visit to Chicago on Friday with his new team, the Nuggets. It would have been fun to see Rose and Robinson in the same backcourt, and it's possible the Bulls will need a second scorer on the floor to beat Miami in a playoff series.
Robinson essentially filled Rose's hero role late in games, so it's tough to tell if he would have the same impact playing off the ball. The Bulls also had worries about how Robinson would handle a lesser role and chose a safer option, Mike Dunleavy, who has been solid and versatile so far.
Worry Meter: 4