By ANDREW SELIGMAN, Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) — Their superstar is injured, their so-called "bench mob" pretty much gone and despite all that, the Chicago Bulls insist one thing hasn't changed.
They're not rolling over. The obits are premature.
The Bulls believe they still have plenty left even though Derrick Rose is expected to miss a big chunk of the season recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and most of the reserves that gave Chicago one of the NBA's deepest benches are gone. They insist they will be factors in the Eastern Conference after capturing the top seed the past two years.
"I think we can be real good, knowing the character of this team," Rose said.
Of course, it won't be easy without their superstar.
The Bulls were widely viewed as the biggest threat to Miami in the East before Rose was injured late in a playoff-opening win over Philadelphia. With Joakim Noah (sprained ankle) also going down in the series, Chicago bowed out in the first round one year after losing to the Heat in the conference finals.
With their franchise player missing from the start this year, the Bulls have a huge void to fill.
"Trying to do too much would be the biggest mistake I could make," Deng said. "I know how good I could be when I'm myself. For all of us as a team, no one individual is going to do what Derrick did. As a group, we all have to commit. I'm really looking forward to it."
For the Bulls to hold their ground, a lot will depend on Deng's left wrist and Richard Hamilton's durability, not to mention how all the new pieces mesh.
With Rose out, the Bulls brought back veteran Kirk Hinrich for a second stint to run the point and ultimately move into a backup role. They also shook up their bench, trading away Kyle Korver and losing Omer Asik, C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer in free agency. In their place are veterans such as Nate Robinson, Nazr Mohammed, Vladimir Radmanovic and Marco Belinelli.
As for Deng, he insisted his wrist has improved dramatically after he tore a ligament in it last year. He opted against surgery, and he said it held up well playing for Great Britain in the Olympics, adding there's "no reason for me not to have a great year."
It would help, too, if Hamilton stayed healthy after injuries limited him to 28 games. In his first season with the Bulls, he posted his lowest scoring average since he was a rookie with Washington in 1999-2000 at 11.6 points per game.
They also need Carlos Boozer to step up, along with Noah and Taj Gibson.
"Obviously, missing Derrick, that's a huge blow," Hinrich said. "I know every day we're going to be out there and compete, share the ball. I'm excited to be a part of something like that."
Chicago did win 18 of the 27 games Rose missed during the regular season a year ago, but the supporting cast was different. Most of the bench players are gone, even if the rest of the starting lineup is back, and that feeling that the Bulls are in a holding pattern, that they're biding their time until he regains his dominant form, lingers.
All eyes are on Rose, even if he won't be seen until later. His recovery really is the story surrounding the Bulls, the lingering issue as the team tries to get by without him.
"I think even if you win a championship, you come back the next day and people will doubt you," Deng said. "It's just the way it always is. I think as a team — we hear things all summer — you know what's being said. The best thing that we do as a team is we really focus on what we have to do day-in and day-out. We don't try to get caught up in what's going on outside these four walls."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.