With Rose back, Gasol added to mix, Bulls eyeing return to Eastern Conference elite

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CHICAGO — This is one way it could go for the revamped Chicago Bulls, according to Derrick Rose.

It's the fourth quarter, and Pau Gasol has the ball in the post.

"I'm out on the perimeter and I'm just waiting to get a set shot," Rose said Monday. "Other than that, let him work. You've got Joakim (Noah) or Taj (Gibson) on the other side cleaning up everything else. You've got two shooters on the floor with me, Jo and Pau. I just see (Gasol) in the post. I'm waiting for a jump shot, and you pick your poison."

All those options for the Bulls. It's quite a change from the last time they were on the court.

Rose is back after missing most of the past two seasons, and he gets to work with one of the NBA's most skilled and versatile big men.

The return of Rose and signing of Gasol, a two-time champion with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, are two big reasons why Chicago is poised to return to the elite portion of the Eastern Conference.

Injuries to each of Rose's knees put those plans on hold the past few years. But with practices starting on Tuesday and the season opening Oct. 29 at New York, the Bulls believe they are ready to challenge again.

Besides Rose's comeback and the deal with Gasol, the Bulls also signed European star Nikola Mirotic and drafted Doug McDermott, giving them more shooters, and brought in Aaron Brooks for backcourt depth.

Even though the Bulls missed out on Carmelo Anthony, they are deeper and more versatile than they were a year ago.

The 7-foot Gasol is a four-time All-Star who averaged 17.4 points and 9.7 rebounds in 60 games last season with Los Angeles, and he brings some sorely needed offensive punch to Chicago's frontcourt. With Gasol and Noah, the Bulls now have two good passing big men who also can defend the rim.

They also have some tantalizing possibilities with Gasol and Rose playing off each other.

"I think the most important part is just to make each other better, complement each other, make the right plays for ourselves and for our teammates," Gasol said. "We can develop a special bond. I look forward to seeing him play, seeing him gain confidence and dominate the game like he used to."

Whether he can remains to be seen.

Rose understands the doubts will linger, that the only way he can ease them is by suiting up and staying healthy.

Rose tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the 2012 playoff opener and sat out the following season. His long-awaited comeback got cut short after 10 games last year by a less serious injury to his right knee — a torn meniscus.

For all the optimism surrounding this team, Rose still remains a big question.

The Bulls believe he knocked off much of the rust this summer playing for the U.S. national team in the World Cup of Basketball, even if his statistics weren't exactly All-Star level.

He averaged just 4.8 points and shot about 25 percent, but he was not trying to carry the load on that team. More importantly, Rose got to practice and play. He stayed healthy and flashed some of his old explosiveness.

"You could see the reactivity, the explosiveness, I like to call it some of the old Derrick Rose moves — the way he would get into the lane, get to the basket," general manager Gar Forman said. "I know some people are concerned that he didn't shoot a high percentage. That's not a huge concern for us. In that setting, he's not taking a lot of shots. ... In that type of setting, he's trying to get others involved."

With the Bulls, Rose will have more options — none bigger than the 7-footer they signed from the Lakers.

At 34, Gasol's skills remain sharp, and he had no shortage of suitors over the summer. Bryant urged him to re-sign with the Lakers, hoping they would eventually retire together as teammates.

Instead, Gasol chose Chicago.

"It felt right for me to make that decision," Gasol said. "It was hard to do it. But life is about making tough decisions at times. You've just got to look ahead. Right now, I'm just excited."

NOTES: Forman said the Bulls continue to have conversations with Jimmy Butler on a contract extension. ... Noah said he hopes there won't be any limitations for him in practice after having arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason.

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