Chicago has been the "if" team for 3 seasons now. If, just if, Rose could get and stay healthy they could contend. So much focus has been on Rose that very little else in terms of criticism has been attached to this team, perennially praised as overachievers fighting through injuries to be a tough out in the playoffs. Starting at 9-6 with Rose again missing time there are signs that this team doesn't have the core it has in the past.
Thibodeau is in his 5th season as a head coach- it seems like he has been there forever, and in NBA terms may be he has. Defense has been their calling card for 4 straight seasons- top 2 in three of those and #6 in the season that Noah and Gibson combined to miss 33 games. This season was supposed to be more of the same- bringing back Noah, Butler and Gibson and swapping in Gasol for Boozer should have at least kept a stable defense and scarily enough for the league could even be better with Gasol being an upgrade over Boozer. So far they have failed to come together as a top defensive unit- #13 overall and over 5 pts per possession worse than last season. I am a big proponent of the "give them time to come together" after off season moves, but there is a major and troubling trend behind these numbers.
Over the past 4 years the Bulls winning percentage has correlated strongly with their ability to out rebound their opponents. Here are those seasons Win rate and the % by which they outrebounded their opponents.
This season the script is reversed and the Bulls are getting getting out boarded by almost 5%.
This is very bad news for Chicago fans. Without Rose they have no chance at an offense good enough to carry a decent, but not great, D to a shot at the finals. So far this year even with Gasol's resurgence and what is by far Butler's best season in both efficiency and volume they are still the #14 ranked offense (and that is with Rose playing well for 7 games). Even with Rose it might be a tall order unless he is fully back to his peak- which also seems unlikely.
In a weak East they are still playoff material and probably even 1st round HC material, but beyond that it gets dicey. Toronto looks more and more like a probably ECFs team and the Bulls don't look substantially better than the Miami/Washington/Cleveland/Atlanta group.