Another summer has flown by and the 2013-14 NBA season is suddenly looming large. Without a doubt one of the biggest stories headed into the new season in terms of the championship picture is the possible emergence of the Chicago Bulls as a serious contender. Most of that expectation is based upon the return of superstar Derrick Rose after he was kept out for the entire of the 2012-13 season with a torn ACL. All reports right now suggest that Rose will be fully fit and ready to go for the start of training camp. All eyes will be on his preseason and early season performance to see whether his ACL holds up and whether he can return to his former sky-high standards.

Most Bulls’ fans will just be grateful for being spared the season long saga that dominated 2012-13. Rose missed the first round of the 2012 NBA playoffs after tearing his ACL and then spent seemingly most of the second half of the 2012-13 regular season with speculation mounting about when his possible return would be. Rose was even taking regular pre-game practices during the 2013 NBA playoffs when Chicago broke past the Brooklyn Nets in the first round before getting knocked out by the eventual championship winning Miami Heat.

It would have perhaps been better if Rose and head coach Tom Thibodeau had just ruled out the 24-year old for the season instead of just leaving the door open. Rose’s rehab stint was the subject of much debate. Some dubbed his decision to stay on the sidelines as ‘selfish’, while others considered the decision to make sure he was absolutely 100% to be a sound long-term basketball decision both for Rose and his franchise.

Those debates will soon be forgotten if vintage Rose returns in 2013-14. This is a team that topped the Eastern conference regular season standings in 2010-11 and 2011-12. They reached the Eastern conference finals in 2011 and would have been a serious challenger to Miami in 2012 had Rose been healthy. There is every reason to believe that the Bulls should be ranked alongside the Heat and Indiana Pacers as serious NBA title challengers in the East.

The 2012-13 Bulls showed just how well-coached this team is and just how strong Rose’s supporting cast could be. Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and Luol Deng all impressed on the front court, while Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson somehow managed the back-court against most expectations.

Thibodeau won’t surrender the identity that the Bulls’ cemented last season even with Rose’s return. Chicago will play great, tough defense and they will be a tough, combative team once again in 2013-14.

The Bulls pushed the Heat extremely hard in the second round of the playoffs and many wondered what could have been if Rose was healthy. That means that the pressure will be racked up even higher on the young superstar. The likes of Boozer, Deng and Noah will all need to deal with getting less touches and will need to find their roles on offense with Rose dominating the ball.

The supporting cast might actually be slightly better for Rose in 13-14 compared with their strong playoff run in 11-12. Jimmy Butler is a strong option on both ends of the court both at small forward and shooting guard. Hinrich has the ability to be a useful combo guard and demonstrated during the 2013 playoffs that he is an elite defensive player. Marquis Teague could still emerge as a very useful member of this roster, while Mike Dunleavy will provide some valuable scoring and great veteran experience.

All eyes will be on Rose entering training camp. Last season showed that Chicago is a franchise with plenty of scrap and fight, but it also showed that they need their elite player. Rose will play the same rugged and battling style that the Bulls have played since Thibodeau took over as head coach, in fact he embraces that kind of basketball. More than that he needs to return as the player who averages 25.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game in 29 postseason contests.

Not only that, but if Chicago is to overcome the brutal physical play of Indiana or the ‘big three’ of Miami, then Thibodeau will need to lean heavily upon Rose’s leadership and game breaking ability. This fall’s training camp, preseason and early regular season will be important for Derrick Rose.