While the Cleveland Cavaliers were hijacking ESPN to make sure the entire world knew about LeBron James returning back to as he put it, Northeast Ohio, nobody but a handful of experts seemed to notice the changes the Bulls were making.
They traded up to get Doug McDermott in the first round and added Center Cameron Bairstow to get depth at center in the second round of the NBA Draft. After hearing about it for three years, they announced the signing of Nikola Mirotic on Friday and also added two time NBA Champion Pau Gasol.
Those additions plus the attrition that the Heat (LeBron to Cleveland), Pacers (Lance Stephenson to Charlotte) and Nets (Paul Pierce to Washington) had make the Bulls Eastern Conference favorites according to among others Earvin "Magic" Johnson and former NBA Coach George Karl.
With all the moves being made in NBA Free Agency the Top 4 teams in the East are: 1. Bulls 2. Cavs 3. Paceors 4. Wizards
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) July 14, 2014
Appearing on ESPN, George Karl also said that the Bulls should be the Eastern Conference favorites because adding Gasol makes them an elite passing team. Add in their already strong defense to their offensive upgrades and the Bulls should continue to have more experts on their side as the favorites to win the East.
Chris Sheridan who was the first to break the Lebron to Cleveland rumor
— Chris Sheridan (@sheridanhoops) July 9, 2014
also gives the Bulls props as Eastern Conferences favorites on his website.
When you look at Chicago, you don’t see too many weaknesses. Questions, yes. But weaknesses? No, aside from having a lights-out perimeter shooter. The front line of Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Nikola Mirotic is like a mini-United Nations of guys who can splendidly complement each other. The backcourt includes an MVP caliber point guard in Derrick Rose and a studly defender in Jimmy Butler. The coach is one of those nuts who wants to go 82-0 and overplays his best players in every game. And there is still plenty of time to build the bench."
Sheridan Hoops Columnist Shlomo Sprung also considers the Bulls the Eastern Conference favorites. In the same roundtable discussion that Sheridan says the Bulls are the favorites, Sprung said
"(Washington) still doesn’t have the experience, coaching and star power of Chicago. That leaves us with the Bulls, the only team among the East’s elite to actually improve this offseason. Pau Gasol is an upgrade over Carlos Boozer, Doug McDermott has been really good in Las Vegas and maybe – just maybe – they will get that contribution from Derrick Rose to put them over the top. I’ll take the experienced and deep Bulls over LeBron and the baby Cavs."
Other websites such as Sports Illustrated owned Fansided and Rant Sports also list the Bulls as the Eastern Conference favorite.
When the Bulls won 62 games and earned the Eastern Conference's top seed in the 2012 season, many credited the bench mob as being the difference. This season's bench might be better. They have a good balance of scoring and defense off the bench.
Taj Gibson was the runner-up for sixth man of the year to Jamal Crawford of the Clippers. He is coming off the best year of his career. After stuggling in 2012-13 with injuries and dealing with a new contract, Gibson shined in 2013-14. Tom Thibodeau gave him starters minutes in the second and fourth quarter ahead of Carlos Boozer.
He had career highs almost across the board averaging 13.0 PPG and 6.8 RPG. He played nearly 150 more minutes than he ever had before.
They were able to get Carlos Boozer off the books and the additions of McDermott, Mirotic and backup point guard Aaron Brooks should provide some offensive punch off the bench. McDermott is a prolific scorer who gives the Bulls some desperately needed scoring off bench. He is the fifth leading scorer in Division I history.
Mirotic comes to the Bulls as a well rounded player. He shot 40 percent from three-point range in his four seasons with Real Madrid. He also averaged 7.6 rebounds in his Euroleague career.
Brooks should thrive in Thibodeau's system. He is the latest in the line of diminutive point guards coming to the Bulls to back-up Derrick Rose. John Lucas III, C.J. Watson, Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin all played well and were able to score in Thibs system.
Brooks ironically replaced Robinson in Denver last year after he went down with a season ending knew injury. After being acquired from Houston, Brooks averaged 11.9 PPG, 5.2 APG and shot over 90 percent from the foul line.
What looked to be a finished roster, now appears like one major change could still be coming. Sheridan is reporting that the Bulls have offered Gibson, Mirotic and McDermott to the Timberwolves for Kevin Love.
— Chris Sheridan (@sheridanhoops) July 23, 2014
Flip Saunders decision on what to do with Love could influence the balance of power in the Central Division for years to come. The Cavaliers have reportedly offered Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and two first round draft picks (ironically one is from Miami as part of the sign and trade that sent James to the Heat in 2010.)
Whatever happens the rest of the off-season should be an interesting pre-cursor to what should be a great NBA season in a newly competitive Eastern Conference.
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