Bulls still second in a tougher Eastern Conference

There’s been a lot of talk about how much tougher the East is and where the Bulls will sit in it. I think only a complete homer puts Chicago ahead of Miami, but after that it’s fairly close. I’m taking Chicago over Brooklyn, Indiana, and New York though.

#1. The Miami Heat

There’s not much that needs to be said about Miami. They’ve won the title the past two seasons and have the best player in the NBA on their roster along with a fading superstar and another all-star. They come back a year older, but with more or less the same cast. While there’s probably a bit of degradation on the team this season, they’re still better than everyone else as long as LeBron is in his prime.

#2. The Chicago Bulls

The #2 spot is sort of a toss up, but I’m going to put in Chicago. I believe Derrick Rose will be back healthy and perform at a peak level right out of the gates. I think people have forgotten how good Rose is after a season off and have underrated this Bulls team. Indiana has been commonly picked ahead of Chicago and won only four more games than the Bulls did last season while Rose was out.

This Bulls team might just be the best team Rose has played on as the key components from the seasons they led the league in wins are still around, but they now get to throw in the post-break out Jimmy Butler into the mix. Their perimeter defense matches up much better with Miami than it did in 10/11 with Korver, and they won’t lose the offense like they did with Brewer.

The Bulls have 60+ win talent again this season, and the pundits have either forgotten it or are being very cautious in how well they project Rose to play.

#3. Brooklyn Nets

It’s tough to say where Brooklyn lands, because on paper they’re potentially amazing, but they have some key cogs near the end of their career who probably sound a lot better on paper than they will perform on the court. That said, they’ve still addressed considerable weaknesses from a team that was pretty good last season.

Kevin Garnett and Andre Kirlenko replace a nondescript PF rotation last season. Jason Terry upgrades C.J. Watson and Paul Pierce upgrades Gerald Wallace. The biggest question with the Nets is how well the players on paper translate on the court. Terry, Pierce, and Garnett are all towards the end of their careers and not the players they once were.

Even so, they’re still considerably better than what they had, and that was a team that was pretty good when Brook Lopez was healthy. The downside to the Nets though is that they don’t have a real superstar player. Deron Williams looks like he’s lost a step and was a notch below true superstar anyway. Pierce/Garnett are well past their superstar days.

They’re going to be significantly improved from last season, but they still probably only can climb to the mid 50s due to the regression of some of the name players who aren’t quite what we think even if they’re much better than what they had.

#4. Indiana Pacers

There’s a lot of hype about the Pacers because they took the Heat to seven games, but Indiana simply matches up absurdly well with the Heat. I think they’d have an awfully tough time knocking off either Chicago or Brooklyn and won’t be able to knock off the Heat either.

In the end, this is a team that won 49 games last season with the only significant injury being to Danny Granger who’s an awfully dicey fit next to Paul George anyway. Unlike Rose, I don’t really expect Granger to come back fully healthy, nor do I think he’ll integrate smoothly into the team if he does.

Outside of Granger, their off-season consisted of adding the aging Luis Scola. They might give the Heat fits again with their size up front, but they still lack the star player to carry them.

#5. New York Knicks

They traded for Andrea Bargnani which means their defense go down a notch, and they’ll be even more soft in the playoffs. I don’t think he makes them better even on paper as the Knicks didn’t really lack of guys willing to launch long jumpers, so the move doesn’t look all that great to me.

They’ll always have a shooters chance of knocking off anyone as they have a potent offensive lineup and Chandler’s still a defensive anchor, but I don’t see the team play or intangibles existing on this team to get out of the second round and probably not out of the first this season.

#6. Washington Wizards

There’s a huge gap between #5 and #6 looking at the rosters in preseason. By the end of the year it likely won’t be a huge gap in record, but some team will emerge to be better than we think around sixth. It’s just tough to figure the team. My bet is on the Washington Wizards.

They were actually quite good last year with John Wall playing and my guess is that Bradley Beal will improve considerably in a second season and full one with Wall and that Otto Porter will give them another useful weapon.

They’re still young, likely inconsistent, and don’t have the front court to make a serious push at getting out of the first round, but if Wall is healthy then I think they’re at least a .500 team and will make the playoffs.

#7. Detroit Pistons

I’m not nearly so high on Greg Monroe as many people appear to be and Josh Smith/Brandon Jennings aren’t amazing adds to the roster either. That said, the Pistons are trying to be good, and in an Eastern conference where around five or six teams are already looking at next year’s draft that’s probably enough to get them in the playoffs.

I think this squad will be improved, but will be difficult to take to the next level. They’ve got a bunch of good players but lack a star and several of their good players are real boneheads. That said, they have legit size/talent up front which few teams have, so that will give them something to lean on against most of their opponents.

#8. Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland is a Kyrie Irving away from being the post-Jordan Jerry Krause Bulls. They keep adding players picked at the top of the draft, but they don’t seem to really be improving nearly so much as you’d hope for with a team stocked with top four picks. They did well with Irving, but too many other players either missed expectations or were just high picks in poor drafts.

That said, if Irving can stay healthy, the roster’s still good enough to grab the final playoff spot over the Hawks who are the only other team in the conference that appears to not be overtly tanking this season.

#9. Atlanta Hawks

They may not be completely tanking, but they’ve let a lot of talent go and brought back a lot less. They could maybe grab a playoff spot still as all three teams in the six-eight spots have considerable flaws which may cause them to vastly underperform my projections. The Hawks are basically down to Al Horford, Paul Milsap, and Jeff Teague for talent though, and that’s not a whole lot.

#10-#15. How can you even rank these guys?

Of the remaining teams maybe Charlotte and Toronto aren’t overtly tanking, but their roster are so bad that they should be. Rondo has enough fight in him to potentially drag a listless Boston roster somewhere even though Boston would like to be tanking. Philadelphia’s trying to build a roster that couldn’t beat a D-League team, while Milwaukee and Orlando are going to challenge the 76ers for most dreadful roster imaginable.

Maybe I’ll go Boston (if they keep Rondo), Toronto, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Orlando, then Philly, but who knows how far any of these teams might go to lose.

Final thoughts

The East is better than it was, and the disparity between the East and West is minimal where it counts. The Heat are still the best team in the league, and a healthy Bulls team has as much claim to 2nd best team as anyone else in the league. The Pacers, Nets, and Knicks are all solid teams even if the rest of the East more or less stinks.

The West definitely has more depth, but once the teams hit the playoffs there’s no longer a free ride for anyone to get to the finals like in years past.


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  • 1st let me say that I am a Bulls fan, but I put Indiana over Chicago for the simple fact that they have already proven to be the better team. 1st they beat us in the playoffs, then the next season after that it was them facing Miami in the finals and not the Bulls. While injuries definitely played a major role, who's to say things will be any different next season? So as it stands Miami is number one, Indiana is number 2, and the Bulls are number 3 at best.

  • In reply to ajaychitown:

    The Thibs-era Bulls have not lost to Indiana in the playoffs. There is no way Indiana is better than a healthy Bulls team...not even close.

  • In reply to ajaychitown:

    When did the Bulls lose to Indiana in the playoffs?

    They played once in the Rose era, and the Bulls won in 5 (4-1).

    They were four games better last season while the Bulls were missing Derrick Rose.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    I think you might be underestimating the pacers a little doug. Even though Indiana won only four more games then Chicago they just seem like a team that is built for playoff success rather than regular season. Indiana also led the league in rebounding and FG% defense last year. Those two stats are always indicative of elite teams. Indiana have superior scoring balance to the bulls and Paul George is improving year on year.

    If they meet in the playoffs I don't think there is a clear favorite. (Though we would have the best player on the floor, that always helps)

  • In reply to dperrozzi:

    Well, it's all relative I suppose. I think others are vastly overestimating how good the Pacers will be given that they were a 49 win team last season.

    I do agree that they're a tough playoff out though because they defend and are physical, but I think the Bulls are clear favorites if they meet.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    I think he is thinking of 2011? when 76ers knocked us out in the first then went on to get beat by the Pacers in the second.

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    In reply to DougThonus:

    They never really played. I hope he was thinking season series. The yr the bulls beat Indy in 5 doesn't count imo. Vogel took the job w/ 18 games left & Indy was an 8 seed. Hibbert was in his 2nd yr. they had tj ford & not george hill. Paul George was technically a rookie but didn't dress for the playoffs & avereged 2.1 mins a game that yr. They started josh mcroberts & dint have David west. They were like 9 games under .500. Since then they have proven often tht they have the ability to beat the bulls in the reg season. Rmbr rose mad at how they celebrated a united center win. Mix in hibbert/lance Stephenson both improving & they'd be a handful already. Anybody seen tht Instagram pic of hibbert working out w/ Duncan? Dude is getting HUGE! Ppl say oh he balled because Mia was so small, but he made mince meat out of Tyson Chandler the series before. The bench they had was worst in the nba and bird came back and made it better quick. Mix in granger as a type of a rich mans 6th man & they look amazing w/ Scola bringin more of a likely upgrade than what dunleavy can provide. lance stephenson put up 30 to close out the knicks in the semi-finals & dude won the ny state basketball title all 4 yrs in high school! how he ever fell into a late 2nd rd pick is beyond me?! Butler should improve but is he improving beyond lance? is noah going to dominate this new huge hibbert? can booze compete w/ a west/scola combo? I agree they matched up well w/ Miami but they took out atl/ny without much issue, had a number of blowouts in each round. How good will Paul George be? If he didn't become a superstar he's knocking on the door. Granger is a big ? mark & Rose should be MVP rose, but all the sudden the pacers are better at every position except the point. & all the sudden they are younger but yet have more experience. They've been further in the playoffs the anyone on the bulls ever has. They went further both of the last 2 years & yes it has everything to do w/ injuries BUT they are the team that got the experience not Chicago. Not only that but the Bulls lose the top guy on the team & they are just a shell of the Bulls. Indiana loses the top guy on that team and they get a new top guy that is 5 times scarier and may compete for MVPs w/ lbj, rose, & durant. So since injuries are always playing a role who do you think has a better chance of being healthy? If 1 or both teams get bit by the injury bug again this year which team is more likely to stay afloat? So they won less games in the reg season then ppl realize, they started off poorly. I think anybody that isn't completely biased can see they were a big issue to deal with in a series.

  • In reply to JayWood:

    Good comment and analysis between the Bulls and Pacers. I'm not a Pacer fan but you are pretty much dead on with everything you said. The Bulls have a lot to prove with the team that will be on the floor this year and until they show that they can extend Miami in a playoff series the way the Pacers did this past season, the Pacers are the better team imo. The Pacers have gotten bigger with the addition of Scola and have far more scoring options than the Bulls do. As I said before...the Bulls need to prove themselves to being able to beat the Pacers and especially Miami come playoff time if they can stay healthy. Marco Belineli and or Nate Robinson should've been retained to continue to bring a different dynamic off of the Bulls bench but...so much for that. Pacers as of now are the better team til the Bulls prove other wise.

  • In reply to ajaychitown:

    I agree, but things can with just 1 injury for them.

  • Injuries have finished off the Bulls the last 2 seasons, so hopefully everyone stays healthy in 2013-2014. Assuming good health, Chicago has as good a shot as any team in the league, including Miami. However, if by some miracle Greg Oden is playing well come playoffs, then the Heat are once again the instant favorites.

  • Assuming Bulls will ever be healthy and rested for the playoffs while Thibs is the head coach is pure fiction, imo.

    This season, if Thibs wisely manages minutes and puts player's health ahead of grinding out meaningless regular season wins, it will be the first time he has made this choice in his 20+ year career as an NBA assistant and head coach.

    I don't think Thibs can change. I believe stubbornness is hardwired into his personality.

  • In reply to Edward:

    Thibs specifically stated he would manage minutes this year, so I think that he will do a better job of it.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Yeah, I heard that. The statement comes 3.5 years after Doc Rivers wisely ignored Thibs insistence to play the Celtics aging vets hard for a better regular season record.

    That's 3.5 years and Thibs has never changed his behavior. I'll believe it when I see it.... Not before.

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    In reply to Edward:

    Rose had a freak injury. It had nothing to do w/ workload imo. The Pacers have a better chance of staying healthy as a team & also if Granger can't go or someone else gets hurt they can withstand much easier. If hibbert were to go down they'd have scola/west not bad or any combo. If a wing goes down they still have 2 in a combo of granger/george/stepenson that would still be allot to handle given the post play. The Bulls have shown tht they all get a bit more banged up than the average team Rose aside. Anybody expecting Chicago to be better than Indiana are expecting
    a. Indy won't have granger again b. rose will be every bit as good as lebron was this year including making clutch playoff shots and not a fraction less than lebron
    c. Boozer, Noah, Deng, and everybody else is 100% healthy come playoffs
    D. Paul George peaked at his ceiling this year and he'll be the same guy and not any better.

    That's the real truth, so yes the bulls will be better if all that happens.

  • Indy is a tough match up but I think we might be slightly better. They have two power forwards in David West and Luis Scola which will feast on Boozer so I give them the edge in bigman play. They obviously have the more dynamic small forward in Paul George but I like our guards better(Rose+Butler better than Hill or whoever they have). It might come down to how Noah battles Hibbert down low and we might have better 3pt shooting with dunleavy added.

  • When discussing the Nets it is also important to note that they have the greenest of head coaches. Kidd was a very intelligent player but that doesn't necessarily translate into being an effective head coach.

  • I like the Bulls over Indy, but I agree with the above comment that there is no clear favorite between the two teams. The matchup scares me because Indy is so similar to the Bulls in that they play hard, play D and rebound. I'd much rather play Miami or Brooklyn. (Stick Butler and Deng on LeBron and Wade and let's take our chances with a healthy Rose and somewhat improved shooting!)

    Doug's probably right that Grainger's return is more questionable, as the team has transitioned to another superstar.

    Bulls are currently 6/1 odds to win the Finals and 5/2 to win the East in the Eastern Conference, although I'm not sure if that's regular or post season EC. Pacers are 15/1 for the title and 7/1 for the EC, for what it's worth.

  • Doug, I am shocked that you ranked Detroit 7th since that would negate your contention that the Bulls were fools for not trading for Ben Gordon(instead of Charlotte) since they were getting a guaranteed lottery pick from the Pistons for taking Gordon off their hands.

    It never even came close to making sense even if it was the #1 pick(which it wouldn't have been this year due to protections), with a $55-60 million total cost of Gordons remaining 2 years with tax implications.

    How would you have felt about the 15-18th pick in this years draft for that money.

  • Good topics all week, can you keep it up until training camp opens?

    Clearly, the reason(s) that the Bulls are not getting a ton of love(respect) from the national media is the uncertainty of Rose's return in combination with Indiana's performance in the ECF and the additions(improvements) that they have made to their roster this offseason.

    I don't think anyone will know what the Nets are until the second half of the season, although I suspect that Pierce and especially Garnett will do wonders to change the competitive culture in Brooklyn. Lopez should easily become the best center in the east and likely second best in the league playing with Garnett. They should be a very difficult out in the playoffs.

    Indy's roster is likely superior to the Bulls top to bottom, but not decisively so. If Rose is healthy, then the Bulls obviously have the best player on the floor, depending on how much(if any) of a leap that George takes this season(does he finally become the second coming of Scottie Pippen). Rose will have to be dominant for the Bulls to beat Indy come playoff time.

    Going into the season, I would rate the 3 teams as even, giving the Bulls a slight advantage toward getting the best regular season record due to Thibs and a (hopefully) highly motivated Rose.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Can I keep it up for another 6 weeks? Probably not, it's a struggle, I'll tell you.

  • Apparently there is no more than a 50/50 chance that the system administrator will allow your post to go thru irregardless of the content of the post, what a douche.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Worth noting that even when it says that, it still posts teh comment, it's just delayed one refresh. It does it to me too.

  • I say we trade Boozer for Zach Randolph. Snitch bitch rat heads get swiss cheesed up

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    In reply to JayWood:

    I can't see Noah doing more damage than this guy! Working out w/ Splitter & Duncan now. Plus, he has videos up on his lifting routine this offseason. I kind of feel opposite of the author here. He feels people are over stating Indy. I feel like Paul George & Roy Hibbert in yrs 3 & 4 respectfully of their NBA careers are just gettin started as a dominate duo

  • In reply to JayWood:

    If George is trully going to become a superstar, or even the next Scottie Pippen this is the year that a player usually makes that jump obvious. So we shall see. I do know that after seeing him his rookie season, I would have traded anyone on the Bulls for him not named Rose, o.k. maybe I wouldn't have been able to trade Noah.

    As for Hibbert he regressed for most of last season until the playoffs. They do say that big guys take a little longer to make it so I suppose that he is still on schedule. At this point, I would still take Noah over Hibbert, and I would definitely take Noah and Asik over Hibbert.

    Your points are well taken, those 2 guys are clearly the future for Indy, so they need to prove it this year. That said, I doubt that anyone, even an Indy fan(as I suspect that you are) would rather have George and Hibbert over Rose and Noah.

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