Who are the real contenders for a title this season?

It’s fairly rare that a season starts where you can’t identify the team that will ultimately win the championship given a few teams to pick from. Unlike the NFL where probably 50% of the teams could win the superbowl in any given year, the NBA is more consistent in figuring out in advance who has a shot to win the title.

I’ve long thought with six picks, you would likely figure out the NBA champion something like 90% of the time. So who my top six this season?

Before the top six, the rest of the field 17%

So as I figured out my percentages, I have the 24-30 field at 17%. The vast majority of that percentage will fall to the Pacers and Spurs whom I think are pretty close to Rockets/Nets as the last teams I picked from the East/West. Teams like the Knicks and Grizzlies have a non negligible but lower chance as well.

In the end, I think the Pacers lack a star as Paul George has become the most overrated player in the NBA by a wide margin and think the Spurs will come back another year older and were extremely lucky to get as close as they did given a similar cast got bounced earlier in the playoffs for a couple seasons.

The Knicks are obviously missing a defensive component and sure don’t look any better this season despite the addition of Bargnani while the Grizzlies have a ton of good players but like the Pacers they lack the great player to put them over the hump.

#5b Houston Rockets 7%

I’m not a huge believer in the cast around Harden and Howard, and I also think that Harden went from highly underrated with the Thunder to somewhat overrated with the Rockets. They’ll also need to build up chemistry and hope their role players play above their heads. On top of that, Dwight Howard needs to prove he’s the old Dwight Howard and is still no good in the clutch even if he does.

It doesn’t sound like I like the Rockets much, but for all those negatives, they still potentially have a superstar in Dwight Howard to pair with a legit all-star SG in Harden. I think their window is just opening, give the Rockets a couple seasons to improve their roster more through trade/draft, and their odds are on the upswing.

#5a Brooklyn Nets %7

The Nets are a real wild card to me. They have incredible depth now and a starting five that’s uber-talented. However, half the roster is going to be fighting the age-cliff, and I’m not sure how well the pieces will fit together. It wouldn’t surprise me if it all fell apart and Brooklyn finished somewhere around 5th in the East, especially with Jason Kidd as a rookie head coach.

However, I think the players the Nets added are all true team guys that are willing to sacrifice, and so if they can fight off father time for a season, they’ll have the talent at every position to challenge anyone. The fact that Deron Williams and Brook Lopez can both attack Miami’s biggest weaknesses is in their favor as well.

Odds are that they have too many really good players and not enough great ones for a team that will have to build chemistry under a rookie head coach in just one year though.

#4 Oklahoma City Thunder #9%

The Thunder come back with a worse roster than last year which was worse than the year before which wasn’t good enough to beat the Miami Heat. I think the Clippers will leap from them in the west, and while Kevin Durant will make them dangerous, I think they match up horribly with the Heat where LeBron is the best player in the league to defend Durant while the reverse is not true at all.

On the other hand if someone other than Miami came out of the East, I think the Thunder would match up very well against anyone else and would have a vastly improved chance of winning. That said, I predict they lose to the Clippers in the WCF.

#2b Chicago Bulls 10%

The Chicago Bulls will need everyone to stay healthy and that’s been a big challenge for them. However, if they do, they likely have the best defense in the NBA and more offense then they’ve ever had in the past. I put a fully healthy Bulls team as just a shade less talented than Miami this year, but their odds of being healthy are considerably less, so there’s a large drop off in their odds of winning.

#2a L.A. Clippers 10%

It’s sort of strange to see L.A. followed by something other than Lakers when talking championship odds, but the Clippers are legit. They have very strong depth, two superstars, and they just ousted one of the worst coaches in the NBA to bring in one of the best. The upgrade from Del Negro to Doc Rivers will make a huge swing in how well this team will perform in both the regular season and post season.

Blake Griffin is still on the rise and with another year to mature will come back even more deadly. The arrow is pointing up on the majority of the roster that was a playoff disappointment last season. They also match up well with Miami who has the best chance of winning out of the East.

#1 Miami Heat 40% odds

No surprise the Heat top the list of teams who can win the title given that they’ve won the past two and have no significant subtractions. Some predict the downfall of Miami based on the fact that both Indiana and San Antonio took them to seven games last season while I think both teams were very fortunate the series went that close. I think Miami is actually considerably better than what they showed in the playoffs last season.

LeBron is still the best player in the NBA. I think Dwyane Wade was slowed more due to injury than decline in the playoffs. His regular season numbers were far, far better, and I think people overrate how much he’s declined fairly drastically as if he’s a shell of his former self. As long as those two are playing at a high level even a pedestrian cast gives them a shot to win, but they have an outstanding cast not a pedestrian one.


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  • I think the Clip's chances lie with Blake's FT ability in close games. We know that DeAndre Jordan is worthless late in games. Paul is not a late game shot maker. It will come down to Blake's advancement.

    SA is like the Bulls, and like any team for that matter. If healthy, why not SA one more time? They have a very well-balanced roster GInobli looks like he may be losing it, but they have a similar player in Belinelli.

    Every team has weaknesses. Even Miami. Miami did win last year and LeBron was MVP, but they sure looked shaky in doing it. To say that SA and Boris Diaw confused LeBron is an understatement. LeBron was embarrassingly bad for 3 quarters in the game 6 win. I think the blueprint is now there - play way off LeBron and clog the lane. Frustrate Wade and LeBron and hope their role playing 3 point bombers miss.

  • In reply to Granby:

    I am a bit of a homer, but why can't the Bulls win it all this year? The Bulls are solid and have just as good a chance as any at this point.

    Rose's shooting should be improved. Butler at the SG to pair with Deng at SF is an amazing defensive wing tandem. The bench, led by Gibson, Hinrich and Dunleavy could be better than any bench mob if they can get anything from Snell or Teague. Naz will have more of a defined role in year 2 of Thibs system and knowing that Noah cannot be overused.

    Overall, the offense should be better with Rose, Butler and Dunleavy. The defense could be the best in the Thibs era with Hinrich/Rose-Butler-Deng-Gibson-Noah. (They don't have a rim protector like Asik, but other than that pretty stellar.)

  • In reply to Granby:

    I'd certainly like to see the Bulls win and I think they've put together a great team with a great shot, but I don't think Deng and Butler are an amazing wing combo unless Butler continues to progress while Deng halts his decline. I feel like the optimists are really putting a lot on Butler to become a force this year and I don't know if he can live up to that.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    While I am as high on Butler as most, I agree with you that he might have set us all up for a disappointment with his performance at the end of the season and in the playoffs. Even if he performs at that same level, it might seem like a disappointment due to what seem like massively heightened expectations.

    Never-the-less, my gut feeling is that he establishes himself as a better player than Deng this season. That is certainly less than becoming a force, but not a bad outcome for the 30th pick in the draft and pretty much has to happen for the Bulls to be serious contenders this season and going forward.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    I really doubt Butler will be a better player than Deng this season. I would be happy if Butler could give us 14ppg, 6rpg, 3apg. and consistently solid defense. Having a good playoffs is one thing. But contributing consistently through out the season will be tough if his shot isn't there. And overall, his form is pretty stiff and I foresee stretches of games where it doesn't fall . If he can get to the hole more and live a little bit more on the free throw line, he should be able to contribute consistently. He certainly has the speed and rugged frame to endure the contact.

  • In reply to Granby:

    I don't know what it is but most times Lebron plays the Bulls he goes into "clutch mode'. He must love the black and red but I do agree, Miami is looking vulnerable. The Thunder are always a threat with the Durant-Westbrook scoring punch but they lost kevin martin and james harden......going backwards is not a good thing to do if you have a superstar, just ask Orlando. I still put Miami as the favorite, Thunder, Bulls, Clips, Indy as my second tier teams that can beat Miami. i think the Spurs blew their golden chance and will start to fade this year. The Lakers are toast and are probably looking to reload with Kevin Love and some other top players soon to be free agents in the next few years.

  • I'm not understanding all of this the Bulls offense is going to be better this year talk. The Bulls lost 2 players in Nate and Marco who could score 20 points or more at any given time, and they picked up Dunleavy who may score like his Duke alum buddy Deng, inconsistent. I look for the Bulls to be between the 2nd seed and 4th seed in the east and the Clippers with the main addition of Doc Rivers as coach should be the top draw in the west. Houston, OKC, Memphis, and the Spurs should be in the top 5 in the west as well. But the Bulls will definitely have to stay healthy to make a deep run into the playoffs and find a way to beat Miami more than once if they were to meet up with the Heat. The Pacers should be the Bulls biggest rival this year as well with the big moves they made in adding to their depth off the bench in adding Scola, Watson, and the kid from the Knicks who can shoot the three, can't remember his name at the moment. Definitely will be competitve trying to get out of the east for the Bulls this year.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    yes, as bullshooter said, DERRICK ROSE, DERRICK ROSE, DERRICK ROSE.

    Robinson was simply awesome at times and I really loved him as a fan. But, over 50% of the time he was worthless. If he's not hitting his shots, he adds zero. No defense. No passing. No rebounding.

    Belinelli was a nice player, but was underutilized until the Miami series when he was really needed. Dunleavy is a slight upgrade due to his enhanced shooting and size and defense. (He is not a defensive ace, but probably similar to a Tayshaun Prince in that he's better than people think because he's tall and long for his position and can play off guys and rarely fouls.)

    Plus, with Rose coming back and Teague hopefully being at least sufficient this year at 3rd string PG, the need is more for a swing player. Belinelli played some point for the Bulls, which was nice last year but would probably not happen this year.

  • In reply to Granby:

    Lets all just hope that their offense will be that much more improved with the return of Rose and Butler taking another big step in his overall game this year. And hopefully Deng will be motivated with his upcoming free agency and have a great season so he can get his last big payday...HOPEFULLY NOT WITH THE BULLS, unless he takes a bit of a paycut.

  • We're all shocked you don't think the bulls will be better this year. Let me try and explain it for you in two words: Derrick Rose. He will be replacing 40 minutes of Hinrich and Robinson. He is better than Hinrich and Robinson. Therefore the offense will be better.

    Hinrich is a better PG than Robinson. He will replace the remaining 10 minutes a night of Robinson and Hinrich will make the second team better offensively. So the second team will be better offensively. Do you get it now?

  • In reply to bullshooter:

    Certain people predict doom-and-gloom each and every day, including the departures of Rose and Thibodeau. Furthermore, they think of themselves as "realists" (as do all pessimists in my experience) and all contrary opinions are readily dismissed as homerism. I don't understand why you're arguing with them, trying to teach a pig to sing wastes your time and it annoys the pig.

  • In reply to bullshooter:

    Uhhh...we will see how much Rose will help the Bulls from being last in the league in offensive production. I hope he has improved his shooting that much. We will see this season.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    And certain people just can't reply without referring to my comment in a negative light. It is what it is when it comes to the Bulls offense until they prove me wrong, and certain people just need to let it ago and stop ass kissing every time they see a chance to ride other posters coattails. That's for the laugh son and you know who you are...HA....

  • In reply to Reese1:

    Excuse typing error, meant to say thanks Roman for the laugh once again, I can always count on you.

  • I was watching a game on NBA TV a few days ago from 2009, Bulls vs Celtics and saw Rivers and Thibodeau sitting on the Boston bench while Del Negro was pacing the floor on Chicago's end of the floor. Del Negro had no idea that those two guys sitting on Boston's bench would be the two guys who take his back to back head coaching jobs. If the Bulls and Clippers face off in the finals, that series should be dedicated to Vinny Del Negro for keeping those seats warm until two titan coaches came to fill in the seats.

  • In reply to hinton980:

    Nice.... didn't think about that. Poor Vinny. Maybe Paxon could say a few words in his honor to kick off the Finals???

  • In reply to hinton980:


  • Personally I think the 10% Bulls chance is very optimistic. I mean seriously what are the odds they are a healthy team come playoff time? Noah and Deng have long history of being limited or missing during the playoffs as does Derrick. Deng has been terribly overrated these past two seasons. Is Rose the only issue with Deng's sucky stats for two whole seasons? No. Odds the key players are healthy come playoff time seems very low and that is why I think Bulls are way to high on this list.

    Besides if they were healthy and did manage to some how beat Miami they would still be underdogs to the Thunder or Clippers. We just don't have the firepower and sorry to all you homers Jimmy Butler and his single digit points per game aren't going to be the solution to the bulls second scorer problem.

  • In reply to Chad:

    Harshness. So, are we gonna assume that guys like Westbrook and Wade and Bosh and Howard are 100% healthy? LeBron won't snap a knee?

    Rose has had one major injury, but given it happened in May 2012, he missed two playoff runs.

    Deng missed 2009 due to a stress facture, but 2013 was due to a botched spinal tap at a local hospital ER!

    Gibson sprained the same knee twice late last year, but otherwise he's been pretty healthy and you figure he has strengthened the knee and is ready to go.

    Noah is always good for at least one ankle roll per season and you just hope he can stave off the expected plantar faciitis. The plantar faciitis didn't seem to bother him in game 7 of the Nets series. Or, much of the Miami series.

    Outside of Noah's feet, none of these things have a high probability of repeating. Any NBA player can sprain a hammy or ankle or knee on any play. Rose should be fully rehabbed and there is no other player who is not 100% healthy at this point.

  • Doug, what makes you say Paul George is overrated? He looked like such a stud in the playoffs.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    I have to agree with Doug here, Paul George is an excellent defender with some size, and an okay offensive game.

    He just lacks that killer instinct on offense to try & take over a game in my opinion. He should be working on that if Granger becomes okay with taking a back seat

  • In reply to Roman F:

    He became overrated because he became over hyped before his time, as is the norm for today's give it to me now society.

    He was only in his third season last year, and he just started to come into his own, kind of like Scottie Pippen did. To me, he could go 2 ways from here, down the Scottie Pippen path of all around great player, or maybe down the Tracy McGrady path of great scorer. He is probably a hybrid of both guys.

    He obviously doesn't have anyone on that team to drive him to greatness the way that Scottie had Michael. McGrady never had anyone either and became sort of a lost soul despite his prodigious scoring. This is probably the year that we really find out about his ceiling.

  • 1---I'm getting a little tired of the Deng Bashing. He may not be worth a long term contract at $12 million a year.., but he is still an above average defensive player. Offensively, he will be better because he will play lots of minutes with Rose instead of Nate.
    Deng is an Above-Average player, very good.., just not great. My biggest ? is, will he be better after giving that wrist a summer of rest and healing.

    2---Rose will be replacing Nate. Even a blind person can see this as an improvement.

    3---I see a Big Problem for the Bulls to play the Pacers, then having a LOT left to play Miami. Indiana is Very Tough.., and they will take a toll on any team that they play in 7-game series.

    4--To get to the championship series vs. the West.., the Bulls need to by-pass either Indy or Miami on their way to the top. To me, that's where the long odds factor in.

    5--Best case scenario, Miami plays Indiana and the winner plays the Bulls for the Conference championship.

    TELL ME I'M WRONG??????

  • In reply to rakmessiah:

    You are right, #5 is the best scenario for the playoffs.

    We all know health has been a problem in the playoffs: for Rose, the past 3 years; for Deng and Noah, more than once. That history should make us nervous.

    Rest the starters more and develop the kids, Thibs! You said you would do it, so now do it. Gives the Bulls the best shot this season.

  • In reply to rustyw:

    Yes, Please!
    I hope so much that Thibs has somehow miraculously become less stubborn and more flexible in his approach. It is difficult to understand how he has REFUSED to learn from his experience with Doc Rivers in Boston in the area of resting up for the playoffs.
    The regular season is rather meaningless in comparison to the playoffs - please learn that lesson, Thibs.

  • I believe that the Bulls have 2 big bench weaknesses: a go-to scorer, and size. Losing both Nate Robinson & not having a backup youthful big like Asik or an offensive inside presence off the bench is what I feel that they need in my opinion.

    Teams like the Clippers, the Pacers, and the Nets all have size & depth that scares alotta other teams (specifically the Heat).
    I can't speak upon the rookies for now due to how Thibs never giving them any meaningful minutes their 1st seasons, so I'll speak for the vets that we currently have.

    When that bench comes on the floor for the Bulls, ho is an offensive threat that any opposing team actually respects enough to guard ever so tightly besides Dunleavy Jr on the perimeter? And Muhammad's getting old, his stamina isn't gonna hold up on the floor for an 82+ game season

  • In reply to Prob:

    Everything you commented on is dead on but some idiots can't see it or they're blinded with homeritis then want to complain when fans like youself me and other bulls fans know what the truth really is. Good, real, comment sir.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    I agree, the team needs a decent big backup. If the Bulls look like they will get a high seed, then I look for them to pick up a backup C before the trade deadline.

    Also, I recall fans posting that Dunleavy is a better shot creator than Belli was. I do not know if that is true, but if so, the bench should be OK. Remember, Hinrich is decent at distributing the ball, and Snell and Murphy are both shooters. It may work out. (Notice "may.")

  • In reply to Prob:

    How many teams have a "go-to" scorer on the bench?

    That's a joke, right?

    Ray Allen? He turned 38 in July, he's still a great shooter, but he's no "go-to" scorer, not even close. (And Dunleavy shot a full percentage higher than Allen on 3's last year).

    Luis Scola? Maybe, but he'll be 34 when the playoffs start, and his TS% and eFG% have gone steadily down each of the last 5 seasons. .516 and .474 last season, even Taj was more efficient than that. And I hope the Pacers give him all the minutes he can handle, any time he's out there watching his teammates play defense is an advantage over West or Hibbert being on the floor... an advantage to the opposition, of course.

    Jason Terry? Eh, possibly.... but he just turned 36, and FWIW, Hinrch has a higher career playoff 3-pt shooting percentage than Terry.

    JR Smith? I'll pass.

    I'm not sure I would take any of those guys over Dunleavy. But I'll have to see Dunleavy play quite a bit to know for sure, because I've paid attention to his game far less than Allen, Scola or Terry.

  • In reply to Don Ellis:

    How many rings do Ray Allen & Jason Terry have as compared to Hinrich & co. Playing the role as "go-to clutch bench guys"?

    Go ahead....I'll wait for that answer

    Scola's offensive game»Gibson's, which makes him more respectable even at an older e

    J.R. Smith is an inconsistent threat; scores 40+ in 1 game , gives you 12 the next game

    And Jamal Crawford was unmentioned, but is possibly the most dangerous go to bench guy in the league imo

  • For the most part, I agree with Doug's list. However, I do think that he's underrating the Pacers. That team is grade A tough … and adding Scola and Watson was huge, for their backup PG was development league bad and Hansborough couldn't score much. And they're getting Granger back. Yikes.

    To me, it will come down to LeBron again. Sigh. Kind of like when the real King (MJ) played. Ultimately, no team or player could guard MJ. He was just too good.

    In stretches, though, the Pacers and the Spurs proved that it could be done. The Pacers have rim protectors, serious beef (West beat up LeBron), and two guys who can guard him (George and Granger).

    The Bulls arguably have an even better team defense, but Deng is overmatched against LeBron. I think Butler has a better shot against him and, dare I say it, Dunleavy (who "ranks" as one of the top defenders if you look at opposing players FG% .. I know, hard to believe).

    Both teams will have to watch out for LeBron's flopping tactics, as always, but if they keep their head and play intelligently, they can overcome the ref BS. Because after LeBron, Miami's team is slipping. Wade relies on foul calls, Bosh is softer than ever, and the role players are uneven.

    Ultimately, it'll come down to who can hit the big shots in 4th quarter, for all of these games will be tight. Can Rose finally overcome his Goliath in LeBron and Miami? Can George take a Harden-like leap?

  • In reply to Curious E:

    Lebron is the best player of his generation, probably the second best to ever play the game and the best athlete to ever play. For all the complaining about the Bulls' FO, it's just hard to beat Lebron when he has a legitimate team around him.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    Yep unfortunately, there is a very good likelihood that Rose and the Bulls will turn out to be like Patrick Ewings Knicks, Stockton and Malones Jazz, Barkley's Suns of the 90's, just unlucky enough to be in the way of the greatest player at the peak of his powers. And Lebron started winning a couple of seasons earlier, so look out if he can keep it up as long as Jordan did, and he probably won't take a 2 year vacation in the middle of his run either.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    That is most certainly possible, but Rose has one advantage over those guys- Barkley and Malone are the same age as MJ, and Ewing and Stockton are a year older. And MJ's Robin was 2 years younger than him, Wade is 3 years older than Bron. Whoever turns out to be Rose's long-term #2 (probably Butler or Mirotic, possibly the CHA pick or someone else) will be a few years younger than him.

    Plus LeFlop is 4 years older than Rose, so he should be leaving his prime just as Rose gets into his.

  • In reply to Curious E:

    LeBron's and Wade's flops and reliance on officials is just getting to be too much. Then, you have guys like Haslem, Battier, Miller running from 20 feet away from the opposite side of the floor to stand under the hoop and draw a charge. It's annoying to watch and hard to respect. How about making a play on the ball instead of just standing in front of the hoop right at the instant the offensive play leaps into the air towrds the rim.

    If we learned two things in the Finals last year it's 1) Clog the lane and don't guard LeBron and Wade on the perimeter. 2) Do not trash talk, or even look the Heat in the eye... just play the game.

    Chicago (led by Noah and Taj) plays with too much emotion and anger towards Miami and any calls that go against them. I think SA almost put Miami to sleep by their laid back Tim Duncan-like approach. They Bulls need to keep their composure.

  • In reply to Granby:

    And Bulls need to beat Miami more than once if they happen to meet in the playoffs. One win against Miami 2 out of 3 years is not a good look. If Lebron guards Rose who will be the Bulls go to guy??? Somebody better learn to step up like Nate Robinson did last year.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    I hope nobody steps up like Nate did vs Miami, he shot 33% for the series, 28% after his big (8/16 FG, 3/8 on 3's) 27 pt, 9 ast Game 1 helped the Bulls win that one.....

    ......even though everyone forgets that Jimmy added 21 pts and 14 reb that game, playing all 48 and holding LeBron to 24 points in over 43 minutes.

    The Bulls can finally put 4 good offensive players around Rose who can all defend. I'm just confident that someone can replace Nate's 33% vs Miami. Maybe some aren't, that's their right.

  • In reply to Don Ellis:

    Don - spot on, bro. As I said above, if Nate Rob was not hitting, he was giving NOTHING - no D, no rebs, no passing. He's all or nothing. I love him as a fan, but he's just not needed if Rose is back and healthy.

    Butler was out of his mind that game, and for that stretch of games. I'm not sure why people are not as high on Jimmy after what he did after he started getting playing time.

    Once Deng went out in the playoffs, he averaged 15.2 pts, 5.8 reb, 3.0 asts, 1.6 steals and shot 43.3% from 3 and played 44 minutes per game, mostly guarding LeBron James.

    In April, when he played 42 min/game, he averaged 14.6 pts/6.6 reb/2.7 asts/1.7 stls and shot 56% from 3. He shot 42% from 3 in March.

    So, they guy can play and he has not even played a full season yet. Based on March, April and the playoffs, I would suspect that he can average 15/6 reb/3 asts/1.8 steals and shoot 40% from 3. That's easily the best SG we've had in a LONG time... maybe since MJ. Those stats were WITHOUT DRose.

  • Yea, we can all quibble a bit with the order of your picks, but you identified the 8 teams going in that most everybody picks as the top 4 in each conference. After that it is just a matter of ordering them. Picking "only" 6 teams, rather than 8 seems a bit arbitrary to me.

    I'd have to give the Heat no less than a 50% shot. For a while now you seem to have a bit of animus toward the Pacers which might explain your general downgrading of them.

    Going into the season, it is really hard to know what Brooklyn is going to be. They are probably going to be a better playoff team than a regular season team. Whereas, the Bulls have tended to be the reverse. I would say that the Pacers are a better playoff team than regular season also. In the playoffs, I can't give the Bulls any better than a 50/50 shot against either team, which is why I can't differentiate between them as title contenders. I think that they both might be better constructed to beat Miami. Unless Rose comes back at a Michael Jordan level, I still don't see how the Bulls can overcome the Heat. Even then, we clearly don't have a Scottie Pippen to go with him, Noah qualifies as the Horace Grant/Dennis Rodman 3rd cog.

    I agree with the Clippers and Thunder being the top 2 out west, even though the Grizz ousted them in the first round last year. Probably need to see them go head to head a few times to figure out who should come out of the west. It seems folly to disregard San Antonio, until we see them die with our own eyes, but it has to happen one of these years and soon doesn't it. I agree that Houston is just entering its window and needs a year or two to fill out its roster to become a solid contender.

    All I do know is that I am still heavily rooting for the anybody but Miami result, especially given how fortunate they were to win it last season.

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