And once again with no exciting Chicago Bulls Rumors to offer you, my dedicated Bulls Fans, the countdown to the Beast of the East continues! Lets continue...
So as I said in yesterday's post where I covered the bottom of the Eastern Conference, this is far from easy. I could see teams #5-#8 flipping with one another in pretty much any given order. For teams #8 and #7...we have some new arrivals to the Playoff Party. .
Team #8: Toronto Raptors
Don't sleep on this team, as I REALLY like their starting five here. Rudy Gay is primed for a big year in his first full season in Toronto. Do I view him as an elite super star? No. His game will always have some holes in it...but what he does he does really well. Do I see him as a guy who can lead a team to a low seed in the playoffs with a good supporting cast? Definitely.
Second year young Euro-Stud lottery pick Jonas Valanciunas showed great promise last year, until missing a ton of games to a hand boo boo...and was the MVP of the Vegas summer league a few weeks ago...a beast among boys. No one could touch him in Summer ball. He has great instincts in the paint and will do a lot of damage down there on both sides of the ball.
Throw in a defensive, shot-blocking monster in Amir Johnson and you have a rather fine mix of skills in the front court with the three just mentioned. Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry have both shown flashes of excellence at times in their relatively short careers(though still need fine-tuning) and I just don't see why this starting five, all still well on the right side of their peak, can't eventually be one of the better starting units in the East.
Now Add to that...the Raps shed one of the worst defensive players in the history of ANY sport in Andrea Bargnani....a TOTAL bust as a former #1 pick, and in return added bench depth, shooting and toughness in Tyler Hansbrough, D.J. Augustin and Steve Novak. And don't forget they lured in one of the sharpest young minds in the game in Masai Ujiri, their new GM who did a fantastic job in the post-Melo era in Denver. Getting him was a major haul for the Raps. Dwayne Casey...you have job security pressure this year if I don't miss my guess. I see it as playoffs or bust for you, Mr. Casey.
People will think I'm crazy but I actually can see this team, if all goes perfectly well, getting as high as 6th in the East. Seriously...I'm not smoking anything, I don't own any stock in the Raptors and my fiance is not Canadian. Their oldest core piece is Rudy Gay at...drum roll.....TWENTY SIX years of age. It seems like he has been in the league 10 years already but nope...26. Outside of his albatross contract of nearly 18M, no one on the roster makes even 10 mil.
I mean I know it's Toronto basketball we're talking about here, but as Icona Pop likes to say...I don't care, I love it. I have a Toronto Raptors fan "friend" who I play fantasy sports with and we always debate the future of the Raptors. I continuously tell him "Listen I love Toronto...took a lot of family vacations there, it's beautiful, clean, fun, diverse, bla bla bla...but no NBA player star is signing there...it's just that simple", to which he reminds me, several times a year mind you, that Toronto is the 4th largest city in terms of NBA teams. I still don't think anyone is signing there...but with this core they may not have to. NBA Action in Canada...catch the fever, Ay.
Team #7: Cleveland Cavaliers
I really like some of the pieces here a ton, and for the most part I like what they did in the off-season as well...some bold moves there. That said, the ONLY reason I have them above the Raptors right now are two words: UNCLE DREW
The Cavs have that legit stud in Kyrie Irving. The go to guy. The "get out of the way and let me bring it home for us" guy. That's what 13 college games at Duke under coach K does for you! :) In a post from Chicago Bulls Beat a few weeks ago I talked about Kyrie being a top 4 NBA point guard and making the leap to elite level this year with Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul. I think that much of him. As long as he stays healthy, which is never a lock with Kyrie(he's really missed a lot of games early in his career), he makes all of the side pieces around him better...and he has a number of promising young guns to go with him. He's an EXPLOSIVE scorer but also a legit floor general. Love, love love him. Never thought he'd be this good, I confess.
And guess what...just in case he doesn't stay healthy, the Cavs signed one of the very best insurance policy point guards in Jarrett Jack. What a GREAT freakin' move. He did a marvelous job in Golden State of not only stepping in for the ever-talented/GIMPY Steph Curry when needed, but he starred in many of those games. This signing was one of my favorite of the off-season. Well actually I hated it for us Bulls fans..but I definitely respected the chess move. At the end of close games, you will see a ton of Uncle Drew/Cousin Jarrett combos.
Tristan Thompson, going into year three and an early lottery pick only a few years ago, looks ready to take that next big step. I could easily see 15/10 numbers out of him(12/9 last year), depending on how the rest of the roster takes shape. Dion Waiters, the Cavs high lotto pick from last season, is that instant offense guy who can get you 20 pts passed out in the parking lot....especially when defenses are keyed on Kyrie. At times, scoring looked rather easy for Waiters last year. Then again..so did turning the ball over. I expect a big Sophmore season for him.
You almost forget that the Cavs had this year's #1 pick as well, which they used on surprise pick Anthony Bennett. It wasn't that AB wasn't projected to go high...but no one had him going to the Cavs at #1. Who knows what he'll bring them? Many worry about him being a tweener, unhealthy, and maybe unmotivated. The Cavs saw the exact opposite, thought he was the most ready to produce in a weak draft class, and expect scoring and rebounding from a big body who is most compared to Grandmama Larry Johnson(they have the UNLV connection AND share a dress like old women fetish). With Bennett being a beefy 6'8 240, I foresee a "This town is not big enough for the two of us" issue looming between him and Thompson. Bennett is NOT King James, and I just don't see him as a good fit for the small forward spot. I'm not sure I see him as a legit NBA four either. More to come on that.
Even if Bennett is not ready and/or a good fit...I really love the alternatives in unknown yet productive Alonzo Gee, or newly signed Earl Clark...both great options if need be. Until you can see if Bennett can even play the 3, I expect some serious competition for that spot in pre-season...and that's a good thing for a young team with a new coach in Mike Brown(if you want to call him a "new coach").
Now here is where it gets dicey to me. If you told me you were going into the season with a healthy Anderson Varejao as your center(is there really such a thing?) I'd have told you I was JACKED about this team. He does all the dirty work, is a complete team-first hustle guy(which you hope rubs off on young kids), and just obliterates the boards for you, something they already could be strong in with Thomposon and Bennett. But NO...the Cavs pushed it to the limit, signing Andrew "Circus Clown" Bynum to a two year deal. U G H.
I understand why the Cavs did it, for IF it pays off and all goes right, you're looking at a team that could be a surprise contender out of the East within a year or two. Was it really worth the potential distraction though? To me, it was trying to bite off more than you NEEDED to chew. You didn't need to go there. I see Bynum as a true distraction...someone who has a world of talent but prefers to draw attention for the wrong reasons...and to everything but his basketball play. We already know he is a terrible injury risk..and he really may never hit the level he was at with the Lakers again.
Really though...injuries aside...what is Bynum's commitment to BASKETBALL? It's been questioned since he came into the league. What will he be like without guys like Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant busting his ass when needed? Will re-hired coach Mike Brown really be the answer in getting the most out of Bynum? I struggle to see it.
If anything, it's easy to predict injury after injury, along with strange moods and a lack of focus, and I hate to see that with a team made up of serious young potential/talent. They need to learn and grow...not be trampolined by a guy more concerned about how his hair looks on Instagram. More to come on that. Of course if he is a problem and/or unhealthy..you just hope Varejao can lace them up. I'll tell you this...the best way to keep both healthy may be for them to split the minutes, if there are no egos attached. Something tells me that will be easier said than done with Bynum though.
All of that aside....I LIKE this team. In a very short amount of time, three drafts to be exact, you have added Irving, Thompson, Waiters and Bennett. Sometimes sucking bad has its benefits. When King James makes his soap opera return to Cleveland and releases it to the big screen under the film title "The Return" next summer, this team will be a nightmare for the East.
Team #6: New York Knicks
I'm certain this will generate me some death threats, or at the very least major insults to my intelligence level, but guess what Knicks fans...I honestly think you could be lower. I also could see you POSSIBLY getting to the 5 spot...but right now I actually like your chances of dropping more than rising.
SPOILER ALERT: This will be the most negative review of a competitive playoff team...ever. So much so you'll wonder why I don't have them in the lottery. Hopefully the warning will curtail some of my New York death threats....soften the blow a bit. To me, the needle is definitely pointing down on this team. I feel last year was a pleasant surprise, not to be repeated again. Why you ask? Let me list the reasons:
1. From the sounds of it, Melo is starting to "look around" again. If Stephen A says so, I'm definitely buying it. He's more in-tune with these guys and their plans than many of their own mothers. Seriously. And an unfocused Melo is a death sentence for the Knicks. We saw it in Denver and I wouldn't expect anything less here. IF any of the rumors are true about him looking to pair up with buddies elsewhere, and knowing the Knicks will be too cash-strapped to stop it...then I see no reason why this team will be successful leading up to that point.
I don't feel Melo is the type of player to block out distractions well, and as soon as Knicks fans see this on the court and in his eyes...it's all over. Knicks fans, for the most part, are rather smart fans. You're not going to fool them. And this team is not secure or smart enough to overcome a wishy-washy Melo. Just isn't. When all is said and done, The Melo Experiment will be a failure in NYC. It's bound to happen.
2. Andrea Bargnani? REALLY?!?!?!?!? That's your starting 4? No really.....really? EASILY the softest player in the NBA. Bargs has missed weeks at a time for falling eye lashes. Add to that...he can't defend an ottoman. And for a guy whose game is based on shooting, he's under 44% from the field and 36% from downtown for his career. I mean...not terrible numbers, but considering he does nothing else well...and is a 7 footer whose game is based on shooting...what is so desirable about that? YOU ARE A SEVEN FOOTER WHOSE GAME IS BASED ON SHOOTING...if you're going to be a gimmick player, do that exceptionally well at least. You better shoot like Dirk and have moves like Jagger to be "that guy". I just don't get this signing at all....and with that contract?!?!? One of the most overpaid players in the game..and that's what you think will keep Melo in New York?
3. Oh but wait...if Andrea doesn't save them, don't worry...soon to be Israeli citizen Amare Stoudamire will find a way to stay healthy, learn how to move on disintegrated knees, and come to the rescue. I'm calling the Knicks "AA" this year...for either the Andrea/Amare combo will be a stunning shock and make this Knicks team even better...or it will be driving Knicks management and Mike Woodson to the Betty Ford Clinic. Then again, to put them together in the first place required some serious boozing. So let me get this straight...in AA you have 34M locked up in 2 PFs who can't defend or play even a half season. Dear lord...
4. How long will JR Smith be out with his patella tendon surgery, now that he "got paid"? This is the same JR Smith, mind you, that's had SERIOUS focus issues his entire career, shot the Knicks out of the playoffs last year, and now has the contract locked away and a serious injury to boot...and we're supposed to believe his surprise break out season last year is going to be replicated this year? Chances of that are slimmer than Nerlens Noel after week four on the Atkins diet.
5. What more is on this roster? Tyson Chandler was BAD the second half of last year and especially in the playoffs. I mean bad bad bad. Not talked about enough bad. To me it looked like a guy who was accepting he was either on the downside of his career, disinterested or both. The resigning of second year backup point guard Pablo Prigioni would have been newsworthy 10 years ago when he was 26. You dug deep at the dollar store to sign a past his prime and terribly paid Metta World Peace, at home in New York and due for a mental breakdown with nothing left to prove or play for really. Kenyon Martin, and his 35 year old mileage, are back to for another run. Y A Y. One more unskilled thug on the payroll.
I mean really, this team is old, terribly low on skill, has tweeners all over the place, will struggle to score the ball, has little depth...I just see little to like here. Melo, Iman Shumpert, Chandler, Bargnani, Raymond Felton, JR Smith and Amare Stoudamire will be the eventual nucleus. Between a lack of skill, smarts, and health...how can any of that scream "NICE"? You could make a very strong argument that the Knicks roster does not possess ONE two-way player. You can also make a case for the Knicks having the LEAST UPSIDE of any team in the NBA. Truly. Such a group of one-dimensional players. I mean really...WHO IS GOING TO SHOOT the ball for a high percentage on this team? Melo and JR Smith may be the only guys who can consistently hit jumpshots for you, and by consistently, I mean they will hit them for you every game...yet miss a lot more than they make. JR Smith will consistently shoot 7 of 20 for you...congratulations. Enjoy.
You are paying SIXTY EIGHT MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR to Melo, Chandler, Amare and Bargnani....just those four guys. The luxury tax is set at 72M. That is the incredible stat of the day right there folks. Like I said...they'd be lower on this list, but the Cavs and Raps may not be ready yet. It would not surprise me at all though if they are and the Knicks drop lower or even out of the playoffs. I may be the only one seeing this right now...but it's very real.
Team #5: Atlanta Hawks
Always such a boring team to talk about...so guess what, we really won't and I'll just sacrifice any Atlanta folk from reading this blog again. It will be like Sherman's March all over again. OK OK, I'll give you a little something. Losing Josh Smith will not hurt this team as much as people think. I actually think it will help their overall IQ, fundamentals, cohesion and efficiency...all good things. The projected demise of this team is WELL over-exaggerated. It's still a good squad on paper and will still do what it does best...lose in the first round of the playoffs.
Paul Millsap is one of the best signings/steals of the summer. It was a waste how many minutes he had to share with other power forwards in Utah. He belongs getting 38+ minutes a game and will now. If Lou Williams can come back from his devastating reconstructive knee surgery last season, and if Kyle Korver can give you 30 minutes a night at the SF position, I see no reason why a lineup of Milsap, all star Al Horford, Kyle Korver, Lou Williams and Jeff Teague will not be relatively successful. Win the east? Of course not. Do a lot of things fairly well? Yeah...I definitely see that.
The Hawks can score the ball, pass the ball, rebound the ball, shoot the ball...I really think there are few major red flags there. It's why I have them ahead of the Knicks. There are a million reasons I can tell you the Knicks will struggle. The Hawks, on the other hand, have a starting five that is "Safe". Not world beaters by any means...but safe. It's the opposite of the Knicks really...few potential landmines. It will work well enough in the East at least, and the hiring of super assistant Mike Budenholzer from the San Antonio Spurs to be the head coach should pay instant dividends judging from how the league gushes about him.
The biggest issue has to be their bench. Signing Elton Brand doesn't do much to change that, but they actually have two rookies to be rather excited about, depending on if 20 yr old Lucas Nuguiera stays in the NBA or returns to Brazil for a year or two(signs point to Brazil), and how many minutes super electric rookie PG, 20 yr old Dennis Schroeder of Germany, receives behind Teague. If you watched either of them play in Summer League ball...you saw unique, explosive ability from two really young, energized kids. The fact that Danny Ferry landed both of these guys back to back at #16 and #17, in a really poor draft this summer mind you....that's good GM work right there.
While it's sounding cliche now with how much the comparisons have been made...Schroeder truly looks like the next Rajon Rondo with one small exception...he can actually shoot! Watch these summer league highlights of Schroeder. If he played today he'd be one of the better man on man defenders in the league...at only 19. Nuguiera looks like he's playing on a pogo stick atop a trampoline. Really. I watched him swat 7 shots IN THE FIRST HALF of one of the summer league games and saw enough. Take a look at the Block Party.
The main rotation the Hawks field this year will win more than they lose and be "competitive"...but perhaps the future for the hawks is more exciting than the present.
Team #4: Miami Heat
This is definitely my favorite part. Here is where I will be made fun of, called an idiot and also beloved...all in the same Chicago Bulls Beat update. For all of the Heat band-wagoners...which is 98% of South Beach, get all of that hate out of the way now...for when the regular season ends, I'm going to show this to you and say "h-EAT IT".
You have to understand...I'm not telling you what will happen come playoffs and finals. This is a ranking of how I see the regular season going. This is how I see the playoffs starting...with these seedings. Therefore...this makes complete sense to me.
THE HEAT HAVE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO PROVE OR PLAY FOR UNTIL LATE APRIL!
DWAYNE WADE could be an extra in AMC's The Walking Dead and not need makeup!
ERIK SPOELSTRA HAS NO REASON TO PUSH THESE GUYS TOO SOON, IF AT ALL!
THESE GUYS HAVE PLAYED IN 3 STRAIGHT FINALS....THAT'S MUCHO MINUTES!
Haven't you seen this movie before? It was called the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls...coming off two straight rings made up of mainly burnt out veterans, often looking like there was nothing left in the tank, seemingly disinterested, focused more on their futures than the present, and obviously coasting until the playoffs began. Why should it be ANY different with this Heat team? It wont be.
This post is not about what will happen in the playoffs....I'll save that for another day. I will just say I expect a true grind for the Heat this season, where many will doubt if they can even get out of the second round, ALL the talk will be about who Lebron will be playing for his next contract, how soon Wade will be retiring, why does Bosh play professional basketball, and why Riley didn't do anything to address the obvious holes they have...all while they win over 50 games and land the 4th spot in yawning fashion. This regular season will mean absolutely nothing to the Heat.
Oh by the way...anyone saying signing Birdman was a big signing and amnestying Mike Miller was a big loss...wrong, Neither meant much of anything. And Greg Oden means even less. This entirely gets down to Lebron, Lebron, Lebron...and if there is a team out there, good enough as a whole, to beat a team that has Lebron, Lebron, Lebron. It's just that simple. I just yawned again.
Team #3:Indiana Pacers
I can easily see the Pacers rising to the #2 spot or dropping to the #4 spot...but I have a hard time seeing them outside of that window barring a major injury to Paul George. I think this is the year George becomes a superstar. I feel he was anointed to that status a bit prematurely against Lebron in the semi-finals last season. Networks need ratings and they were trying to manufacture a special rivalry/match-up. George is a unique talent. He's a lot better than I ever projected him to be and I love when I'm wrong on someone. He's one of those cases. About the only thing he couldn't do last year was outshine Lebron(who can?) when the lights shined brightest. It was a bit too much to ask for, but I think this year he'll be ready for it.
I don't know what to think about Danny Granger returning. I lean more towards the side of it hurting more than helping. He's just not the same guy any longer, and I think it's a case of forcing in a name more than a game. If he does stay healthy, roles between him and George could be confusing. It will take Granger adhering to George, and being okay with it, for the Pacers to reach their true potential. Character-wise I actually think Granger has it in him...BUT does he truly believe he's now the lesser talent? We'll see.
To boot, Granger is now the starting two-guard? When has Granger EVER been a two-guard? Never. 6'8/228 is a prototypical small forward. Now I don't mind him sending Lance Stephenson to the bench, for Lance has much to learn still...but HE is a natural two-guard(minus the fact he never saw a misfire he didn't like) size-wise. You're telling me Granger is going to take two-guards in this league? Maybe a 38 year old Ray Allen...but not many more. That's a true force job if you ask me...and nine of ten force jobs fail. I expect Granger to go down with injury as usual, and the Pacers to depend on maturity and advancement from Stephenson at that spot. For the Pacers sake...better if it happens sooner than later. Granger would already have been traded if the Pacers could have found a taker for his 13M a year. Hey...have you called the Knicks yet? If you didn't get through, try again...they were probably on the phone negotiating with Steph Marbury.
I don't like that the Pacers lost Tyler Hansbrough. Laugh all you want about him....hate him if you must, but Psycho T was part of that toughness demeanor I like so much about the Pacers..and some of that is gone now. And no..Luis Scola is not going to replace it. He will add to the UGLY demeanor, that's for sure, and he will get you points on some nights when needed...but he's a poor defender, not really what I deem a great bench player, and I don't think he was a major need for the Pacers. It will dupe some because he's put up nice numbers in the past, but never in winning situations. I see him as an irrelevant signing...ESPECIALLY deep into the playoffs. Hansbrough fit what the Pacers do well more than Scola will. Did I mention Scola is REALLY ugly? If the plan was to scare the Heat..good thinking.
I love David West, and he will give you what he did last year, but lets not lose sight that he is 33 years of age this season. Two years from now when you're going into year three of a 12M dollar a year deal, I wonder if the Pacers will still like that contract. I really like the addition of effective and versatile pest Chris Copeland. The Knicks would have been better served to hold on to ANYONE under the age of 30 with juice left in their legs. They didn't, and to me the Pacers found one of the best little nuggets of the summer. I tried to call the Knicks about this but they were on the phone negotiating with Yao Ming.
The Pacers also added one of the worst little nuggets in CJ Watson. C.J. is a terrible, terrible point guard under pressure, mainly because he was never a true point guard in the first place(I hate when teams do that). Nice, humble, quiet kid...and REALLY ineffective and foolish under pressure...and better yet on a team whose biggest weakness, by leaps and bounds, is lacking a true point guard to control the pace and pressure in tight games....you know, the type where you're in the Semi-Finals against Lebron James and the game is on the line with under two minutes to go in the fourth and you can't get it past half court? I thought DJ Augustin was a disaster as the backup to "make believe point-guard" George Hill. Well Watson makes Augustin look like Bob Cousy folks.
This is truly why the Pacers lost to the Heat in the Semis. NO court leader to slow things down and control the game for them when needed. I like George Hill...but he is a 1.5 guard at best who leans more towards the 2. Jarret Jack could have put this team over the top. Instead they're still without a real PG...and it's why I have them at #3. I think they will have a very good season...but I don't see them as the best bet to be the #1 seed. If things don't go right with the Granger/George mix...and the Heat play their guys more than I am predicting..they could easily fall to #4. I'm fairly certain the Pacers slipped a bit this summer....and at best I think it's a wash. Improvement? Not from the net gain of roster changes.
Much like the Heat though...I think at this point the Pacers are playing for the playoffs. They've proven they can take the Heat to the wire, so their focus is the continual development of guys like George, Stephenson, Roy Hibbert and Hill...which is not too much to ask for. It SHOULD happen. Sure the Pacers would like home court, but I don't think they'll lose sleep over it. They're banking on one more year of experience together being enough to get them there. With the way Paul George and Roy Hibbert blossomed in the playoffs, I think they're simply expecting to reach the next level automatically. The problem with that...the East WILL be tougher this year...as the #2 and #1 picks will show you. BTW...look for some INCREDIBLE Bulls/Pacers matchups this season.
Team #2:Brooklyn Nets
Hardest pick out there. I could see them landing anywhere from #1-#5. Ask me some days and I will tell you it's too much of an overhaul with too many risk factors. Ask me today, when I have my common sense hat on, and I will tell you I just struggle to see this team failing. I see a very short window for this team, mind you, but for now...I see this working. Here's why:
1. Pierce and KG know how to win...and they only need to be your 3rd or 4th best player now. The pressure is off of them! It's such a different situation from Boston. They might not be taking those last minute shots. Actually, it could be a problem for the Nets to figure out who DOES take those last minute shots with so many to choose from. I definitely saw enough left in KG and Pierce's tank last year to at least play the 3rd and 4th guy on very competitive team loaded with options. They will be phenomenal leaders and actually take pressure off of D-Will there.
2. The Nets already have two legit all stars in Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, both in the prime of their careers. That's a really good 1-2 punch in it's own right. Now add in two cut-throat competitors, who have won a ring in KG and Pierce..and then throw in Joe Johnson as your "token 5th man", who ONLY has to hit open jumpers for you...I mean, it really looks good on paper doesn't it? You're talking about five guys who CARE ABOUT WINNING. You're talking about a starting lineup made up of 5 guys who have all played in all star games(then again..so could last years Lakers...yikes!)
5 guys who can all get you twenty points any given night, but fill it up in other parts of the box score as well.
There's no doubt...they want to win. Johnson and D-Will and Lopez haven't been to the promised land yet...or even close for that matter, so you could argue that they don't know how to win, but have no fear..KG and Pierce will lead the way there. You have to be worried about how good that starting five could be. I know I am. It definitely throws an unexpected monkey wrench into the East for Miami, Indiana and Chicago. This conference is definitely four deep now.
3. They're more than just their starting five too...I love parts of their bench! I think they actually could have a hard time with rebounding in the starting unit...for KG is obviously slowing down "some" and Brook Lopez is a poor rebounding center(will KG ignite a fire?)...but if that turns out to be the case...they can manage, for they have Reggie Evans(lb for lb one of the best board men in the league and Andray Blatche, That's some great backup firepower up front.
Don't forget that they got Jason Terry in the Celtics deal as well...who will only have to give you 20 minutes or so a a game(unless Johnson goes down) and knock down open shots...something the Jet struggled with in Boston but has done his entire career. He brings a great energy/attitude to the court and I actually think this was a very undervalued part of that trade. Terry has less need to make an impact here than he did in Boston(same can be said for Pierce and KG)...which to me works in his favor. Make no mistake...the Nets got three pieces from the Celts that will pay dividends this season.
THEN best of all for their bench(or worst of all depending on who you root for), the Nets signed what will be a super-sub in AK47 Andrei Kirilenko. When healthy he played WELL for the T-Wolves last year, still does a bit of everything...and well. I think this signing is the difference maker in getting them to a top two seed. This is just a deep, versatile team with a lot of talent, personality, worth ethic and the desire to win...and for one season I can easily see that prevailing if there is enough health going into the playoffs.
I do worry about Shaun Livingston as D-Will's backup..not because I don't think he is competent enough, but he's often in a suit, unable to lace them up. On top of that, and this truly is the biggest possible issue for the Nets....CAN JASON KIDD COACH?!?!? I mean, it's NOT often that a guy retires from any sport and is a head coach, for a playoff team none the less, a month later. Gimmick or Brilliant?
I know many will tell you "the impact of a coach is so overrated"....uhm no...false. Definitely not the case with great coaches who coax an extra gear out of their players. I know they will tell you he's brought in a rather experienced assistant in Lawrence Frank to guide him, but end of day Kidd has the clipboard, he's the leader, he makes the final calls and he is responsible for the team...one filled with several head-strong, older players who will be less impressionable and not looking for someone to ride them.
What kind of coach will Kidd be? Will it help that he JUST hung them up and can entirely relate to the players? Or will he want to make his mark early and often...even with a veteran-led team. Deron Williams has been known to clash with a few coaches at this point, and KG and Pierce had a SPECIAL relationship with Doc Rivers. I'm rather curious to see how all 3 mesh with Kidd. Kidd has been labeled a "coach on the floor" for many seasons now...with an uncanny sense to know what his teammates need and when.
I will find it super interesting to see how this goes early in the season, for all you hear is that guys like Johnson, Pierce and KG's minutes will be monitored closely, but I have news for you...meshing that group will take a lot of work and time....so if you want them at full capacity come playoffs, you're not going to be able to just flick a switch and turn them on late in the year. No way. I see it taking a full season of experimenting and gelling to get them to the point where they can be the team they're expected to be. It will take that to have a shot against Miami, Indiana and Chicago. Those are TOUGH teams to take in a series.
I'll say this...basketball in the city of New York is going to be HEADLINE MATERIAL all season...and it's going to be a rather long year for Spike Lee lol
Team #1:Chicago Bulls
I may be the only analyst who picks the Bulls this year. Listen, this IS a Bulls Blog...and I'm sure it will be easy to call me a homer. My dad loves to say I'm "Drinking the Bulls Kool-Aid"...but hear me out for a second. Picking the Bulls to win the regular season really means nothing. It's actually a conservative pick. They've done it two out of the last three years, one of those times without Derrick Rose for much of the season, and it didn't mean much come playoffs. It's really not a bold statement. The Bulls are really good at regular seasons.
Why I think they're a great shot for the #1 seeding is pretty simple. They have more to prove than any of the contenders...SPECIFICALLY Derrick Rose. Derrick Rose is a very driven person...and he doesn't like doubters. He has plenty right now, not only around the country, but much more importantly to him...in his hometown of Chicago.To himself to for that matter. Last year was ugly for him all over...and Derrick is drooling at that chance for some "Prove Ya' Wrong" time. Of course he is too modest and low-key to phrase it that way, but trust me...that was actually phrased nicely compared to what he's actually feeling. Derrick Rose is rather hungry, rather angry and rather anxious...and that bodes super well for the Bulls.
You can't overlook that Tom Thibiodeau demands and gets the very most out of his players...whether he's playing his starters, his backups, or a group of vagabonds he picked up in the 7-11 parking lot fifteen minutes before tip-off. It doesn't matter WHO is lacing them up for Thibs, he gets the very most out of them. He'll leave them more banged up than he found them...but they will go through fire for him while they're still on two feet.
Getting the most from your guys is cliche to say, but it rarely happens in professional sports and it happens EVERY GAME with Thibs. Look no further than a starting lineup of Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli beating the Nets in the first round of the playoffs, IN Brooklyn last year, and then giving the Heat fits in the second round in three of five games. Those guys were playing suicidal minutes in that series as well, with Rose, Deng and Hinrich all out and no one else to take the minutes. I've never seen anything like that, but this is what the Bulls have done for three years with Thibs at the helm.
Take all of that into account, and knowing on paper the Bulls will be re-inserting a 24 year old former MVP into the starting lineup (is there a better off-season addition in the league than him?) to go with Boozer, Deng, Joakim Noah and a quickly rising Jimmy Butler at the 2-guard...why wouldn't expectations be super high? All reports say Rose is a lot stronger physically, his shot is much better, and that he's mentally ready. And he's never had a chance to play next to an athletic 2-guard who can get to the basket as well as lock down on the defensive end. That is what he'll get with Jimmy Butler...as opposed to two previous after-thoughts of Rip Hamilton and Keith Bogans. Talk about a massive upgrade there.
Since Rose last played, Luol Deng made his second consecutive all star game and Joakim Noah made his first, along with a first team all-defensive selection. The bench is always changing...the bench is always producing. I don't see that stopping here. You have guys you should be able to count on in Kirk Hinrich, newly added Mike Dunleavy and Taj Gibson. The Bulls also made it a point of adding some much needed shooting by drafting Tony Snell and Erik Murphy...both known for their shot above all else, but capable of more than just that. How much they play...unknown...but they can definitely hit open shots, which you have to assume will be far more common this year with a back court of Rose/Butler...two guys who will get to the basket often and facilitate spacing. The Bulls have a knack for making their draft picks count...I expect much of the same with these two.
One major concern is a backup to Noah. He has battled Plantars the past few seasons...and the lone backup center at the moment is Nazr Mohammed. Call Geico...for that's not enough coverage. The Bulls fate always comes down to health. When they're healthy, they win most of their games...when they're not...they compete to the death, get further than you'd have expected, but eventually bow out admirably. It's what drives us Bulls fans insane. For once, it would just be nice to know that we won or lost a series with our full team intact. All we ask for. Stop making us guess what could have been.
This is most likely the last year with this group. The players don't want it to be..but it looks that way. Boozer could likely be amnestied next season, and Deng will be an unrestricted free agent with a hefty price tag and an obvious replacement waiting in Jimmy Butler, who will happily play the two-guard while Deng is still here. Butler is good to the point where you simply have to find a spot for him.
This core, which has basically been together now 3 years, albeit never at the same time, loves playing together, loves playing in Chicago, are as harmonious as any team in the NBA, work terribly hard, leave it all on the court(body parts and all), and is the perfect group for Tom Thibodeau's taxing coaching style. If they can find a way to make a finals, definitely within their reach if healthy...it could be reason enough for John Paxson and Gar Forman to keep it together.
If health doesn't derail them again..there is simply no reason they can't be fighting for a championship in June. YES...they would have to get by a very difficult upper East conference to make it happen. The Nets and Pacers are legit threats...two teams you can easily see getting to the finals themselves...and obviously always waiting at the end of the tunnel are the Heat. You really have four teams who you can easily see making the finals in the East this year. The Bulls and Pacers now also play in the toughest division in the East, with Detroit and Cleveland VASTLY improved. Nothing will come easy.
All of that said...the Bulls have all of the right ingredients to make it happen. They have the superstar playmaker(IF he is 100% physically AND mentally come playoffs...too much to expect?). They have two other all stars in the lineup, an up and coming potential star in Butler, and at the very least, steady scoring and rebounding from Boozer. They have a good bench and one of the two best coaches in the league(hello Gregg Popovich). They know the system, they know each other, they LIKE each other, and they certainly have the focus/hunger.
I will add that the loss of Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli hurt the Bulls. Both were truly pleasant surprises last year, made TOUGH shots for you, and could create their own offense...something the Bulls have struggled finding, especially without Rose. Still, when you look at the additions of Rose/Dunleavy compared to Belinelli/NateRob...the conversation stops there.The Bulls should be an elite team again this year if healthy.
Will it make a difference come playoffs? Watch and find out!