Yes, the idea that I spend more time thinking and researching the Bulls, and therefore find more reasons to like them, while limiting my exposure to the rest of the conference and holding more unfounded opinions about their capabilities, is absolutely true. So I won't take it personal if you question some of these assessments. I will take it personal if you call me a 'hater'. Luckily this is a Bulls-centric site so nobody will care if I 'hate' with 'haterade' on some other team. God I hate that word.
15. Philadelphia - This has been echoed many places, but there's always a problem when a franchise fails to build a great team around it's "star", yet the same people are left in charge to lead the rebuilding afterwards. Like Minnesota, the problem with rebuilding isn't trading away your best asset, but being stuck with the mid-level talent that have been accumulated along the way. So Philly is still stuck with guys like Dalembert, Korver, Green, Ollie...not exactly the blueprint for a rebuilding project. But as rebuilding is just a nice way to say 'bad', I suppose it fits anyway. Bad coach alert.
14. Charlotte - M. Jeff's crony squad will be bad again, as his drinkingbuddy/coach is taking a huge leap in terms of career path. If only owner Bob Johnson realized that the worth of owning an NBA team is in franchise valuation and not year-to-year profits, he'd use his team's advantageous cap position to get in some frontcourt reinforcements. Perhaps they're just deciding it's not worth tying up vets to block their young core, but I'm not too impressed with that either. Their two best players (Okafor and Wallace) are injury-prone, Morrison is a bust and Felton hasn't improved as a shotmaker. I like the Richardson acquisition more than most, but there's just not enough to be a good team and they will suffer even more injuries than the May&Morrison ones of the preseason.
13. Atlanta - If only they had a real front office, these guys may have the best talent package for Kobe, not the Bulls. Although Kobe would veto that, anyway. If this was the same old weak East (J.V., as you'll hear Stephen A. Smith yell at you frequently this year) they would've fared better. But despite trying to address it they likely have no answers right away at point guard and interior defense (I won't say 'center', because Zaza Pachulia's my guy). I always think when you're talking about a possible playoff team you look to the coach, and I have no idea if Mike Woodson is a bad coach, but until he proves he's a good one I can't expect much. Al Hortford could be reason enough to be excited, but being excited just means you get a high priority on my league pass, not that you'll win much.
12. New York - The theory on Bulls Beat is that Eddy Curry was able to reduce his foul rate so much last season because he must've been explicitly told not to play defense (as fouling is his only way of playing defense). Luckily for Isiah, Zach Randolph doesn't need to be told not to play defense to get the same result. Sure, there's no more future draft picks coming from New York, but I think we'll still find the usual hatred to guide us through rooting against this squad. They're just going to be so bad on defense, and couple that with the usual Knick-things they'll do, it'll be yet another trip to the lottery. Luckily this time Pax won't be hijacking the bus on that trip.
11. Indiana - The most annoying part of the whole 'are them dimwitted hicks of Indiana making moves based solely on their racism' saga is that the trade with the Warriors wasn't that bad of a trade. They had to pay a premium to get a lunatic like Stephen Jackson out of town, Ike Diogu is a good prospect, and save for one additional contract year (and better offensive rebounding) I consider Troy Murphy to be just as average as Al Harrington. Good for the mad scientist that is Don Nelson in getting a lot out of the former Pacers, but to paint that trade as being so lopsided that only non-basketball forces could've been solely responsible...it's just crap. That doesn't mean this team will be very good, as their 'star' is declining rapidly offensively and they have little firepower in the first place. I like new coach Jim O'Brien's style of 'if you play defense, I'll let you chuck all you want on offense', so at least for a bad team like this it'll make things more fun. Hopefully O'Neal stays healthy so that he can be pawned off on a desperate team looking for a 'star', and in this case the quotes should be especially emphasized. I suppose being eleventh may be considered a surprise, but a bad team can beat other bad teams when they have a decent coach.
10. Milwaukee - Based on an extremely small view of preseason minutes, I don't think Yi will be that bad. He's huge, mobile, and seems to understand the game well enough, that's a hell of a start. Remember that Yao looked abysmal in his first dozen games, so I won't freak out right away if he puts up bad numbers. I'm more worried for their frontcourt rotation as a whole, as neither Yi, CharlieV, nor Bogut are good defenders, and while they signed Mason and retained Bell to help their perimeter D, that won't be quite good either. They'll win some shootouts and likely be the opponent of another 50-point barrage from Ben Gordon.
9. New Jersey - Anti-Bulls elixir. The fiery pit of hatred for Scott Skiles that lies within Jason Kidd is in the 87th percentile of most powerful elements on the planet. But he has to slow down eventually, Jefferson seems to be hurt too often, and so beyond those games where they'll scare the crap out of the Bulls I don't see them having enough to get much better than .500. The early loss of Marcus Williams hurts as this team was shallow on bench even when healthy. I also don't get the excitement over the return of Nenad Kristic, who is not a 'low-post' player but a non-rebounding jumpshooter. He'll help, sure, but a frontcourt rotation of Kristic, Collins, Maggloire, and Boone? yipes. Maybe Sean Williams puts on his Tyrus Thomas shoes, that could be their only hope.
8. Toronto - This is based on little, but I see this team being like the '05-'06 Bulls, a year after shocking the league and finishing with a high seed, they struggle to make the playoffs. It just seems like a lot of things went right last year, including health (until the late Garbajosa injury last season). Bosh has had an ominous summer with talks of balky knees, Garbajosa did what we feared Nocioni would do and truncated his rehab for make glorious nation of Argentina, and I'm worried that their primary (and depending on your Delfino leanings, only) wing defender, Anthony Parker, is 32. Jose Calderon may be their best trade chip but I'd hold on to him knowing the injury history of T.J. Ford. Unless Bargnani dramatically improves his rebounding that facet of the game will be an issue for the Raps as well.
7. Washington - Ernie Grunfeld has made some schrewd moves in the past, so I've often tried to come up with trade scenarios with Washington, only to sadly (for my own make-believe-GM amusement) find out that this team is very shallow. They only have thirteen players under contract, and one of those is Etan 'bleeding heart' Thomas. Perhaps his absence will inspire nemesis Brendan Haywood, although I think part of their personality clash is that nothing inspires Brendan Haywood. But as one of the few players keeping their team defense unterrible, it's best that he plays, even half-assed. This team may be even more reliant on their 'big 3' than the Celtics, so I don't see them having much margin for error and needing big seasons from youngsters like Nick Young and Andray Blatche while hoping Jamison and Daniels don't decline. Don't worry though Wiz fans, Chris Sheridan thinks you'll be alright.
6. Miami - This would've been a lot lower last week, but the acquisition of Ricky Davis and Mark Blount gives the Heat much-needed firepower with the early-season absence of Dwyane Wade, who in Miami Heat tradition had his surgery later than necessary and will miss part of the season. Wade seems the type of player whose style will always cause him to be out here and there with injuries, and we know Shaq is already on that path as he gracefully starts his retirement while still making $20m a year. Even with Davis and Blount they're still a thin roster and too thin to win many games when their stars are absent. And the Bulls will absolutely pound them, which will be fun.
5. Orlando - Lewis will help, Van Gundy will help even more, and this team will be pretty good. Everyone's pegging Jameer Nelson to have a bounceback year, and I have no reason to doubt it, or maybe I should just replace 'bounceback' with 'contract'. This is a team that gives Bulls fits because of Dwight Howard, who clowns Ben Wallace on a regular basis. The things holding Howard back from dominating this conference is his obscenely high turnover rate and low foul shooting. But even with no progress in those areas (and he will progress considering he's 21) he'll keep Orlando's defense above average and hope that Lewis can dramatically help shoulder the scoring load. This is another team that is very thin, and have several players who have been injury-plagued in the past like Ariza, Turkoglu, Reddick, and Dooling.
4. Boston - One particularly annoying passage of Kobe talk was some dope (I won't bother re-looking it up) pondering that if the Bulls got Kobe would it mean their new big three of Kobe, Wallace, and Deng (or Hinrich, I dunno) could match the Celtics. Because the point is to compare everyone's best few players instead of the entire team, I guess? This team will be fine, and Garnett will be spectacular (remember how even his lame Minny teams have handled the Bulls recently), but I see a season where nothing major goes wrong, but a bunch of little things do. Like Pierce missing a few games, Allen missing a dozen, Rondo being bad for a stretch (I think he's a bad fit in general: they won't run much and will be needing a shooter not a distributor in that spot), and a few Doc in-game screwups. And I don't think they have that much margin for error. Then the legions of Celtics blogs will say "well we'll be ok for the playoffs, the rotations are smaller and stars win games blah blah blah" on their way to 47 wins or so. Problem being Doc will overplay team GAP too much and they're drained come playoff time. Ok, perhaps not Garnett, but is it just me or would you rather have Deng/Gordon than Pierce/Allen at this stage of their careers? I think a iso-heavy team like this will do ok with a lack of depth at PG (I see Eddie House, if healthy, doing quite well), but they are very thin up front. As the saying goes: Perkins and Pollard and pray for someone besides Scott Pollard.
3. Cleveland - If you meet someone who says this was a one-man team, and uses that assertion to suggest that you need only one player to win the East, do me a favor and put a plastic bag over their head. Cleveland's team defense was almost as stingy as the Bulls last season, and despite Gilbert Arenas' opinion, are more of the 'grind it out' team than the Bulls, especially with the 'give the ball to LeBron and stand' offense. They have several quality players beyond LeBron, and while I don't buy much into overrated/underrated talk, I'd put Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the latter category. But he's going to be 32, and without Pavlovic and Varejao they're going to be relying even more on Z, Marshall (34), Hughes (29), Jones (31), and Snow (34) who are all some combination of old, hurt, and bad. I'm assuming the foreign standoff will end soon enough, but there will still be a re-acclimation process and by then the top seed may be out of reach. And they don't seem the team (following their leader) to be show much urgency in the regular season anyway.
2. Detroit - I'm biased, I plain hate these guys (damnit, there's that word). It was very depressing to watch the Bulls, who played them well enough during the regular season, look overmatched and lose 3 straight to them in the playoffs. I'm not unconvinced that a healthier Ben Wallace (and some rotation changes from Skiles) could've closed the gap in that series, but it's tough to come up with excuses for such an asskicking. But I will predict doom because of their meltdown against Cleveland and the lack of action that followed in the offseason. Perhaps their best chance is indeed to keep everyone together, but that just means to me that they'll always to susceptible to yet another blowup between Rasheed Wallace and Flip Saunders. The hope is that a new bench filled with youngsters (and I don't get why Maxiell and Amir Johnson seem to be getting more hype than Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah) will fend off the culture of entitlement in Detroit, but they've shown recently to be the same old arrogant asswipes they've been the past few years.
1. Chicago - After a whole summer of yelping that the Bulls do not need major improvements to win the East, we finally get to see if that's actually true or we're just fooling ourselves. It's a rare position the Bulls are in, this may be one of the best versions of this team we'll see, given that Ben Wallace is still playing at a high level. But it's also a roster where every other major contributor ('cept Nocioni) is not yet in their prime. They're deeper and more familiar with each other than last season, so merely by avoiding an early-season slump and getting a little of that luck that eluded them last year will boost their win total enough for a #1 seed. If I wrote this before Aaron-Grayte, it'd be a lot more optimistic. Overall, I think the conference is far better than last year, and boasts fewer turkeys than the top-heavy West. That means that a lot of the wins that we all used to pencil (pen) in for the Bulls, usually against the Atlantic Division, may be more difficult to get. Luckily the Bulls are better this season as well, and while the offseason additions to the frontcourt will help, it'll be the development of Deng and Thomas that can vault this team over Cleveland and Detroit, two teams whose defense, rebounding, and general size advantage really gives the Bulls problems (Orlando's another one). It's all talk now, but the hope is that the Bulls don't need to conform their style to a 'star' system, if they win these players will be anointed as such.