Like many of you, I have been pretty far off on the Bulls chances the past 2 years for obvious reasons. But I like a 'this how I could see it going' post anyway. From myself only of course, not from you. For what it's worth, a few prominent types (David Aldridge, Adrian Wojnarowski, um...David Schuster) are predicting the Bulls are winning it all. ha.
And yes, the East seems even worse this year.
I buy the hype, because I think Kevin Love somehow became underrated in his trade saga and the fact that he, LeBron, and Kyrie Irving are all fantastic shooters and passers will make the 'gel' process pretty easy. And they're surprisingly deep, though maybe not that surprising given their lottery luck the past few seasons. That said, It could be a quick cliff for 'ring chasers' like Shawn Marion (and Ray Allen if he signs). A bit too much pressure lies on the shoulders of Anderson Varejao, one of their few defenders who always seems to get hurt but if he does it'll be a pretty big blow, but only against other elite teams. They should pound the bad ones.
I thought this may be a slow start given all the new faces, minutes restrictions, and flaws shown in the preseason. [and this was written before the Butler injury!] But the schedule is very soft to begin the year, and it just underscores how easy it should be for the Bulls to stay near the top of the East standings by simply playing Thibsball. Then, per usual, the 2nd half of the season will show a much improved team that hopefully integrates more of the roster. They have some real flaws and clear injury risks, but none moreso than all but very few other teams, to the point where them and Cleveland are a clear top-tier. I won't bother thinking about how they'll shape up in April, there are just too many variables.
While you could argue they're due for some regression, the success the Raptors had last season does seem sustainable in a lot of ways. Even potentially improved given the youth of DeRozan, Ross, and Valanciunas. They have an extremely deep roster that was bolstered further by adding Lou Williams for nothing. And Dwane Casey wasn't just kept begrudgingly because he had a surprising lame-duck season, he's an above-average coach. They would likely have trouble in the playoffs again without a traditional offensive superweapon, but they should be quite good in the regular season.
I really liked the Wizards before this Bradley Beal injury, as they beat the Bulls so badly last season that you could argue they were the team the Bulls were striving to improve to match as opposed to the Cavs. But this injury hurts as they were already looking at a potentially-thin wing rotation going from Trevor Ariza to Paul Pierce and hoping Otto Porter could do a lot more (i.e. anything) than he did as a rookie. And I admit I'm a bit sucked into the lazy 'they're just gonna Wizards the whole thing up' logic. I still think Pierce can do a lot of damage for them and their frontcourt is deep, but this may actually be more of a playoff-suited team than one that'll rack up a lot of regular season wins.
So this is a very interesting group, and though I wouldn't expect them to be that far above .500, that's more than enough for a comfortable playoff seeding in this conference. I loved that they decided that as a small-market it was worth taking a chance on Lance Stephenson, and even moreso that there isn't really that much risk attached to the contract. He'll seemingly fit in well on the court as a defense-instensive player for the Thibs-lite coach they have in Steve Clifford. I'm less excited about Marvin Williams at PF, and overall their frontcourt could really use one of Zeller or Voneleh to either step up or be traded for reliable help.
They have a pretty solid rotation but still seem thin to me, and while Al Horford returning is obviously a big deal he won't be worth that many more wins. But they definitely have the talent to reach the top-8, and some flexibility on their roster that they seem unable to really leverage, and maybe will still be in a freeze throughout the year while their team is up for sale.
I had them out but talked myself into figuring they'll make some kind of desperation high-spending trade to help them. As of now they're kind of boring to be honest, and though I actually liked their offseason it was clearly some rearrangement of deck chairs while they wait for a bigger splash next summer. Melo had a career year and they only won 37 games last season, so it's hard to envision much of an improvement, especially with an expected bumpy early road getting used to Derek Fisher and the triangle.
Most anybody could tell that Maurice Cheeks was a doomed hire, and a similar consensus can be made to say that Stan Van Gundy will immediately improve them. There are still some pretty unworkable parts though that will take time for SVG to either fix or send packing, namely Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, and impending free agent Greg Monroe. The Pistons are clearly trying to build around Andre Drummond at the expense of some other guys, and while that's the correct strategy I'm not convinced he's ready for that responsibility yet.
9. Miami Heat
This was a team teetering on the brink, and LeBron knew it. And while I think Chris Bosh can be a top option again, he was only that way for when teams were not-great, and this one won't be either. Dwayne Wade is simply not going to have enough left, Luol Deng is an obvious favorite but is also in danger of breaking down and as a shooter he matches poorly with Wade. And they are very thin on the bench...they were then even that with LeBron, and he took a few of his coattail-riders with him. The years of poor drafting and development have caught up to them.
10. Brooklyn Nets
For one thing, I'm not that sure Lionel Hollins is actually that good of a coach. And this is a team that's relying on players who are only treading downward, either from age (Joe Johnson), injury (Brook Lopez), or both (Deron Williams). Garnett is sadly a non-factor at this point. They also failed to adequately replace the departures of Pierce and Shaun Livingston. I wouldn't be surprised if they're sellers at the trade deadline to at least mitigate some of the damage done in their 2013 spending spree, as they already spent this past offseason at least trying to get a bit younger.
11. Milwaukee Bucks
This roster really isn't as bad as one that secured the worst record in the league, they dealt with some truly awful down seasons from a lot of their key players to where some should progress back to their usual. And they added Jabari Parker to take a huge load on the offense which will open up things for others. They also made some fringe upgrades to their bench, though I think the coaching will actually step a bit backward with Jason Kidd. It's tempting to even call them 'halfway-decent' until realizing that there are potential fit issues and some young players (featuring Giannis) that may not be ready for a leap.
12. Indiana Pacers
If the losses of Paul George and Lance Stephenson weren't bad enough, the preseason injuries to several key guys (including George Hill) just cements further that this will probably be a lost season. Maybe getting Roy Hibbert back on track will be one of the few worthwhile goals, but I don't see this team having enough offense to be a playoff team, and it's not like their defense won't suffer trying to fill what George/Stephenson for them. I actually feel bad for the franchise, given that they need a winner to sell tickets. Hopefully they got a lot of deposit money to end last season.
13. Boston Celtics
Our first team not exactly trying to win. And I'm not sure that a lot of the pieces they've accumulated are actually good or I just hear so much about them through Danny Ainge leaks (bless him) that it merely seems that way. They're middling at best, anyway. Though kudos to them for telling Rondo to shove it by drafting his replacement in Marcus Smart. This reads like any other superstar-getting-moved-before-free-agency trade situation we've seen in the past several years, with the difference being that Rondo isn't that good.
14. Orlando Magic
Have done some work trying to add to their talent base, and I'll now pause for completely unfair Ben Gordon jokes. Unfortunately they've already suffered some key injuries, and are relying a lot on an inexperienced backcourt with Jameer Nelson and Araron Afflalo out the door.
I hate them, even more that they don't care that I do.