*Editor's Note: This was supposed to run preseason.*
Seth: Does anyone remember the Chicago Bulls? They were pretty good last year in the playoffs beating the Nets before losing to the Heat. They've made the playoffs eight of the last nine seasons despite having a cheapskate owner who takes in money like the big market mogul he is while spending it like a small market miser.
I probably don't even need to mention this but DERRICK ROSE IS REPLACING NATE ROBINSON AS THE POINT GUARD.
That is what we call in the business a "significant upgrade".
This team still has a great wing defender who can't be ignored on offense (Deng). One of the best centers in the league (Noah). And a power forward who averaged 16 and 10 last year despite being overpaid and universally despised (Boozer). That's three quality players and an MVP, plus solid depth with Gibson, Hinrich, Butler, and Dunleavy.
AND DERRICK ROSE IS BACK.
Yes. I worry that Coach Thib is going to run his horses into the ground. I worry about Noah's feet and Deng's knees / wrist / spinal tap reactions. I worry about DERRICK ROSE generating more torque than human ligaments can physically handle. But all the top teams in the East have question marks and these guys will be hungrier than the Heat and healthier than the Nets.
Drew: I love the Bulls for all of the reasons you mentioned above. They'll be great, phenomenal, stupendous, the nation's story as Rose hit's the return trail. But I think they'll be hurt. Joakim Noah is already in questionable territory and the season has yet to begin.
Luol Deng's minutes should get cut down a bit with Rose back on the floor, so that should help his longevity. The man was trying to play through a spinal tap during the playoffs last season, the least Thib's can do is give him an extra six-to-ten minutes on the bench, right?
Still, the Heat will take the top seed in the East. I want to believe this team is special and that LeBron James is the ultimate against-all-logic weapon that can be deployed in the NBA. It would be one hell of an accomplishment for them to take the East AGAIN, and I think they can do it.
I want them to do it.
The Heat know who they are on defense - a team that forces turnovers, blitzes pick-and-rolls and relies on team-wide rotations -- and they didn't have any significant departures. These guys should only get better at that whole five guys, one string, puppeteer thing on defense.
The Bulls are re-integrating Rose and praying to the "please keep us healthy" gods. The Pacers have a vastly different bench and Danny Granger's return to sort through. The Nets have growing pains to deal with now that KG-Pierce-Jet-Kidd are on board. The Heat remain the Heat -- Pat Riley and the boys.
On offense there's no answer to LeBron James. He'll attack the rim, force rotations, find the open man, eat your lunch, kill you on the low-block and never break a sweat. Even if Ray Allen and Shane Battier are aging they'll still have the benefit of being spoon-fed wide-open threes.
It's a tall task for the jewel of South Beach, but they'll pull it off. Even if LeBron has to carry Wade on his back because of those knees.
Seth: DERRICK ROSE IS BACK.
Kevin: Even if Derrick Rose is back and the Bulls found a way to clone him and started three of him at once, they are still not beating LeBron James and the Miami Heat to get that coveted one seed in the East, which of course comes with home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
This Heat team is better than they were last year and they made minimal moves in the offseason. They let Mike Miller go via the amnesty clause. He gets replaced by James Jones and the returning Michael Beasley. Both Jones and Beasley are going to be able to play a lot more often than Miller ever did, both are better defenders than Miller and both are younger (in Jones' case, barely).
Adding more minutes from Jones and Beasley won't go unnoticed throughout the course of the season. It will allow more rest for LeBron, Wade and Allen.
Would it be completely out of the question to see a bigger role this season from Rashard Lewis? I don't think so, he's still more than a capable player in the NBA.
You can't discount having the energy of The Birdman for an entire season too. He was a late season pickup last year and added a huge lift to the Heat off the bench. He was the best defender off the bench, a complete disrupter and at times the only interior toughness the Heat had.
Then there is the ultimate difference maker (I feel) come late season and then playoffs is going to be Greg Oden. Do not laugh or cringe. If Oden is healthy, he is going to be a beast and damn near unstoppable. I don't expect him to bowl people over like Shaq did in his prime, but did you see his four minutes in the preseason and that dunk!?