Tag Archives: David Blatt

A No-Win Sitaution

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David Blatt

This past Friday, the Cleveland Cavaliers decided to move on from head coach David Blatt after just 19 months on the job. The move by the Cavaliers to fire Blatt has brought with it some raised eyebrows and applause alike as it has caught many people by surprise. At the time of Blatt’s firing, the Cavaliers were 30-11 this NBA season which is good enough for the best record in the Eastern Conference. But after Blatt’s first month on the job, he had been dealt more than what he initially expected.

In June 2014, Blatt was hired to be the 19th head coach in Cavaliers franchise history. At the time the Cavaliers were coming off of their fourth consecutive losing season and Blatt’s job simply appeared to be getting Cleveland’s young core of point guard Kyrie Irving, shooting guard Dion Waiters, and power forward Tristan Thompson to all be on the same page and develop in order to get back to the playoffs for the first since small forward LeBron James left to join the Miami Heat in 2010.

LeBron James

But little did Blatt or anyone that was associated with the Cavaliers know that James would opt-out of his contract with the Heat in 2014 to return to Cleveland. And as soon as James returned to the Cavaliers, the expectations in Cleveland for this team went through the roof. Along with James returning to the Cavaliers, power forward Kevin Love was acquired from the Timberwolves, which along with Irving would give Cleveland their version of the “Big Three” that would hopefully give the organization their first NBA Championship in franchise history.

However when the Cavaliers hired Blatt to be their head coach, they brought in a guy that had never played in the NBA, nor did he coach in the league as a head coach or as an assistant. For more than two decades, Blatt was a head coach in the Israeli League where he was a five-time league champion. But Israeli Basketball isn’t on the same level as that of the NBA, and Blatt’s inexperience was on display rather quickly into his tenure with the Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers began the 2014-2015 NBA season with a 95-90 home loss to the New York Knicks. And in a very surprising move, Blatt called a team meeting following the loss which was rather alarming due to the fact that it was the first game of the season. The Cavs would struggle to get on the same page as they began that season with a record of 19-20. Waiters style of play didn’t lend itself to being on the same page with that of James and thus the youngster was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. However the Cavaliers would rebound to win 34 of their final 43 regular season games to finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference en route to winning their second Eastern Conference Championship in franchise history.

But by the time that the NBA Finals rolled around last June, the Cavaliers were the walking wounded as Love was lost with a shoulder injury in the first round of the playoffs while Irving went down with a knee injury towards the end of Game 1 in the finals. Cleveland still gave a spirited effort, but they fell to the Warriors in six games. And during the Cavs postseason run, more of Blatt’s inexperience showed up.

In Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Cavaliers trailed the Chicago Bulls in the seven-game series, 2-1, and they were staring a 3-1 deficit in the face. With the game tied at 84 late in the fourth quarter, the Cavs had an opportunity to win. But during a timeout, Blatt constructed a play that called for James to deliver the inbounds pass. James disagreed with the play and a new one was drawn up with him taking the final shot. James connected on the baseline shot as time expired which tied the series 2-2, and Cleveland would go on to defeat the Bulls in six games.

Recently Blatt let it be known that he didn’t see the importance of monitoring a player’s minutes and opting to rest players during games on consecutive nights. James might have been quiet publicly on this matter, but at the age of 31, he knows the importance of pacing himself during the season; especially since he has appeared in the last five NBA Finals.

But with that said the Cavs had a chance to move on from Blatt over the summer when it was clear that he wasn’t going to be the guy that would and could lead this team to an NBA Title. However James publicly endorsed Blatt to remain as Cavaliers head coach last summer and in doing so, Cleveland missed an opportunity to bring in a head coach such as Mark Jackson or Avery Johnson who had previous NBA experience. And although that the wins have been there for the Cavaliers this season, this team has lacked team chemistry.

Blatt’s firing has now paved the way for Tyronn Lue to get his opportunity to lead the Cavs. Unlike Blatt, Lue played in the NBA and he’s been an assistant coach in the league as well, but he’s never been a head coach. Lue was immediately given a three-year deal from the Cavaliers which makes you wonder if this move had been in the works for some time.

Lue’s first order of business must be to get James, Irving, and Love all on the same page which is something that still hasn’t fully happened which makes the success that this team has recently enjoyed that more surprising. But even as an assistant, Lue appeared to be someone that the players on the Cavs respected more than Blatt as I am not sure if their now former head coach was ever able to relate to them. The Cavaliers are a deep team that needs to concentrate more on ball movement instead of simply having four guys standing around waiting for James to make something happen which will need to be one of their keys to success.

And regardless of whom the Cavs coach is, this team is more than likely going to win the Eastern Conference this season, but they’ll be solely judged by what they’ll be able to do in the NBA Finals. Last Monday, Cleveland was on the wrong side of a 34-point home loss to the Warriors where they appeared to be lifeless at times. And overall, the Cavs don’t match up well with either the Warriors or San Antonio Spurs who are the two teams that they’ll more than likely face in the NBA Finals should they get there. The Warriors and Spurs each excel at team basketball which starts with ball movement and being on the same as these are two things that the Cavs are currently struggling with. For Lue, he can reflect on the lessons that he learned from head coaches such as Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers, and Jeff Van Gundy, who he played for during his NBA career as he looks to lead this team.

The Cavaliers should also look to cut some of the dead weight on this team in the form of shooting guard J.R. Smith. The Cavs acquired Smith from the Knicks last season who at times appears to be a player that has a very low basketball I.Q., and it is tough to win with guys like that on a team as they can become a cancer.

The Cavs were going to be one of the best team in the Eastern Conference anyway, but you should now see a more spirited team as Blatt’s dismissal was a wakeup call to each player on the roster even though he was never the man that should have been leading this team in the first place.

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2015-2016 Central Division Projections

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Y-Cleveland Cavaliers 56-26 (1)

LeBron James

In the blink of an eye the Cleveland Cavaliers once again became contenders in the NBA when small forward LeBron James decided to return to the team in the summer of 2014. And in James’ first season back with the Cavaliers, he was able to get them to the NBA Finals for just the second time in franchise history as they were only two games short of winning it all. As the 2015-2016 NBA season is set to begin, the message is clear for the Cavaliers which is to finish.

Last season started slow for the Cavs and that was too be expected with so many new players along with a new head coach in David Blatt. The Cavaliers began slow with a record of 19-20 before they were able to turn it on as they finished with a record 53-29 which was the second best in the Eastern Conference and they are once again a team that has something to prove.

Make no mistake about it that James is arguably to best NBA player of this era as he is one of the greatest all-around players that the game has ever seen. This will mark James’ 13th season in the NBA and even though he is a freak of nature, you have to wonder when the wear and tear will begin to catch up to him. James has averaged 39.3 minutes per game for his NBA career and once you factor in five consecutive trips to the NBA Finals along with playing in the Summer Olympics three times, the Cavs and Blatt must not attempt to put everything on him this season as he’ll be 30-years of age in December.┬áBut luckily for James, he does appear to have a strong supporting cast around him in Cleveland.

Just like James was a part of a “Big Three” with the Heat which consisted of him, shooting guard Dwyane Wade and power forward Chris Bosh, the Cavs created their version with point guard Kyrie Irving and power forward Kevin Love to team with James. Irving and James were able to develop exceptional chemistry last season, but the same couldn’t be said about James and Love. Love and James were not on the same page last year as Love had his worst year statistically since the 2009-2010 NBA season. Love had the opportunity to opt-out of his contract with the Cavaliers last summer which he did, but in a surprise move he decided to return. As Love and James were never able to develop chemistry together, it was partially due to the fact that Love was never able to alter his game to compliment James. Love is not a consistent post player, but those players that are in the post must adjust their game when they are a teammate of James due to the fact of his attacking style along with his tendency to play in the post as well.

While James and Love weren’t on the same page, the same couldn’t be said about James and Irving as they became Batman and Robin. Irving remains one of the fastest and best scoring point guards in the NBA, it is just a matter of him remaining healthy. In Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals, Irving suffered a fractured kneecap that will keep him sidelined as he’ll miss the start of the upcoming season while he is recovering. Irving has always had concerns about his durability, but at this point the Cavaliers need him for the stretch run of the regular season and the playoffs.

As soon as James returned to Cleveland last year, he immediately connected with power forward Tristan Thompson. Thompson was primarily a bench player for the Cavs last season, but once Love was lost in the first round of the NBA Playoffs due to injury, he became extremely valuable as he was able to play off of James.

The Cavaliers also have a solid supporting cast that consists of center Timofey Mozgov, shooting guard Matthew Dellavedova, and guard Mo Williams who is returning for his second stint in the Cleveland. But the wild cards on the season for the Cavaliers could be shooting guard J.R. Smith and swignman Iman Shumpert. The Cavaliers acquired Smith and Shumpert last season from the New York Knicks. At first Smith and Shumpert were on their best behavior as they were playing within the realm of the team, but as the season went along they began to freestyle and resemble the “me” type players that they were in New York. And if Smith and Shumpert continue refusing to be team players, I can see them traded out of Cleveland real soon.

The Cavs will face a tough schedule when the season begins as they’ll meet the Chicago Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies, and Miami Heat. But it will be very interesting to see how this team will be able to mesh as the season goes along.

X-Chicago Bulls 51-31 (2)

The last five NBA seasons have seen the Chicago Bears become one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, but that wasn’t enough for head coach Tom Thibodeau to remain employed by the team. In every year under Thibodeau, the Bulls made the playoffs including a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011. But being that Thibodeau wasn’t always on the same page with Bulls general manager Gar Forman, it was time for a change. The Bulls would hire Fred Hoiberg to be their next head coach and he brings a stellar resume with him to the Windy City. Hoiberg played 11 NBA seasons with four of those seasons being spent with the Bulls. Hoiberg spent the last five years as the head basketball coach at Iowa State University where he became the only head coach in school history to reach the NCAA Tournament in four consecutive years.

Fred Hoiberg

And with the Bulls, Hoiberg’s job will be to get the most out of a veteran team that has aspirations of winning an NBA Championship.

Since winning the NBA MVP Award in 2011, Bulls point guard Derrick Rose has struggled to remain healthy. Last season Rose appeared in 51 games which is the most amount of games that he has played in since winning the NBA MVP Award in 2011. However Rose suffered an orbital bone fracture at the start of training camp and in spite of that, the Bulls are hopeful that this is the year that he will finally remain healthy throughout the season.

Jimmy Butler

In Rose’s absence last season, small forward Jimmy Butler has emerged as the Bulls go-to-guy. Butler was the Bulls first-round pick in 2011, and in each year in Chicago, he has improved. Butler is coming off of his best season in the NBA as he averaged 20.0 points per game and in the process he earned his first All-Star Game appearance. And just where Butler left off in Thibodeau’s offense, you can expect more of the same as far as him being the focal point in Chicago under Hoiberg.

For numerous years center Joakim Noah has been the heart and soul of the Bulls as he embodies the toughness that the City of Chicago is known for. Noah was the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2014, but a foot injury limited his effectiveness last season. And like Rose, the Bulls will need a healthy Noah this season if they are going to contend for an NBA Championship as he is a solid rebounder and defender. If Noah is able to remain healthy this season, he could become the Bulls all-time leader in rebounds. Alongside Noah in the Bulls frontcourt, Chicago has a solid scoring option in power forward Pau Gasol. Gasol was expected to be more of a complimentary player last season, but he ended up being the Bulls second leading scorer at 18.5 points per contest. And as long as Hoiberg is able manage Gasol’s minutes this year, he can still be an effective contributor in Chicago even at the age of 35.

The Bulls also have a solid group of role players that includes veterans in power forward Taj Gibson, point guard Kirk Hinrich, and small forward Mike Dunleavy while youngsters in the form of forwards Doug McDermott, Bobby Portis, and Nikola Mirotic can also have a solid impact.

Aside from opening the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bulls have an easy schedule to begin the year which could be just what the doctor ordered for Hoiberg and his crew.

X-Milwaukee Bucks 47-35 (6)

Jason Kidd

In their first year under head coach Jason Kidd, the Milwaukee Bucks enjoyed an impressinve turnaround. The Bucks went from going 15-67 in the previous NBA season to being a playoff team last season with a record of 41-41. The Bucks enjoyed this huge turnaround without the services on small forward Jabari Parker. Parker was the second overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft, but after he suffered a torn ACL, he only appeared in 25 games. For the year Parker averaged 12.3 points per games, and without his services the Bucks were able to make the NBA Playoffs. But now with Parker back healthy and in the saddle, the Bucks are trending upwards as their young talent is making believers out of many people.

Youth is on the side of the Bucks as they have 11 players on their roster that are 25-years of age or younger and they don’t have an idea of how good that they can be.

Michael-Carter Williams

After winning the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 2014 as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, point guard Michael Carter-Williams was traded to the Bucks last season and he has a chance to be a solid point guard. At 6’6″, Carter-Williams is a bigger point guard just like his head coach in Kidd who is 6’4″. And like Kidd, Carter-Williams came into the NBA with questions about his perimeter shooting. In just two NBA seasons, Carter-Williams is a career 40 percent shooter from the field while he is shooting just 25 percent from beyond the three-point arc. But whereas Carter-Williams is still attempting to find his touch as a shooter, he is a solid facilitator that has averaged 6.5 assists for his brief NBA career and he has a few triple-doubles under his belt. And as far as the triple-doubles go, Carter-Williams can learn from one of the best in Kidd who had 107 career triple-doubles which is third all-time on the NBA’s list for triple-doubles.

Aside from Parker and Carter-Williams, the Bucks have a ton of young, athletic players that includes forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, center Greg Monroe, and small forward Khris Middleton while they will also have depth coming off of their bench in the form of guards O.J. Mayo, Jerryd Bayless, and Greivis Vasquez, along with forward Carl Landry.

The young Bucks have a ton of size and they will be a very fun and exciting team to watch this season.

Detroit Pistons 36-46

From 2002-2009, each NBA season resulted in the Detroit Pistons making the playoffs which was highlighted by an NBA Championship in 2004. But since then the Pistons have fallen by the wayside as they have produced five seasons in which they’ve lost at least 50 games and in the process they’ve gone through five different head coaches over that span.

Stan Van Gundy

Stan Van Gundy is coming off of his first season as the Pistons head coach and he is in the process of establishing some order in the Motor City. Aside from being the Pistons head coach, Van Gundy is also the team president as he is in the process of shaping this team in his own image with players that fit his system.

Last season center Greg Monroe led the Pistons in scoring at 15.9 points per game, but he was allowed to leave Detroit as a free agent and he would sign with the Milwaukee Bucks. To offset Monroe’s departure, the Pistons and Van Gundy are hopeful that center Andre Drummond is able to continue improving. Last season Drummond emerged as one of the top rebounders in the NBA as he was second in the league in the category as he grabbed 13.5 boards per contest. But aside from cleaing up the glass, Drummond must become more of an offensive threat for them in the post as they’ll need him to average at least 18 points per game this season if they are going to contend for a postseason spot.

Last season the Pistons acquired point guard Reggie Jackson from the Oklahoma City Thunder. And in 27 games last season with the Pistons, Jackson averaged 17.6 points and 9.2 assists per game. Van Gundy saw enough and signed Jackson to a five-year, $90 million deal this summer, but the Pistons also have another point guard in Brandon Jennings. Jackson and Jennings have the same playing style and it will be interesting to see how Van Gundy uses them.

Van Gundy will spend the upcoming NBA season continuing to reshape this Pistons roster that is not quite ready to be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.

Indiana Pacers 36-46

Paul George

As expected last season was a struggle for the Indiana Pacers. In the summer of 2014, Pacers small forward Paul George suffered a broken leg while participating as a member of the United States Men’s Basketball team. The injury limited George to just six games last season as the Pacers only won 38 games compared to 56 in the previous NBA season which was the best record in the Eastern Conference. And even with a healthy George returning to the Pacers for the 2015-2016 NBA season, Indiana will still be a very different team with a ton of question marks surrounding them.

Pacers general manager Larry Bird and head coach Frank Vogel have decided to have a change of philosophy in team personnel as after watching the Golden State Warriors win the NBA Championship last June, they have decided to go “small ball”. After spending the first seven years of his NBA career with the Pacers, center Roy Hibbert was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers over the summer while power forward David West opted out of his contract to sign with the San Antonio Spurs. And the Pacers are now asking George to play power forward for them. George is 6’9″, but he is only 220 lbs., which will make it very interesting to see how he’ll be able to adjust playing in the post more.

After spending the last two seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, point guard Monta Ellis opted out of his contract as a he signed a four-year, $44 million contract with the Pacers. The Pacers will be Ellis’ fourth NBA team and although he is a point guard by trade, he is more off an “off-guard” being that he is more of a scoring threat than anything as the potential success of this team will come down to him and the health of George.

This will be a year of transition for the Pacers and they will more than likely get lost in the shuffle in the Eastern Conference.

Sources: Sportscity.com, Basketball-reference.com

Y-Division Winner

X-Playoff Berth

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The Cavs Are Getting Their Sea Legs

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LeBron James

With all of the new talent that the Cleveland Cavaliers have assembled for this season you knew that it would take some time for them to gel. When small forward LeBron James decided to return to the Cavs this season, the expectations for Cleveland went through the roof. But just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, the Cavaliers found out the hard way that there’s no such thing as a quick turnaround in the NBA. In early to mid-January, the Cavs were mired in a six-game losing streak and they had an overall record of 19-20. But since then the Cavaliers are 17-2 including a 12-game winning streak as they now appear to be on the same page heading into the spring.

David Blatt

Aside from James returning to Cleveland, the Cavs began this season with a new head coach in David Blatt. Prior to joining the Cavs, Blatt had never coached in the NBA (even as an assistant) which meant that he had to get accustomed to the nuances of the league. The Cavs lost their regular season opener to the New York Knicks and shockingly Blatt decided to call a team meeting afterwards. Along with Blatt attempting to get on the same page with James and the rest of the players in Cleveland, Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving had to figure out how to play with other talented players while the newly acquired power forward Kevin Love needed to figure out his role in Cleveland as well. In the past Irving was accused of playing “buddy ball” with Cavs center Tristan Thompson by former Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters. Irving would also tend to play one-on-five offensively which would alienate his teammates. Prior to joining the Cavs, Love put up big numbers as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, but the team there wasn’t close to being a winner.

And in just one stroke of the pen by James last summer, the Cavaliers went from being an underachieving team in the Eastern Conference to a team that is now expected to contend for the NBA Championship. But for guys like Love and Irving who have never been to the NBA Playoffs, they’ve had to learn how to win in the league which also required them to understand the concept of playing team basketball. And that meant that you wouldn’t see as many 35-point, 20-rebound games from Love and not as many 35-point games from Irving either with the new and improved Cavaliers.

Kyrie Irving

But now all of that appears to be behind the Cavaliers as they are rolling. The Cavs currently have the fourth best record in the Eastern Conference and they’re only half a game behind the Chicago Bulls for first place in the Central Division. Irving is only averaging 5.3 assists per game, but his shot attempts are down as he is not coveting the basketball like he did in the past, but he is still averaging 21.7 points per game. Love has accepted his role as the third wheel in the Cavaliers offense behind James and Irving while still being able to maintain his status as one of the better rebounders in the NBA at 10.4 per contest. James is still the best all around player in the NBA and at the age of 30, he is now becoming more of a mentor to the youngsters on the Cavaliers such as Love and Irving. On the season James is averaging 25.8 points per game which is third in the NBA. The turnaround this season for the Cavs simply began when everybody including Blatt started to trust one another. James had been down this road before when he went to Miami 2010 as he and Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t start out on the same page. Things would change and subsequently the Heat would win a pair of NBA Championships in four seasons with James. However the Cavs are dealing with a more mature James this time around and more than ever he is leading by example through his focus and intensity.

The City of Cleveland has never been a hotbed as far as luring NBA free agents, but James’ presence alone on the Cavaliers roster is changing that notion. A pair of James’ old teammates with the Heat in forwards James Jones and Mike Miller followed him to Cleveland over the summer. And James’ return to the Cavaliers has also made everybody on the team step their game up.

J.R. Smith

Last month the Cavaliers acquired shooting guard J.R. Smith from the New York Knicks. During his NBA career Smith has developed a reputation as being a loose cannon. Smith has had issues throughout his playing career as far as playing within the realm of an offense as he has never met a shot that he didn’t like. But in 23 games with the Cavaliers, Smith is averaging 13.0 points per game and Blatt has trusted him to be on the court for nearly 32 minutes per contest. Along with Smith, swingman Iman Shumpert was acquired from the Knicks last month. And like Smith, Shumpert was considered to be a malcontent with the Knicks but all he has done with the Cavs is what he has been asked to do which is to play basketball and have fun doing it. This past Sunday, the Cavaliers faced the Knicks in what marked the first game back at Madison Square Garden for both Smith and Shumpert since the trade. In the game Smith went for 17 points as the Cavs easily disposed of the Knicks 101-83. Another ex-Knick in center Timofey Mogzov was acquired last summer in a deal with the Denver Nuggets. The Cavs needed another big man after center Anderson Varejao was lost to an injury. And so far with the Cavaliers, Mozgov is averaging a career high in points (10.4) and rebounds (8.2) which was highlighted by a 20-point, 7-rebound performance in a 113-93 victory over the Heat on February 11. Along with Love and Thompson, Mozgov has given the Cavaliers another big body in their frontcourt to provide size, get rebounds, and clog up the defensive interior.

The Cavaliers a gelling and they appear to have all of the tools necessary to make a deep run in the postseason. James is in the prime of his career while he also has a strong supporting cast around him which wasn’t the case during his first run in Cleveland. Nothing is set in stone for the Cavaliers, but the best appears to be in front of them.

 

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2014-2015 Central Division Projections

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X-Cleveland Cavaliers 52-30 (1)

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LeBron James

After four years of manipulating the NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers are back in business as a legitimate title contender. After spending the first seven years of his NBA career with the Cavaliers, small forward LeBron James took his talents to South Beach in 2010 to join the Miami Heat. In the seven seasons that James spent in Cleveland, the Cavs made the postseason five times including their only trip to the NBA Finals in 2007. But since James left, the Cavaliers never made the postseason and over that stretch they “won” the NBA Draft Lottery three times. This past summer James decided to leave the Heat as a free agent in order to return to the Cavs and all of those fans who famously burned his jerseys four years ago and called him “gutless” are now back on the LeBron bandwagon.

The Cavaliers “tremendous success” at the NBA Draft Lottery has given them the ability to put a team around James which wasn’t the case during his first stint in Cleveland. The Cavs were able to trade power forward Anthony Bennett and shooting guard Andrew Wiggins who were the last two first overall picks in the NBA Draft to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of the package that sent All-Star power forward Kevin Love to Cleveland. Love and James will team with point guard Kyrie Irving to be the Cavaliers version of the “Big Three”. Four years ago small forward LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and he is still the best best player in the NBA. With James back in the saddle the Cavs should once again contend for an NBA Championship, but what about their team chemistry?

David Blatt is the new head coach of the Cavaliers and he has never coached in the NBA as he spent the last four seasons coaching Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel. Blatt is a four-time Israeli league Coach of the Year, but it is just a matter of him getting his message across in the NBA.

In his brief NBA career, Irving has shown that he is a shooting guard in a point guard’s body. Irving has not always been a facilitator which must change this season for the Cavaliers to be successful. This season’s Cavaliers team will resemble the team that Love played on during his one season of college basketball at UCLA as they are deep and talented. Love is a proven scorer and rebounder in the NBA and his talents will compliment those of James.

Just like he did with the Heat, James has been able to lure veterans to Cleveland with seasoned small forwards Mike Miller and Shawn Marion looking to add another NBA Championship to their respective resumes. The Cavaliers also have youngsters in power forward Tristan Thompson and shooting guard Dion Waiters who will look to be on board as members of the new “James Gang” in Cleveland.

It will take some time for this Cavs team to gel, but by the spring they should be a well-oiled machine that will be ready to contend for an NBA Championship.

Y-Chicago Bulls 52-30 (2)

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Derrick Rose

In the past four seasons head coach Tom Thibodeau has proven his worth with the Chicago Bulls. Thibodeau was the NBA’s Coach of the Year in 2011 as he led the Bulls to 62 regular season victories. But what Thibodeau has done in the past two seasons has been remarkable. Thibodeau has kept the Bulls as an upper echelon team in the Eastern Conference in spite of the fact that point guard Derrick Rose that he has only played in 10 games due to knee injuries. Rose is expected to return to the Bulls lineup this season and he has a ton of depth around him.

In Rose’s absence, center Joakim Noah has become the leader of the Bulls. Noah in the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year and he has a variety of ways in which he can effect the outcome of a game as he is a scorer, defender, rebounder, and facilitator. The Bulls finally have a proven low-post scorer in power forward Pau Gasol. For his 13-year NBA career, Gasol has averaged 18.3 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game and he was also a two-time NBA Champion with the Los Angeles Lakers. Now Gasol will bring that championship pedigree to the Windy City as he could be the missing piece for the Bulls as far as them winning an NBA Championship.

For each of his three seasons in the NBA, Bulls shooting guard Jimmy Butler has improved. Aside from averaging 13.1 points per game last season, Butler is a tremendous on-the-ball defender who’s overall game should benefit from the Rose returning to the Bulls lineup.

The Bulls also have depth behind Rose at the point guard position in veterans Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks who will bring a blend of fire and ice to the court in Chicago. Rookie small forward Doug McDermott will be key as far as coming off of the bench for the Bulls. McDermott comes to the Bulls as one of the top scorers in college basketball history and he was a three-time All-American at Creighton along with being the Consensus Player of the Year last season in college basketball. McDermott will also push veteran small forward Mike Dunleavy for minutes on the wing.

Under Thibodeau, the Bulls have been one of the better defensive teams in the NBA and if Rose is indeed healthy this season, they will be able to ascend back to being one of the better overall teams in the league.

Y-Detroit Pistons 42-40 (8)

The past five seasons have seen the Detroit Pistons become an afterthought in the Eastern Conference. This Pistons have failed to qualify for the postseason since 2009 and they have not had a winning season since 2008. But a front office shake up has the fans in the Motor City optimistic that the Pistons can return to respectability this season.

Stan Van Gundy is the Pistons new head coach and he will also serve as the team’s president of basketball operations. Van Gundy previously coached the Miami Heat whom he led to the playoffs twice and the Orlando Magic where he guided the team to the Eastern Conference Championship in 2009. Now Van Gundy’s task is to turn the underachieving Pistons into playoff contenders.

Last season forward Josh Smith led the Pistons scoring at 16.4 points per game, but he did not have the impact that the team expected when they signed him to a four-year, $54 million deal. Throughout his 10-year NBA career, Smith has never been an assertive guy which will makes things interesting this season as Van Gundy is a no-nonsense type of coach.

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Andre Drummond

Aside from Smith, the Pistons do have a pair of Van Gundy type players in their front court in power forward Greg Monroe and center Andre Drummond. For his four-year NBA career, Monroe has averaged 14 points and 9 rebounds per contest. This past summer Monroe signed a one-year qualifying offer and he will be looking for a max contract next off-season which means that the Pistons could have a big season from him. Drummond was the Pistons first round pick in 2012. Drummond is only 21-years of age and the future is looking bright for the youngster. Last season Drummond became one of the top rebounders in the NBA and he is just beginning to scratch the surface at the offensive end of the floor.

In his first season with the Pistons, point guard Brandon Jennings surprised some people by averaging 7.6 assists per game. Van Gundy will rely on Jennings to continue to be a facilitator in this offense for the Pistons who have a huge front court that he needs to get the basketball to. Behind Jennings, Van Gundy and the Pistons have a very reliable backup point guard in D.J. Augustin who is more than capable of picking up the slack when he checks into the game. Coming off of the bench the Pistons also have a reliable veteran small forward in Caron Butler along with sharp-shooting Jodie Meeks at shooting guard as Detroit is poised to be an improved team this season.

Van Gundy is all about changing the culture with the Pistons and bringing some much needed toughness back to Detroit. It will either be Van Gundy’s way or the highway and we shall see who is tough enough to hang with him this season.

Indiana Pacers 39-43

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Frank Vogel

Unless you’ve been trapped in a cave for the past few months you know that Indiana Pacers chances for the upcoming NBA season took a huge blow in the off-season. Over the summer, Pacers small forward Paul George was a member of Team USA when he suffered a broken leg. George’s leg injury will more than likely keep him on the shelf for the entire 2014-2015 NBA season. With the injury to George, who will Pacers head coach Frank Vogel be able to rely on as far as picking up the slack in Indiana?

Veteran power forward David West is entering his fourth season with the Pacers and without George he can expect to be called upon more on the offensive end. Behind West, the Pacers have another veteran power forward in Luis Scola who is also a proven scorer in the NBA. The Pacers are hopeful that center Roy Hibbert can become more assertive in the low post as he has averaged 11.2 points and 6.7 boards for his NBA career. At 7’2″, Hibbert must aggressively crash the boards while also establishing better position for himself down low to become more of an offensive threat.

With the injury to George, the departure of shooting guard Lance Stephenson who signed with the Charlotte Hornets, and their lack of production from the point guard position, this will be a tough season for the Pacers and their fans to endure.

Milwaukee Bucks 28-54

After a 15-win campaign last season there is only one way to go for the Milwaukee Bucks which is up. The Bucks have a new ownership group, a new head coach, and an exciting rookie who are all looking to turn around the franchise. Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry are the new owners of the Bucks who are looking to increase the interest for their team in Milwaukee. Jason Kidd spent one season as the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets. But after not being on the same page with the Nets front office, Kidd left to become the new head coach of the Bucks. The Bucks had the worst record in the NBA last season, but they were unable to attain the first overall pick in the draft. The Bucks however did have the second overall pick in the NBA Draft which they used on small forward Jabari Parker.

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Jabari Parker

In one season of college ball at Duke, Parker averaged 19.1 points per game and he has the ability to eventually become a franchise player for the Bucks. Aside from Parker, the Bucks have center Larry Sanders and power forward Ersan Ilyasova who will both need to be healthy this season as they combined to miss 86 games last season. Sanders is a tremendous rebounder and interior defender while Ilyasova can stretch opposing defenses with his mid-range game. Last season as a rookie, Bucks shooting guard Giannis Antetokounmpo was only able to average 6.8 points per game, but at 6’11”, he can be a matchup nightmare on the wing and Kidd is hopeful that he improves in his sophomore season. For Bucks point guard Brandon Knight, his numbers have improved in each of his three seasons in the NBA and they should continue to rise with the arrival of Parker.

The main thing for Kidd and his young Bucks to do is to win some games early in order to gain some confidence and as the season progresses you should see this team grow.

X-Clinched Division

Y-Clinched Playoff Berth

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