X-Cleveland Cavaliers 52-30 (1)
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
Y-Clinched Playoff Berth