Chicago has this one in the bank, period. Anyone arguing otherwise is either foolish or simply bored.

Still, there should be some fun to be had in these parts. Indiana is showing some signs of life, Milwaukee has a chance to bounce back after taking a major step back last year, Detroit looks like one of the suprise teams of the east (at to me) and Cleveland is, um, shitty.

Like, really shitty.



Would you look at that calendar?

Wasn’t that long ago that the Bulls where stuck in a “good year-bad year” cycle, hamstrung by limited talent, some poor personnel decisions (they traded LaMarcus Aldridge for Tyrus Thomas, for example) and an owner who was afraid to spend money.

Then they hit the lottery. Literally.

That’s the NBA for you. Add Derek Rose to this team and three years later they have championship aspirations and a (once again) rabid fan base. Last year, they came up just short of the NBA Finals. This year, they’ll want more.

The Best Case: Championship. That’s the feeling with this team after watching them put up a spirited battle against Miami in last year’s playoffs. The hope is that with another year of maturity and continuity the Bulls can go the rest of the way. Yeah, the majority of the weight falls on Carlos Boozer, but just a few clutch plays and a little more scoring from anyone beside Rose might have been enough to get it done.

With that in mind, the Bulls snatched Rip Hamilton approximately 13 minutes after the Pistons cut him loose. If Hamilton can give them timely scoring and do just enough to keep defenses from smothering Rose, Chicago might have found the winning formula.

The Worst Case: Any kind of step backward, really. The entire windy city is buzzing with talks of multiple championships, from owner Jerry Reinsdorf to Rose to your average Michigan Avenue maintenance worker. For some teams, like the 2008 Lakers or Jordan’s old Bulls, falling just short of the prize is merely a prelude to glory. For plenty of other teams, it ends up being the peak. Just ask Chris Webber, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley and a million others.

That said, there are very few reasons to think this team wont be among the elite squads once again. Barring injury that is, but that’s a reality every team faces. Having a star the caliber of Rose just maker life easier, period.

The Bottom Line: Second verse, same as the first. Chicago doesn’t appear to have done alot to address why they fell shy last year, and there is no reason to expect Miami to be less formidable this time around. Rip Hamilton is an upgrade offensively but probably not enough to get them over the hump.

For this team, as important as winning today is, the effort to keep Rose in the fold for years to come should be the real objective. In their case, solving the first problem would probably take care of the second, and taking aggressive steps to upgrade the roster sooner than later is probably the wisest move they can make.


I called this last year, more or less. Slowly but surely, Larry Bird and friends has re-shaped this roster, and Frank Vogel did a helluva job guiding this team to the playoffs after replacing Jim O’ Brien late in the season. If you’ve been paying attention to these guys at all, they’ve made a shrewd move after shrewd move in recent years. Now, they are starting to payoff in the form of a deep, promising young team that likes to play at a crowd-plaesing, up-and-down tempo.

The Best Case: 40 + wins and a top 4 play-off seed. Seriously. Signing David West was a master stroke, and they didn’t have to break the bank to do it. Now, they’ve got plenty of offensive-weapons to go with the athletes, and they can go 9 or 10 deep with quality NBA players.A starting five of Collison-Jones-Granger-West-Hibbert, with Hansbrough-Hill-George-Amundson-Stephenson off the bench?

Love it.

Oh, and did I mention they still have plenty of salary cap room?

The Worst Case: As crazy as it seems, alot of these young teams that surprise everyone and make the payoffs like Indiana did last year end up regressing, either through over-confidence or the fact that they simply weren’t that good to begin with. Shit, it happened to Milwaukee just last year. If you have a tough coach and a team full of guys wise enough to keep it all in perspective, you should continue to progress.

If not, you could easily struggle mightily.

The fate of at least this season probably rests on which way they go here.

The Bottom Line: Whole lot to love here. Young, talented team, hungry coach, smart guys in the front office. Indiana has three very important bases covered.

So yeah, they are in a good spot right now. Not just to win games, but the combination of cap space and young assets makes them a prime candidate to put together a big trade or two. After years of frustration, the Pacers are coming back around.


For what it’s worth, I’ve got this crazy notion that the Pistons are gonna be a surprise team this year. First of al, I love Lawrence Frank as a coach for a team like this. Second, they’ve actually got some players here, even if they are all 6’7 or under. I think these guys are one smart trade away from being a playoff team.

That said, this team was a complete fucking mess last year, so much so that players actually attempted a mutiny in hopes of getting coach John Kuester fired. Anytime you can only scratch out 30 wins with a team that’s over the salary cap, it’s time to make some changes.

The Best Case: Frank establishes a concrete rotation and better-defined roles for this team and they thrive under his guidance. This team actually has some talent, even if it’s all on the perimeter. Getting rid of an unhappy of Rip Hamilton should work in an addition by subtraction sort of way, since that one less guy they need to keep happy.

Worst Case: A repeat of last year. If Frank jerks guys in and out of the lineup as Kuester did things will fall apart quickly and high paid guys mart check of mentally. Even worse, if they suffer any injuries on the frontline they’ll be in dire straits.

Bottom Line: I think the Pistons sneak in as the 8 seed. Call me crazy. I think there’s going to be just enough talent and cohesion to hover around .500, and if they manage to pull off a trade for frontcourt help they’ll be that much better off. Still, that’s probably the absolute ceiling for this team unless they make wholesale changes.


In last years’ Bucks preview I had them as a team on the rise. Keep in mind this is a team whose two significant off-seaon moves heading into last season were signing Drew Gooden and Corey Maggette.

I must have been tired the day I wrote that or something.

Yeah, the Bucks had a little bit of everything working against them last year, most notably being ravaged by the injury bug and the me-first tendencies of most of their key players.

Still, I wouldn’t write this team off just yet, especially after picking up Stephen Jackson for a song. As mercurial as he is, jackson is one of those players that seems to make every team he’s on better, even if he has a shelf life at each stop.

Either way, it’s never boring when Jackson is around.

The Best Case: Healthy Bogut, improved Jennings, happy Jackson. Gimme all three and the Bucks will make noise. Gimme two out of three and they’ll probably still contend for the last playoff spot. This roster is built to play defense and score a little, and Jackson will give them a huge boost there.

Not sure if there is much potential behind being a playoff team, but things can always be worse, especially in Milwaukee where it’s a yearly struggle just to remain relevant.

The Worst Case: I mean, this is a roster with Stephen Jackson, Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden on it. Pretty much speaks for itself.

This isn’t a team that can coast on talent. These guys will win more often than not with effort and cohesion. Without it, it’ll get ugly and a hurry and coach Scott Skiles will be looking for employment elsewhere.

Bottom Line: I’m thinking playoffs, but I wouldnt bet much on it. These guys don’t have much margin for error really, and honestly I’m not sure why I was so optimistic about them last year. I dont see them being anything other than an above-average team at best, and I’m not sure how much upward mobility they have given the age and health of these guys. Even more, what big ticket free-agent are they likely to attract next year.

Like I said, it could always be worse.


And speaking of worse…

To be fair, the Cavs did luck into the #1 pick in the draft despite having only tiny odds to get it. Of course, it’ just their luck that they get the #1 choice in one of the weakest drafts in recent memory. And So it goes for a team still reeling from the betrayal of it’s prodigal son, LeBron James. Now, they must tread onward and attempt to put that memory, however painful it was, out of their minds.

Nice idea in theory, but it’s gonna take awhile.

The Best Case:

Oh, I don’t know. When expectations are this low, almost anything qualifies. As long as Kyrie Irving doesnt lose a limb or join the Marines, I’d say they are ahead of where they were last year.

Matter of fact, I’m gonna call an audible and ditch the format here.

This team is shitty. Really, truly, behind any expectations of glory. Sometimes, you’re just plain old bad. That’s the Cavaliers.

For today, they’ll be content to take almost-nightly whippings and pray that Irving and Tristan Thompson are capable of becoming high-level NBA players. For now, they’ll be looking toward next year, when they’ll have a ton of cap space and they can start building an actual team for the future.

And that’s it for 2012.

They’ll get ’em next year, and all that jazz.

-John Hathwell


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