Sizing Up the 2014-15 Eastern Conference’s Potential
Who is the favourite to win the Eastern Conference next season? Many experts can’t answer this question. Where do the Toronto Raptors fit into everything? It’s hard to answer this question, too.
Everybody has a chance. Well, mostly everyone does… perhaps omitting Milwaukee from the conversation, but even they must be more excited than last year (but everything is relative, right? Well, I wrote that before “the trade” anyway). But “mostly everybody” has a strong case for their team. Maybe we should review every team starting with how they finished last year?
This column will be a regular feature, looking at the NBA’s Eastern Conference and projecting where each contending team will finish. It begins at the top of the standings from 2013-14 and looks at the conference from the perspective of the Raptors.
Chicago: This is a tough pick. Before Cleveland’s additions this summer, Chicago was the obvious winner of the division… and even a likely number one pick. But return LeBron James and enter Kevin Love, and Cleveland deserves much love of their own. But this isn’t about Cleveland, this is about Chicago (however, Cleveland does justify the Chicago ranking). And Chicago looks to be a perennial powerhouse. With the addition of Pau Gasol – who probably can’t wait to leave the “Lake Show” – the Bulls can be WOW (wow, as a noun – I guess). I mean, they were good before Gasol, but now they have a little PAU (Pau as a noun, more acceptable – but a little wordplay for you… but I digress).
Also, who is the Bulls best player? Who won a league MVP?
Also, who has been injured the past two years and just can’t seem to get on the court?
Also, for Team USA, look who’s trying out?
Derrick Martell Rose – the same D-Rose is the answer for all of the above. Is this guy a magician or what?! I’m not sure how this guy can do that – and justify it to the Bulls, who should be irate that Rose will play for Team USA but had to miss playing with them. Especially after he was medically cleared to play, but meh, decided not to (in the playoffs no less). However, I’m sure they won’t even care if he keeps playing as well as rumours have him playing. As long as he doesn’t go down (à la Paul George – sorry Indiana fans, any basketball fan would assume it was Rose who went down and not George), the USA basketball venture may actually serve to be the perfect warm-up for the season.
The potential good: Potentially, Cleveland, with all its moving parts, will take a while to gel (à la the Miami Heat when LeBron arrived). And in this time (which could last the entire season for all we know), the Bulls will have put enough ground between them and the Cavs in the form of wins that they will finish ahead of the Cavs… and I would put a significant amount of cash on the Central Division winner placing first in the Eastern Conference.
The potential bad: This is gonna be a kick in the pants to Bulls fans, but they already know what I’m gonna say. And this potential bad has the possibility of being potential good here, too, but looking at the stats, they reveal Rose (right, with crutches) to have played 49 games, not last year out of 82 games, not the past two years out of 164 games… but the last three seasons (246 games). And that’s not even counting the playoffs. That’s not even 20% of the Bulls’ games that he’s taken part in. Listen, I am not a Derrick Rose fan per se, but the player who everybody considers to be the Bulls’ best player and who once was MVP of the league has to play. And he just hasn’t in recent memory. When he doesn’t, Chicago actually looks decent… but not decent enough (or close). So how many games will he play? How many will he miss?
Last year’s Eastern Conference regular season rank: 4th place
This year’s potential pre-season FS rank: 4th place
Okay, so again, this might be a bit of a “push” pick here, and Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser of Pardon the Interruption like to condemn such pushes, but picking the Bulls 4th just makes a lot of sense. Considering the winners of divisions get the top three seeds, even if the Bulls are ultimately second in the whole conference, if Cleveland is first, they can still go fourth. That’s just the way it is with how the playoffs work…
The Bulls may have the highest range in the Eastern Conference though. I give them first to fourth (likely 1st or 4th), but 1st-4th is a reasonable projection. With the addition of Gasol, who just wins (and, this just in, Gasol may have been the utmost factor why the Lakers won their championships), the Bulls are probably the safe pick to win the Eastern Conference.*
*The health of Derrick Rose pending
But I’m sticking with fourth.
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