Chicago Bulls: In the NBA’s most competitive division, Chicago should win and fill the void left by Lebron James’ departure from Cleveland. When Carlos Boozer returns from injury, he will team with Joakim Noah to make one of the best frontcourts in the league. Together, they will fight for every rebound and second-chance point. All-star point guard Derrick Rose is absolutely sublime on both ends, and a great season will put him in the MVP debate. The addition of Boozer, coupled with the continuing maturation of Rose and should-be all-star Noah, will make this team one of the best in the Eastern Conference.
Milwaukee Bucks: If All-NBA centre Andrew Bogut hadn’t mutilated his arm last year, the Bucks would have upset Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs. They play hard and fast, and they shoot well. This is mostly the same 46-win team that made the entire NBA “fear the deer,” and they’ll have a healthy Bogut. The Bucks are a team with a tremendously high ceiling. Still this team will battle hard under the leadership of blue collar coach Scott Skiles. The battle between 21-year old star point guard Brandon Jennings and the Bulls’ Rose will be one of the best storylines in the NBA. Behind Jennings, the Bucks will fight for the Central crown all year and should easily make the playoffs.
Indiana Pacers: Finishing .500 would be fantastic for the Pacers. They are counting on a myriad of unproven players to compliment all-star SF Danny Granger’s wicked two-way game. Mike Dunleavy and TJ Ford have never been reliable scorers, and colossal centre Roy Hibbert has yet to find his NBA game. They’ll miss Troy Murphy, whose varied game placed him in the top five of rebounding and three-point shooting. The addition of speedy sophomore point guard Darren Collison should finally solve this team’s longstanding deficiency at the one. Still, as it stands, the Pacers don’t have enough talent outside of Granger to make the playoffs.
Detroit Pistons: Rip Hamilton aside, Pistons players are either burned-out stars—Tracy McGrady, Ben Wallace—or prime time disappointments like Charlie Villanueva and Jason Maxiell. Hard team defence and timely shooting from Hamilton and Gordon will win some games, but in all likelihood, the Pistons will lose a lot of them by halftime. Teams without inside scoring rarely win, and it’s hard to get the whole team involved with a shoot-first point guard like Rodney Stuckey. Look for the Pistons to finish near the bottom of the conference despite solid contributions from role players Jonas Jerebko and Tayshaun Prince.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Everybody will be shocked if the Cleveland Cavaliers win 30 games this year. Every player on the team will have to adjust to a team-oriented style of basketball after having spent the last few seasons getting out of Lebron James’s way. Now Lebron’s gotten out of theirs, giving Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, and Anthony Parker room to play together. This should also provide the opportunity for JJ Hickson to shoulder the load and develop into a perennial all-star If talented coach Byron Scott can motivate them, the Cavs will win some games to prove that their previous success wasn’t all LeBron. One thing’s for sure: we get to find out if it was.