1. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls looked like a legitimate title contender last season whenever Derrick Rose was on the floor. Rose’s severe ACL injury sidelined him for nearly half the season, leaving the Chicago offense stranded without their megastar. Over the summer, the Bulls didn’t feel the need to make any drastic changes, adding some point guard depth with the signings of Kirk Hinrich and Marcus Teague. The organization was mostly reserved during the offseason because it’s anxious to see how the team will do when all their starters are healthy. Let’s not forget: the Bulls were one of the most injury-riddled teams last season. Key players such as Loul Deng, Richard Hamilton and Joakim Noah all suffered injuries that also impacted their final outcome. Regardless, Chicago was a resilient team that’s recognized for their defensive presence thanks to their hard-nosed coach. They were tied at first for the best regular season record at 50-16 and should come back strong with a hungry Derrick Rose at the point.
2. Indiana Pacers
Indiana’s past season was capped off in the conference semifinals against the Miami Heat. Their impressive run proved to the league they’re not the same mediocre team they’ve been the last 5 years. They had a successful offseason just by resigning the 7’2” Roy Hibbert to solidify the paint. With Darren Collison gone, the Pacers have more freedom in the guard slots to use their athleticism. George Hill will presumbly take over the reigns at point guard, while Indiana hopes to continue growing their athletic talents in Danny Granger, Paul George and Gerald Green. Indy’s inside game is no cakewalk either– David West, Tyler Hansbrough and Hibbert should all do fine in their division.
3. Milwaukee Bucks
After making the mid-season trade splash for Monta Ellis, the Bucks became a streaky team that showed signs of flashy scoring through their backcourt. Milwaukee holds a hybrid mix of players, along with several fresh faces acquired during the offseason, such as rookies Doron Lamb and John Henson. The Bucks also tried to redeem their inside game after the loss of Bogut by signing Samuel Dalembert. Sammy D is in his 10th season and averaged 7.5 points and 7 boards last season for Houston. The Bucks are going to be relying heavily on their two backcourt stars, Ellis and Brandon Jennings. Both of these guys averaged atleast 19.5 points and 5.5 assists last season individually, look for these numbers to rise after some playing time together.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers are one of the youngest squads in the league that boasts talent all throughout their roster. Kyrie Irving is an obvious floor leader that’s just entering his second year after winning the Rookie-of-the-Year award last season. The Cavs are hoping to have a healthy Anderson Varejao at center this year– a 10-and-10 guy that fills up the lane. Cleveland also had a great draft this summer, picking up aspiring difference-makers such as Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller. Look for the Cavaliers to blossom behind their young speed and explosiveness.
5. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons are coming off a 25-41 finish to the past season. They’ve made some notable moves during the offseason and managed to grab some promising talent down low with Andre Dummond. Brandon Knight heads into his sophomore season and will share the handling with Rodney Stuckey, who averaged 14.8 points last season. Detroit is loaded with depth at the forward position this year, just reading all of these last names will have Lawrence Frank thinking all season long: Jerebko, Prince, Daye, Maggette, Villanueva, Singler. The Pistons will need second-year center, Greg Monroe to remain consistent after averaging 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds last season. Things are starting to look brighter during these rebuilding days the organization is undergoing.