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The Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division looks much different heading into the 2013-14 season. The New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets will be locked in a NYC battle for the division throne. We’ll also look at the rebuilding process for the Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers and the longtime Atlantic powerhouse Boston Celtics.
New York Knicks (54-28)
Big Apple basketball is sure to be loaded with stars and competitive games this season. Starting with the Knicks, New York will try to win their second straight Atlantic Division title. The main competition last year for the Knicks was the Boston Celtics. With Boston now set to begin a full on rebuild, the Knicks will have new company in the BK Nets.
Carmelo Anthony is the reigning scoring champ, and comes into preseason looking fit and ready to avenge a second round loss to the Indiana Pacers. Melo is going to need more help this time around for that to be a true possibility. The league’s 6th man of the Year in 12-13, J.R. Smith, will begin the season sidelined with knee problems. Smith is a huge part of the team, so extra offensive help from anyone will be mega valuable.
The Knicks most likely won’t be able to depend much on Amar’e Stoudemire and his troubled knee issues. Enter in players like 2013 24th pick Tim Hardaway Jr. and newly acquired stretch big man Andrea Bargnani. X-factor players like the previously mentioned will be key, but just as important will be the veteran contributions from first time Knick Metta World Peace and defensive captain mainstay Tyson Chandler. Anything less than a conference finals appearance for this squad will be a disappointment.
Brooklyn Nets (49-33)
Every situation in life can be more fun with a wild card. Say hello to the 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets. Mikhail Prokhorov has spent yet even more dough than last season, but with title contention hopes this time around. The Nets made a large splash by acquiring the star veteran trio of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry. It must be mentioned that all three former Celtics are former NBA champions. Combine the new Nets with the current Nets on roster from last season, and the sky is the limit for the older, yet still capable of anything club.
Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are two of the top players at their positions, and Joe Johnson, while extremely overpaid, is one of the first people that comes to mind when it comes to clutch shooting late in games. All these factors make BK the most experienced team in the league for better or for worse.
The biggest question mark for this team lies with first year head coach Jason Kidd. J-Kidd is one of the greatest point guards of all time, and was an outstanding leader while still playing, but if that translates to the bench is anyone’s guess. The first time head coach will have a much deeper bench than P.J.Carlesimo had last season, with the additions of Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry to go with big men subs Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans. One things is for certain, Brooklyn has their sites set on much loftier goals than just the Nets first division title since the 2005-06 season.
Boston Celtics (41-40)
The Big Three era in Boston finally came to a conclusion last season. After Rajon Rondo was lost for the year from an ACL injury, Danny Ainge blew things up this past offseason. A smart move without question as Boston’s championship window has now closed. Boston has been a powerhouse since the Big Three assembled in 2007, but so much has changed in a year that expectations are the lowest they have been since 2006.
The star players are gone besides a recovering Rondo, but the other major difference for Bean Town is a new head coach. Ainge and the Celtics front office surprised many when they hired former Butler college coach Brad Stevens. Doc Rivers decided he wasn’t ready to go through another rebuilding process and will coach the Los Angeles Clippers next season. It will be interesting to see if the youngest coach in the NBA (36 years old), Stevens, can bring some of his coaching magic to the NBA like he did in the NCAA with the Butler Bulldogs. Rajon Rondo has already called Coach Stevens a “best friend”.
The Celtics will look to stay competitive once Rondo takes the floor again after rehab. Until then, Boston will struggle mightily with unimpressive veterans like Gerald Wallace and Keith Bogans and mostly unproven young players like Jared Sullinger and rookie Kelly Olynyk. Jeff Green and Avery Bradley will be the leaders for a team going through major changes until perennial all-star Rondo feels healthy enough to return to the throne of the Boston offense.
Toronto Raptors (34-48)
Could Canadian rapper Drake becoming the Raptors’ official team ambassador be the biggest off-season news this summer for Canada’s NBA team? While that move helps Toronto to get the Raptors’ name on the map some more, the biggest off-season move for the Raps was hiring reigning Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri, formerly of the Denver Nuggets. Ujiri will come in and try to build the culture and quality of the team in a manner stressing patience more than anything else. The new GM has some young talented players to sift through to see who stays long term.
Toronto made two moves last year to aqcuire point guard Kyle Lowry and small forward Rudy Gay. Both players bring plenty to the team while not quite being at all-star levels. While Lowry and Gay are proven commodities to a certain extent, two younger Raptors will be in the spotlight this season. Uber-athletic DeMar DeRozan enters a pivotal make or break season. Toronto will wait to see if Derozan is ready to make another jump in his development, or if he will always be the athletic player with loads of potential but unable to tap into it fully.
The main reason for excitement north of the border lies within the rising star power of Jonas Valanciunas. Jonas is a former first round fifth pick from two years ago, who months ago captured the MVP of the Las Vegas summer league. If the twenty-year-old Lithuanian center can turn into a franchise player, the Raptors somewhat gloomy rebuilding process will get a much needed jolt of positivity. Toronto looks to finally move on from failed former number one pick Andrea Bargnani and start a new chapter in the franchise.
Philadelphia 76ers (34-48)
The year of the tank in Philly is coming. 76ers decision makers decided it was time to go all in, or shall we say all out? The immediate future is cloudy in Philly but the future looks to be much brighter after this upcoming season concludes and the 76‘ers enter the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes.
Gone from last season are head Coach Doug Collins and all-star point guard Jrue Holiday. Brett Brown takes over the coaching reigns with almost zero expectations. With a roster of mostly young inexperienced players, Brown’s key focus will be bringing along rookies Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams. Former Kentucky big man Noel should provide growing pains but could provide the key to the defense for Philly for a long time with his undeniable defensive potential. Nerlens panning out to be a big time player is imperative for the 76ers. Also acquired in the draft night deal sending Holiday to the Pelicans was another 2014 first round draft pick to go along with the other first rounder they already had.
The most important thing for Philly this year will be stacking up the losses. With Holiday and Bynum both gone, that goal should be fairly easy to attain. The biggest question mark will be former number two pick Evan Turner. After a mostly promising rookie season, Turner has been stuck in the mud. Philly will most likely learn this season if Turner can become the player they thought they had in the 2010 draft, or if the word bust will be linked to his name forever.
The 76ers leadership will be divided between Turner, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes, and the not-much-left-in-the-tank Jason Richardson. The league’s worst record will be at the forefront of Philly’s focus, whether anyone wants to admit it or not. Cheers to a season already lost.
Projected Division Winner: Brooklyn Nets (51-31)
Division MVP: Carmelo Anthony
The NBA’s Central Division is improving quickly, so don’t look away. From the Indiana Pacers pushing the Miami Heat to seven games, the “Return” of Derrick Rose, and the rise of “Uncle Drew” and the Cleveland Cavaliers, this will be a competitive division without question.
Indiana Pacers (49-32)
Last season Indy found themselves one game away from their first finals berth since the 1999-2000 season. Reggie Miller is the last true superstar the franchise had, but the Pacers appear to have a new budding superstar in Paul George.
After a year hiatus from injury, long time Pacer and former all-star Danny Granger is back and working to round into shape. Pair that with all-star caliber big men Roy Hibbert and David West, and Indianapolis has a lot of star power. Indy also happens to rank near the top or at the top in all the major defensive categories.
The key weakness for the Pacers last year was undoubtedly their bench unit. With money to spend, the reserve unit heading into the 2013-14 season looks to be completely retooled. Insert Luis Scola and Chris Copeland to the team and the Pacers are deep.
Though the team figures to make improvements and win 50 plus games this year, a second straight Central Division title is no longer a given like the previous season. Look for this team to be a true title contender coming out of the East regardless of the competition.
Chicago Bulls (45-37)
He’s baaaacccckkkk. That’s where this story begins and ends. The Bulls can only go as far as Derrick Rose can take them. With a few preseason games under his belt, Rose looks like he still has his athleticism and explosion but not to be forgotten, plenty of rust too. The rest of the core of Chicago will look to stay fresh throughout the year to avoid the costly injuries that have plagued this club for the last three seasons.
Joakim Noah made his first all-star team and was a first team all-defensive member, while Luol Deng made his second straight ASG. The starter-reserve combo of Boozer and Gibson will supply a sturdy mix of offense and defense, with Gibson especially primed to take on a bigger role.
The keys for the season will be new starting shooting guard Jimmy Butler and how much of a jump he can make in his third pro season. The bench of the Bulls will be vital as well. Oft-injured Kirk Hinrich is a leader of the team and a key reserve at both guard spots.
Offseason acquisition Mike Dunleavy Jr. could end up being a bigger signing than it appears on the surface if he can hit the three ball at a high percentage and play multiple positions as a super sub. The Bulls are ready to take back their Central Division crown and re-enter the title contender conversation.
Cleveland Cavaliers (24-58)
The Cavs look to make major strides in 2013-14 after another tough losing season in the post-LeBron James era. Much like Chicago and Derrick Rose, Cleveland leans heavily on superstar point guard Kyrie Irving. “Uncle Drew” is unquestionably becoming one of the best point guards in the L, and furthermore, one of the best players in the league regardless of position. The biggest question mark for Irving continues to be health. Kyrie has only played in 51 and 59 games respectively the last two seasons.
Cleveland also found some lottery luck (again), when they landed the 1st pick in the 2013 draft. The Cavaliers selected small forward-power forward hybrid Anthony Bennett from UNLV. Fan favorite Anderson Varejao is set to return from a season lost to injury, and will be a major key to the Cavs season.
Free agent acquisition Jarrett Jack from Golden State may be the difference in this team missing or making the playoffs. Dion Waiters must show dedication and drive to reach his potential, which is not always a given with his questionable work ethic. Cleveland aims to miss the lottery this year for certain.
Detroit Pistons (29-53)
Joe Dumars yet again in his career in the front office for the Pistons has made some bold moves. The two major signings for Detroit this past off season were point guard Brandon Jennings and combo forward Josh Smith. While neither player has made an all-star team, they are certainly all-star level players on most nights. J-Smoove looks to take over as a leader instantly for a young Pistons team trying to find their way.
While Jennings and Smith may put up the big stat lines in Detroit, all eyes will be on the tantalizing potential of Andre Drummond. The 6’10” second year stud from UCONN caught most by surprise in his rookie season last year.
Drummond’s season was derailed a bit by injury, but when he was on the floor he looked like a future centerpiece to a championship level team. If power forward Greg Monroe can continue his steady improvement, the big men for the Pistons can inch this team closer to a playoff spot. Detroit will be a lot more fun to watch this season without a doubt.
Milwaukee Bucks (38-44)
The Eastern Conference’s eight seed from a year ago will have an uphill battle to match the previous year’s success. Gone from the squad are Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, the faces of the franchise the past few seasons. The undersized combo guard experiment was a failure and Bucks ownership decided it was time to move on. The Bucks have a young core assembled that looks to compete right away but also may endure a series of growing pains.
Larry Sanders is the new face of the franchise. Sanders catapulted himself from reserve bench player to the league leader in blocks and a double double threat at the center position. Brandon Knight comes over from the Pistons in the Jennings trade, and looks to grow with little chance of anyone taking his starting spot in Milwaukee. The big signing for the Bucks was O.J. Mayo.
The former Maverick will look to step in and be the go to scorer immediately and has a chance to become a twenty point scorer for an offense lacking firepower. Milwaukee looks for power forward John Henson to take a big step forward as a starter oozing with potential. It will be interesting to see if the Bucks move the uniquely talented Ersan Ilyasova, or find a way to give him consistent minutes in a consistent role. One thing is for sure, the Bucks wish they could go back on the Tobias Harris for J.J. Redick deal.
Projected Division Winner: Chicago Bulls 57-25
Division MVP: Derrick Rose
Sean and I are back with Episode #5 of The Bulls vs. Blazers Podcast talking the Russell Westbrook injury and the potential impact on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s NBA title hopes, a look at the proposed change to the NBA Finals format, Danny Ainge stating there’s no impact player in the upcoming draft, some thoughts on the Brooklyn Nets, stat of the week and much more!
We also delve into the official Bulls vs. Blazers Podcast Fantasy Basketball league which you can join right now at http://basketball.fantasysports.yahoo.com/nba/47333/invitation?key=4f06d9247cbae8f0
Don’t forget to rate, review and subscribe to the BvB podcast on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/bulls-vs.-blazers-podcast/id696870996
The Chicago Bulls have been searching for a long term shooting guard since Michael Jordan’s second retirement in 1998. Once upon a time, it seemed like the answers to Bulls fans shooting guard prayers were answered with the arrival of Ben Gordon in the 2004-2005 season. Ben Gordon was the 6th Man of the Year in his rookie season and twice eclipsed an average of twenty points per game in his five years with the Bulls. Eventually, the Detroit Pistons offered more money than the Bulls were willing to hand out and BG ran to the dough.
Following Gordon’s departure from the Windy City, the Bulls were back to searching for a long term solution at the two spot. First it was journeyman Keith Bogans who had an opportunity. While Bogans worked hard and was always a professional and a solid teammate, his points per game average in the 2010-2011 season boiled down to a measly 4.4 while playing just 17.1 minutes per game as a starter. Interestingly enough, when Bogans managed six plus points in a game that season, the Bulls were almost unbeatable.
In that same period, Chicago also gave Ronnie Brewer a chance. Ronnie had an awkward shooting form due to an arm injury he suffered as a kid, leaving him with little consistent shooting ability. Brewer’s defense was excellent and intense, but his shortcomings offensively weren’t enough for him to stick with the Bulls long term despite also being a hard worker and dependable teammate.
Fast forward to the 2011 NBA draft and the Bulls had the 30th pick after finishing the previous season with 62 wins and the top record in the entire league. The casual fan may look past such a late first round pick, but the decision makers for a professional basketball team must look deep into the prospect pool to attempt to draft a game changer.
The Bulls opted for a lesser known prospect, Jimmy Butler, a senior from Marquette University. While the draft pick at the time lacked much fanfare, the background story of Butler’s life was certainly one to behold. Jimmy’s father abandoned him as an infant. At the age of thirteen, Jimmy was kicked out of his house in Tomball, Texas by his mother. Butler then bounced around from friends house to friends house until meeting Jordan Leslie, a freshmen basketball and football player at his school. From there, Leslie’s family consisting of 5 brothers and sister and his mother (Michelle Lambert) and stepfather, took in Jimmy after hearing and understanding his circumstances. To this day, Michelle Lambert is the woman Butler calls mother and he couldn’t be prouder of it.
Jimmy’s first year with Chicago was a quiet one. Stepping into a team that was a contender and had a full rotation forced Jimmy to learn through practice and sitting on the bench observing during games. Jimmy rarely saw the court and finished with an average of 8.5 minutes per game.
Entering the 2012-2013 season, the Bulls franchise was in a much different place than the previous two seasons. The franchise’s superstar and former NBA MVP, Derrick Rose, was out with a torn ACL. Making things even more difficult that season were continuous injuries to core players such as Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, and Joakim Noah. The Bulls vaunted bench mob had been reassembled as well. All those factors gave Jimmy Butler playing time and opportunity. With a quiet yet determined demeanor, Butler quickly showed Coach Tom Thibodeau that he could handle playing forty plus minutes any given night while also guarding the best player on the other team.
Butler’s regular season averages jumped up a little bit from his rookie season, but he was still learning his place with the Bulls. After it became more clearer that no one would see Derrick Rose play in a Bulls uniform last season, the Bulls had to pull together quickly. The veteran leaders of the team in Noah, Boozer, Deng, and Hinrich stepped up without a doubt. However, an X factor was needed, and Jimmy Butler stepped up to that challenge.
The Bulls faced off against the Brooklyn Nets, a team led by Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. Many believed the absence of Rose was too much too overcome. The skeptics were almost right, almost. Jimmy Butler elevated his game to another level. Joakim Noah had a historic game 7 and the Bulls advanced to the second round.
A date with the reigning champ Miami Heat was in order. Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng both would miss the entire series with injuries suffered from the first round matchup with the Nets. With longest tenured Bull, Luol Deng missing the series, Jimmy Butler was called on to guard LeBron James the entire series. The world finally took notice of the man Bulls fans have come to know as Jimmy “Buckets”. Butler played all 48 minutes in game 1 guarding LeBron James for 44 minutes. Jimmy’s defense forced LeBron into bad shots and also a -15 night for King James as the Bulls stole game 1 in Miami. Butler finished game 1 with 21 points and 14 rebounds to LeBron’s 24 points and 8 rebounds on 8-17 shooting, well below his season FG% average.
The Bulls would go on to lose 4 in a row much like in 2011, however Mr. Buckets managed two impressive feats. He held King James to only 23.6 ppg on .437% from the field in the 5 game series. From observing the series, even the casual fan could see LeBron James was never in his comfort zone against the non-stop tenacious defense Butler displayed. On top of his All-NBA like defense on James, Butler averaged 13.3 ppg/5.2 rpg/2.7 apg/1.3 spg while shooting over 40% from the three point line.
Looking ahead to the 2013-2014 season, Bulls fans and NBA fans a like all await the insanely anticipated “Return” of Derrick Rose. While that storyline definitely dominates the headlines, and while Rose is unquestionably the leader and best player for Chicago, the true X factor to the season lies within a humble 24 year old who is ready to take his game to another level and establish himself as the long term two guard in the Windy City.
With a brand new opportunity to play in a lineup with Rose, Deng, Boozer, and Noah, Butler now has 4 all-star level players surrounding him. He won’t be asked to do as much as last season in terms of minutes with Hinrich and Dunleavy as solid subs, but he will still have to be ready to guard the best wing defenders on the other team as well as knock down open three point shots when Derrick Rose sees the inevitable double and even triple teams. Coach Thibodeau has already begun raving about Butler in training camp this past week, citing more muscle and an even smoother looking outside jump shot to go with great athleticism and endurance.
Many occasions Jimmy “Buckets” could have given up due to circumstances, or had a reason to not reach his potential on and especially off the court. There is something special to this kid, and the Bulls front office somehow saw that when 29 other teams didn’t. The Bulls believe he might end up being the missing piece to a starting lineup that was once just three wins away from an NBA finals berth 3 seasons ago. “The Return” will be all the hype, but silently and patiently Jimmy Butler is waiting for his return to the court to help bring a seventh NBA championship banner to the United Center.Read More
So, wow… we finally got our first taste of NBA 2k14 on next-gen (PS4 and Xbox One) consoles and if this video is any indication, this is going to be an incredible step in the basketball video game world.
It’s still just a trailer and we won’t know the full scope of next-gen capabilities until we see actual gameplay and get an idea of the features included but holy crap look at how detailed and perfect James Harden looks.
I didn’t notice this the first time I watched the video but LeBron at the beginning cuts (almost seamlessly) between real-life LeBron and NBA 2k14′s next-gen LeBron. Incredible.
Those saying it’s only 5 seconds of gameplay footage, you may be missing a bit. Hint: LeBron. Look closer- http://t.co/kcDcxWw330
— Ronnie 2K 2K14 (@Ronnie2K) September 30, 2013
Sean and I are back with a new episode of The Bulls vs. Blazers Podcast and as we draw ever so close to the beginning of the NBA preseason the excitement is growing by the day. On today’s show we discuss the Kevin Durant/Dwyane Wade beef, give our thoughts on nicknames on NBA jerseys, rank our Top 10 NBA players and the stat of the week looking at the true value of DeMarcus Cousins (via WagesofWins.com).
Great show as always so be sure to check it out and look for details on our upcoming fantasy basketball league!
After a week away from the game, Sean and I are back with Episode 3 talking Paul George extension, Andre Iguodala predictions, the insane Chris Andersen story, Tristan Thompson switching his shooting hand, our expectations of NBA 2k14, Stat of the Week and much more!
Chris Andersen details: http://www.latimes.com/sports/sportsnow/la-sp-sn-chris-andersen-birdman-20130919,0,4290929.story