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NBA AM: Sleeping On Bulls Might Be A Mistake
Posted By Lang Greene On August 28, 2013 @ 7:17 am In NBA | No Comments
With the start of training camp roughly six weeks away you will soon be inundated with a plethora of season previews, predictions and detailed analysis.
The two-time defending champion Miami HEAT, led by the best player in the league in LeBron James are sure to receive plenty of love in the Eastern Conference. The emerging Indiana Pacers and the high payroll Brooklyn Nets are two other teams who will get their fair share of mainstream press. Out in the Western Conference, the narrative will largely center around the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs as the top dogs of the class.
But a team who will likely be absent at the top of most lists is a squad who may just be as dangerous as ever come playoff time in 2014.
The Chicago Bulls, who are coming off their fifth consecutive trip to the postseason, had a relatively quiet summer from a free agency and trade standpoint. The signed veteran forward Mike Dunleavy to a two-year deal, re-signed center Nazr Mohammed and parted ways with forward Richard Hamilton.
However, Chicago is set to receive the biggest organic boost in the league on opening night with the return of former league MVP Derrick Rose to action. The guard sat out the entire regular season and playoffs in 2013 after suffering a torn ACL in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs.
We live in a society where if you’re temporarily out of sight, you’re also likely to be completely out of mind but the Bulls have the necessary talent in place to hold of f the upstart Pacers and challenge the HEAT for Eastern Conference Supremacy.
The Bulls, led by Rose, finished with the league’s best record in 2011 and 2012. Last season with Rose sidelined, the team still managed to pull out 45 victories and advance to the second round of the playoffs.
While everything ultimately starts and ends with Rose in Chicago, the team features two All-Stars in Luol Deng and Joakim Noah flanked by his side, former All-Star forward Carlos Boozer experienced a bounce back season of sorts in 2012 and third year wing Jimmy Butler should also make a jump in production next season if his playoff performance this past spring is any indication.
The Bulls open the season on the road versus the HEAT, which will be a tough task in Rose’s return to action. Rose averaged 21.8 points and 7.9 assists in 39 appearances during the 2012 campaign.
Celtics’ Bradley’s Chance To Shine: The Boston Celtics have been a fixture amongst the league’s elite in recent years, but the 2014 campaign will likely breed a different final result. The team is seemingly at the beginning stages of a very lengthy rebuilding project. Gone are future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the team’s old head coach Doc Rivers is now gainfully employed by the Los Angeles Clippers and All-Star guard Rajon Rondo is on the shelf rehabbing a torn ACL.
Simply put, the Celtics will feature a team full of new faces on the roster next season with little familiarity. The team is even introducing a rookie head coach, Brad Stevens, into the fold to call the shots.
Guard Avery Bradley figures to play a larger role for the Celtics next season, provided he can remain healthy to maximize the opportunity. The third year pro missed 32 games last season after undergoing double shoulder surgery and admits his body broke down toward the end of this past campaign.
“I feel a lot better,” Bradley told Chris Forsberg of ESPN. “Toward the end of the season, my body was kind of breaking down on me. I was getting a little sick and stuff, so I wasn’t eating. But I feel a lot better now.”
Bradley says he’s used to offseason to get stronger and add bulk to his frame. The guard also says he’s changed his diet and now feels much stronger physically.
“I feel a lot stronger, sometimes even when I’m walking down the street in Boston, people will say, ‘You look a lot bigger now.’ And I laugh,” Bradley said. “I’ve been eating a lot different, I’ve been lifting every single day, I weigh the most I ever weighed — like 196, that’s a lot for me and I’m hoping I can stay like 188 throughout the season.”
Bradley feels Stevens is going to fit in quickly at the pro level and be an immediate asset to the Celtics next season.
“[The coaching staff is] amazing,” Bradley said. “It’s different after being with the same coaches for three years, it was hard for me. But our new coaching staff is amazing. Every single coach. I’m enjoying being around them every single day. I learn from them every single day.”
Bradley averaged a career-best 9.2 points per game in 2013 on 40 percent shooting. The former University of Texas standout is the second longest tenured Celtic on the roster, behind Rondo, as it stands today.
Flip Saunders Wants Rubio To Take Next Step Offensively: The Minnesota Timberwolves will enter the season with lofty expectations from its fan base and the first playoff appearance since the 2004 campaign within its grasp.
The ability of All-Star forward Kevin Love to stay healthy is likely going to be the biggest portion of the team’s success or failures in 2014. But another player who will be looked to make another significant step in growth is point guard Ricky Rubio.
According to newly hired president of basketball operations, Flip Saunders, Rubio absolutely must become a more assertive scorer. The guard averaged 10.7 points and 7.3 assists last season but shot just 36 percent from the floor while taking nine shot attempts per night.
“That’s his next step in the evolution of the point guard position,” Flip Saunders told KFAN 100.3. “Being a bigger scoring threat, being able to knock down shots, which will make the game much more easier for him.
“In order for him to get to the next level, that’s what he’s going to have to improve on. And he will improve on it. He will really work at it.”
The Timberwolves finished the season 31-51 last season but were decimated by a rash of injuries all throughout their roster last season.
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