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The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (4 of 7)

10.26.10 at 11:04 am ET
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NBA fans live a team’s ups and downs. They react to every draft pick, trade and free-agent signing. They debate the merits of the 15th man. They find significance in the most insignificant stats. They simply KNOW their team. So, too, do bloggers. That’s why we sought the opinion of the league’s best blogs — one for each of the 30 teams — to break down the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics.

We’ll move to the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division with the fourth of a seven-part  series (Check out the Western Conference in Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) …

Chicago Bulls
CHICAGO BULLS
by Doug Thonus, Chicago Bulls Confidential

Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer, from left, pose for a photograph during the NBA basketball team's media day Monday, Sept. 27, 2010, in Deerfield, Ill.

Carlos Boozer's injury has disrupted the Bulls' ability to jell before the season begins. (AP)

ON THE BULLS: The Chicago Bulls are a team with a lot of strengths, but the early injury to Carlos Boozer has hurt their odds of building up continuity this season.

Much like the Celtics, they carry considerable injury risk going forward. Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Boozer, Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer all have injury risk on top of that of a normal player, while Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson and Keith Bogans are also struggling with various minor injuries in preseason.

A healthy Bulls team would have a puncher’s chance at any team in the East if they jelled well and played to their full potential. But a Bulls team that can’t get on the floor together to build continuity is closer to Atlanta and Milwaukee than to Boston, Orlando or Miami.

The big question mark will be how much of an upgrade Tom Thibodeau is from Vinny Del Negro. The Bulls’ schemes have given fans a reason to be hopeful, and if Thibodeau can get more out of the talent than Del Negro the roster might have more upside than a cursory glance would indicate.

Given the injuries and unknowns, a realistic upside for the Bulls is an Eastern Conference Finals loss to Miami, while a realistic downside is a first-round exit to one of the Big 3.

I’d place the Bulls fourth in the conference with my expectations set at a second-round exit at the hands of Miami, Boston or Orlando after a hard-fought, first-round victory against Atlanta or Milwaukee.

ON THE CELTICS: The Boston Celtics strike me as a team that should play well this season and have another excellent postseason.

There is some legitimate fear that the wheels could fall off the bus at any given point, given that the vast majority of key players are at the age where injuries increase and performance can rapidly spiral downward.

However, the team is excellently coached and has tremendous depth, continuity and experience. Their upside, if all goes well, is NBA Champion. They were a Kendrick Perkins ACL away from likely winning the chip last season, and they’re the one team that has a shot to give Miami fits in the Eastern Conference.

Their downside is as a fifth seed that gets bounced early in the playoffs if they struggle to integrate new personalities, can’t find solid rotations once Perkins is back or struggle with age and injuries.

I’d place the Celtics third in the East in the regular season, but I think they’ll top Orlando in the second round. I’d place my expectations at an Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Miami Heat in a tough series.

Cleveland Cavaliers
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
by Andrew Schnitkey, Waiting for Next Year

Cleveland cavaliers coach Byron Scott yells from courtside during the first half of the NBA preseason basketball game on the University of Pittsburgh campus, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010, in Pittsburgh. The Cavaliers won 106-80.

Byron Scott leads the Cavaliers in the wake of LeBron James' departure. (AP)

ON THE CAVALIERS: The Cavaliers are indeed going through a transition phase, but transition may be the name of the game for this team.

Under new head coach Byron Scott, the team wants to get out and run in transition and use a new motion offense to try to implement a team-oriented approach. This is obviously a shock to the system after years of watching LeBron James dominate the ball himself and stand around dribbling.

The Cavaliers have looked good so far in the preseason, relying on the new youth movement with guys like J.J. Hickson, Daniel Gibson and Ramon Sessions showing a lot of improvement.

The team has heard all offseason how they are nothing now that LeBron is gone, but most of these players know nothing but winning. There is still a winning mentality on this team, and they are already playing with a chip on their shoulders as they look to prove doubters wrong.

This is a team that will be better conditioned than most teams and will not be outworked by many teams.

Having said that, there are still some major issues. A lack of true center will be a major problem for this team, as will be the potential defensive setback the team faces from losing a lockdown wing defender like LeBron.

Above all else, though, there’s no true go-to guy here. That will cost this team many games in the fourth quarter’s waning minutes.

This will be a gritty team that will play hard and make things tough, but ultimately there’s no replacing a LeBron James in one season. I predict a record of 31-51.

ON THE CELTICS: Well, obviously, I saw firsthand what Shaquille O’Neal brought to the Cavaliers last season. It wasn’t pretty, and he often complicated things as the team struggled to adapt to his presence.

In fact, the Cavaliers actually seemed to play better without Shaq when Anderson Varejao could slide to the 5 and Hickson could play the 4. So, I’m not optimistic about what Shaq has left to offer the Celtics this season.

Having said that, I still expect the Celtics to be one of the top three contenders in the East this season. The Big 3 plus Rondo is an effective core, and adding Delonte West should prove to be a nice boost to the team’s depth.

Much like last season, I expect to see the Celtics more or less coast through much of the regular season and then really turn it on in the postseason.

The Eastern Conference is stronger, but I don’t see anyone in the Atlantic threatening the C’s alpha-dog status there. I project a record of 52-30 and another division title. And I expect the Celtics to be the Heat’s toughest out in the playoffs.

Detroit Pistons
DETROIT PISTONS
by Brian Packey, Detroit Bad Boys

Detroit Pistons' Jonas Jerebko, right, of Sweden, drives past Atlanta Hawks' Jamal Crawford, left, in the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 7, 2010, in Auburn Hills, Mich. The Pistons defeated the Hawks 90-88.

Pistons fans can only hope the injury to Jonas Jerebko doesn't signal deja vu. (AP)

ON THE PISTONS: After a year full of sprained ankles and utter disappointment, the Pistons have a clean slate heading into the new season.

While there isn’t a completely clean bill of health after the Jonas Jerebko injury, the Pistons are much healthier and claim to be very determined to prove their doubters wrong in 2010-11.

Unfortunately, while less injuries and DETermination should lead to more wins, it won’t be enough to put the Pistons back into the playoffs. Record: 36-46.

ON THE CELTICS: With everyone talking about the Heat this year, it might be easy to forget about the Celtics again (similar to how the Magic stole their spotlight last year with their 2009 Finals run).

But, similar to how they surprised teams in the 2010 playoffs, the Celtics are as for real as they were in 2008. The additions of both O’Neals should boost their defensive presence inside and even open things up a little on the offensive side for their own Big 3.

If they can stay relatively healthy, I’d say they’re a lock for 55 wins this season. 

Indiana Pacers
INDIANA PACERS
by Jared Wade, Eight Points, Nine Seconds

Indiana Pacers' Danny Granger, left, Darren Collison, middle, and Roy Hibbert pose for a photo during the basketball team's media day in Indianapolis, Monday, Sept. 27, 2010.

The addition of Darren Collison (center) gives the Pacers a Not-So-Big 3. (AP)

ON THE PACERS: To most NBA onlookers, it will not be a remarkably different season in Indiana than the past few. But for Pacers fans, there will be at least one key difference: Hope.

With the acquisition of Darren Collison, the continued — and perhaps vast — improvement of Roy Hibbert and the expected rock-solid production of Danny Granger, the team should for the first time in a half-decade have a true foundation.

This foundation is not earth-shattering. No one will be calling them The Big 3. But it is an actual nucleus, and a lot of people smarter than me think that Paul George, the team’s first-round pick No. 10 overall), should already be included in talks of a more promising future.

Tyler Hansbrough and Josh McRoberts, to a lesser degree, are expected to show some people that they can be valuable rotation players in this league as well.

On top of all that, the team has a bevy of expiring contracts to use as trade assets if they so desire. Some $30 million will be coming off the books next summer, and since so many GMs/owners will likely be looking to clean their salary caps up before the looming CBA negotiations/probable lockout, Larry Bird should have plenty of opportunities to get some quality players back for any of Mike Dunleavy ($10.5 million), T.J. Ford ($8.5 million) or Jeff Foster ($6.7 million).

I expect the front office to flip about half of its expiring contracts (they also have the Jamaal Tinsley buyout, worth around $5.5 million, “expiring” come June) for some mid-tier players they want (think the Kevin Martin deal last year). Then they’ll let the rest expire. Come summer, that will let them fill some more holes through free agency.

No, they won’t be getting an Amar’e Stoudemire, a Chris Bosh or a Carmelo Anthony — but they’ll have a direction by the time this season ends. That will feel like something new to fans.

And if they can somehow play well enough to score a seventh or eighth seed and get into the playoffs this year, well, Pacers fans can truly consider this the beginning of a new era for a franchise that needs nothing more desperately than to begin a new era.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics should make the Eastern Conference Finals in their sleep. Until we see just how good the Heat are, it’s tough to call anything more than that.

And if Miami is as dominant as I think they’ll be, the Celtics might just be too old, but if Eric Spoelstra‘s boys don’t jell completely, there’s no reason that Boston can’t win the whole thing.

The depth on this roster is somewhat absurd. Obviously, a lot of people aren’t expecting much out of the law firm of O’Neal & O’Neal, but they’re two big bodies that will make a difference and take a ton of defensive pressure off of Kevin Garnett and Perkins.

You certainly don’t want to rely on Jermaine O’Neal to score in the post at this point, but he still alters shots, swats weak attempts and takes charges at a high level.

The Delonte West acquisition was huge. Even with Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels, the team lacked some ballhandling ability outside of Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce last year. He gives them a guy off the bench who can go off for 20, just be a spot-up shooter or even initiate the offense. Plus he guards people.

Nate has his strengths (namely energy and hustle), but he can’t do all that. That will make this team more dynamic — presuming, ya know, he keeps his head on straight.

With Ray Allen, Paul and KG all one year older, the bench is going to be key. They need consistency out of the reserves, and if Doc Rivers can figure out how to keep all these bodies happy — something I’m sure he will, like he did last year by keeping Nate ready to go even while glued to the bench — there’s no reason, other than a possibly unstoppable Heat juggernaut, that they can’t bring home Banner 18.

Milwaukee Bucks
MILWAUKEE BUCKS
by Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball

Milwaukee Bucks power forward Drew Gooden drives past Charlotte Bobcats DeSagana Diop during the first quarter of an NBA preseason basketball game Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010, in Green Bay, Wis.

The addition of Drew Gooden gives the Bucks some much-needed depth up front. (AP)

ON THE BUCKS: Milwaukee — with its eager, younger players and overlooked veteran additions — likely has its sights set on the Celtics.

The two teams had a few memorable moments last year and could have had something special in the playoffs had things worked out on the last day of the season.

Milwaukee stocked up themselves this offseason, signing Drew Gooden just after adding Corey Maggette for Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell.

Milwaukee focused on keep their core players from last season while looking to address their main weaknesses this offseason, namely free-throw shooting and power forward size and depth.

The Bucks seemed to have succeeded on both accounts and will very likely be in the hunt for the Central Divison crown. If they capture it, they still may have a hard time surpassing the Celtics’ win total.

A top-four finish doesn’t seem out of the question for the Bucks, and at the very least a playoff spot seems certain.

ON THE CELTICS: Last year, the Celtics seemed prime to fade into the sunset of NBA teams who once were contenders. This year, they seem to have reloaded and added considerable depth to counter their considerable age.

Everyone is talking about the O’Neal’s, Shaquille and Jermaine, but let us not forget that the Celtics quietly, and wisely, picking up Delonte West this offseason.

After trotting out Nate Robinson, Eddie House and at times even Tony Allen as a backup point guard last season, the Celtics definitely needed to address their backup point guard position this past summer. West’s steady hand (I can’t believe I just wrote that and meant it) could be very useful when Rondo is out of the game.

The added bulk up front helps, too, especially if the new technical rules lead to numbers quickly adding up for KG and Perkins. The Celtics have added new blood and appear to be in as good a shape as any of the teams in the East that don’t play in Miami.

Another division title and top-four seed likely awaits the Celtics at year’s end.

Stay tuned for Part 5 of this seven-part series: the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division.

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