The Chicago Bulls have racked up the most wins in the NBA the past two seasons. They've been the No. 1 seed two years in a row in the Eastern Conference. Now, given the uncertain status of Derrick Rose and the ongoing injury concerns of Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who believes the Bulls can achieve the same kind of success this season.
I picked them to win 50 games and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy wondered if I had fallen on my head. The point is that without a healthy Rose in play, and with so much uncertainty surrounding the rest of the roster, the Bulls have gone from being one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference to being one of its biggest question marks.
While the rest of the teams near the top of the conference have improved, the Bulls have seemingly stood in place, angering fans in the process by not wanting to go deep into the luxury tax. While nobody knows exactly where the Bulls will fall, it's clear that the gulf between the Miami Heat and everybody else in the Eastern Conference is bigger, at least on paper, than it's been in two years.
To that point, let's take a look some of the teams the Bulls will be contending with and what they have done to improve themselves in the past few months, especially now that the Dwight Howard deal has finally gone down:
Miami: The clear cut favorite in the East. Veteran sharpshooter Ray Allen took a pay cut to play with LeBron James. They added another shooter in Rashard Lewis for the veteran's minimum to go along with a core of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Yeah, they're pretty good.
Boston Celtics: Allen left, but they still have Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. They also added Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and rookie Jared Sullinger. With Doc Rivers running the show, they'll always have a chance to contend.
Indiana Pacers: They still have Danny Granger, locked Roy Hibbert up to a max deal, and have George Hill and Paul George which helps form a solid young core. They added D.J. Augustin and will get better from their playoff experience last season.
Philadelphia 76ers: Andrew Bynum, acquired in the Howard trade, gives them one of the best young centers in the league. They lost Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams, though. Aside from Bynum and Jrue Holiday, where is the offense going to come from? Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner are nice pieces, but I believe they need to do more work before they elevate to the step below Miami.
Brooklyn Nets: The Nets had a solid summer adding Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace while locking up Deron Williams and Brook Lopez to max deals. The Nets have a solid team moving into Brooklyn, but they were banking on getting Howard. Now that he won't be there, they look like they have flipped roles with Atlanta as the team that will be knocked out of the second round for years to come.
New York Knicks: Yes, they added Jason Kidd to a roster which already included Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire, but the Knicks looked lost for most of the season and just don't seem to fit together. They lost Jeremy Lin and Mike Woodson is now charged with meshing everything together with a 39-year-old point guard leading the way. Good luck.
Atlanta Hawks: The fact that the Hawks got rid of Johnson's contract is a victory all by itself. New GM Danny Ferry still has Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Jeff Teague -- plus a lot of potential cap space in the future -- but they aren't going to be all that great this season.
The Bulls are in a precarious position heading into next season, but they aren't unlike the rest of the teams in the Eastern Conference assuming, of course, that LeBron and the rest of his teammates stay healthy. They're all playing for second place. Only time will tell just who that second team will be.