In just a few weeks, we will see LeBron James in his wine and gold number 23 jersey for the first time in four years. We will see the return of Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose; both will be back on the floor, after suffering leg injuries causing them to miss the majority of last season.
Derrick Fisher will make his coaching debut. The league will miss Paul George, who is still recovering from the broken leg he suffered during the FIBA World Cup and is expected to miss the entire 2014-2015 NBA season.
With James leaving the big three in Miami and teaming up with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in Cleveland, the NBA is bound to look different for the first time in four years. The Western Conference did not change for the most part.
The playoff picture will look similar, although last year taught everyone not to sleep on the Spurs. However, the Oklahoma City Thunder will not lose their number one spot in the West this season.
This is how I think the West will look come playoff time:
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
2. L.A. Clippers
3. San Antonio Spurs
4. Portland Trailblazers
5. Houston Rockets
6. Golden State Warriors
7. Memphis Grizzles
8. Dallas Mavericks
As a surprise team in the West, I like the New Orleans Pelicans as a potential playoff team, and they have the talent to do it. The performances of Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans are key. With Jrue Holiday back from injury and Anthony Davis’ potential starting to blossom, I can see NOLA making it close to an eight seed.
For the first time in four years, the Eastern Conference is up for grabs. Never has a team gone from having the number one pick in the draft one season to instant championship contender the following year. That is what happened in Cleveland, thanks to James returning and the addition of Kevin Love to go along with All-Star Kyrie Irving.
I think the East will look like this come playoff time.
1. Cleveland Cavilers
2. Chicago Bulls
3. Washington Wizards
4. Toronto Raptors
5. Miami Heat
6. Brooklyn Nets
7. New York Knicks
8. Atlanta Hawks
The Miami Heat have had to make the biggest adjustment this offseason because life without LeBron James will be incredibly difficult for the Heat. The duo of Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade should be enough to keep Miami relevant in the playoff discussion, but that is assuming Wade stays healthy. The future Hall of Fame shooting guard appeared in only 54 games last season, and even with that maintenance program, as the Heat called it, he visibly regressed at the end of Miami’s playoff run.
Personally, I think Wade has enough in the tank to be a productive player, but without LeBron to take the attention away, his physical and shooting limitations will be magnified, leaving a slightly inferior player to what we expect.
Miami’s big move this offseason was the addition of Luol Deng. Deng is likely overpaid at this point, simply because he isn’t a dynamic offensive option and his body has what seems like a million miles on it. But in year one, it is reasonable to expect near All-Star production from Deng, and the Heat will need it.
The Cavaliers’ biggest contenders for the Eastern Conference title are the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls were very busy in the offseason, but their biggest addition will be a healthy Derrick Rose. The former MVP appeared to be rusty during his time with USA Basketball at the FIBA World Cup, but Rose emerged from a long basketball schedule healthy, and that is encouraging.
It is easy to forget just how explosive and efficient he was at his pre-injury peak, and even 90 percent of Rose would be a game-changer for an otherwise impotent offense and the landscape of the east.
In addition to Rose, Chicago added Pau Gasol to the fold, and alongside the veteran, the Bulls have two high-profile rookies in Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott. Mirotic has the reputation of being NBA-ready, and with McDermott serving four years in college, many expect him to be an early contributor, especially as a perimeter shooter.
As a result of that trio and the combination of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, the Bulls have one of the deepest front-courts in the NBA, and they are utterly loaded from a talent standpoint.
With all of the NBA’s top players in action and the separation of the big three in Miami, this season has the making to be one of the more exciting seasons in recent history.