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Phife Previews The NBA’s Eastern Conference

Central Division

Chicago Bulls
Here we have one of the three teams that have a chance to take down LeBron and the Miami Heat. I didn’t like Coach Thibodeau getting rid of Nate Robinson when at times during the regular season and postseason, all 5′ 8,” 180 pounds of that young man held this team together when Carlos Boozer couldn’t throw water in the ocean or when Joakim Noah was hurt or in foul trouble. And what about that 1st round series against Brooklyn when Luol Deng couldn’t suit up?

Word has it that Nate was seen as a liability on the defensive side of the ball, and let’s face it, most (if not all) basketball purists know Coach Tibbs to be a defensive guru. NO D? YOU DON’T PLAY FOR TIBBS!

Thank God for the return of hometown hero Derrick Rose, but the key to the Bulls success depends on what the 3 Duke Blue Devils bring to the table: Boozer (rebounding/scoring), Deng (scoring/defense) and the newly acquired Mike Dunleavy, Jr.,  who should be able to knock down three’s and spread the floor. The Bulls will finish 2nd in the Central, and 3rd or 4th in the East.
Off-season Grade: B-

Cleveland Cavaliers
How lucky can one franchise be?

No franchise has been this lucky since the days of Pat Williams during his tenure with the Orlando Magic (1st overall picks in 1992 and 1993). Everyone thought it was all bad when King James up and moved his talents to South Beach and then threw egg in Dan Gilbert’s face by appearing in The NBA Finals 3 seasons in a row, winning the last two.

Didn’t Mr.Gilbert claim that Cleveland would win a title before LeBron? LOL!

Still, with all those bumps in the road, the Cavs are blessed. The 1st and 4th overall picks in 2011 (Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson), the 4th pick in 2012 (Dion Waiters) and the 1st overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, UNLV forward Anthony Bennett, which no one saw coming.

Combine all of that along with the Return of coach Mike Brown, veteran guard Jarrett Jack, the always-improving Anderson Varejao and the Cavs can finally participate in the post season. Former All Star center Andrew Bynum means a lot when healthy; if so, this may leave Tyler Zeller as the odd man out. We’ll see. The Cavs will finish 3rd in the Central, and 6th in the East.
Off-season grade: C

Detroit Pistons
Joe Dumars and Isaiah Thomas were absolutely one of my favorite backcourts as a teenager. Fast forward to the early 2000s, and I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit to feeling the same way about the backcourt of Rip Hamilton & Chauncey Billups, who led the Pistons to their 1st title in 14 years in 2004.

After the 1999 season, Dumars retired as a player and became the President of Basketball Operations, putting a team together that appeared in the Eastern Conference finals every season from 2003-2008.

Those days are long gone.

Seemed like since the championship win in 2004—including the Finals appearance in 2005, the emergence of former Cavalier LeBron James, and the disappointing coaching performance of Flip Saunders—that everything went bad for the Pistons of Auburn Hills. The biggest mistake Dumars made was trading former NBA Finals MVP Chauncey Billups to his hometown of Denver for a guy named “Bubba Chuck,” a.k.a. Allen Iverson.

Fast forward to this season, and guess who’s back in town? Mr. Big Shot Billups himself, combined with former Hawk Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, 2nd year big man Andre Drummond and point man Brandon Jennings (coming from Milwaukee in the Brandon Knight trade). The Pistons should be fun to watch under the tutelage of Maurice Cheeks. However, they will finish 4th in the Central, barely sneaking into the post season!
Off-season grade: C+

Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers have just as good a chance as the Nets and Bulls to meet the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. I predict a close battle with the Chicago Bulls all season long.

The matchups between the two rivals are why we love this game. Take Indy newcomers Luis Scola, Chris Copeland and C.J. Watson, and that gives the Pacers much better depth than last season along with Lance Stephenson who can start at the two spot if Coach Vogel wants to start Paul George at the three.

Either way, the return of Danny Granger (if healthy) can cause chaos and mayhem for any opponent. The difference between the Pacers and Bulls winning the Central division is West vs Boozer, and the Indy bench vs. the Bulls bench. As of right now, I’m putting $$$ on the Pacers. They’ll finish 1st in Central, and 2nd in the East.
Off-season Grade: B+

Milwaukee Bucks
It’ll be a long season in Milwaukee as long as their opponents don’t take them for granted. This is the type of team that has nothing to lose.

I like the backcourt of Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo. John Henson and centerpiece Larry Sanders anchor the frontcourt along with Ersan Ilyasova, who I think can be one of the best power forwards shooting-wise. Add veteran forward Caron Butler, who was traded from the Clippers to Phoenix, then Phoenix to his home state of Wisconsin, and the Bucks have a chance to compete. However, it’s the bench that I’m not sure has the right horses or enough depth in order to be taken seriously as far as making the playoffs.

ZaZa Pachulia? Nah, I can’t!

Keep your eye on 6’4 rookie Nate Wolters, the young man can play. But the Bucks will finish 5th in the Central.
Off season grade: D+

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