With LeBron James returning home to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Derrick Rose coming back healthy to the Chicago Bulls, there will be a shift of power in the Central division and in the Eastern Conference.
Neither team is likely finished making moves, but both rosters are taking shape nicely, making the Bulls-Cavs matchup a clash to watch for years to come. James’ return will reignite a rivalry that has been noticeably missing since he went to South Beach in 2010.
The Cavaliers drafted Andrew Wiggins with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, while the Bulls selected Doug McDermott with the No. 11 pick after a trade with the Denver Nuggets. Former Los Angeles Laker Pau Gasol will also join the Bulls along with Real Madrid star Nikola Mirotic who was acquired in the 2011 draft.
David Blatt, the new Cavaliers coach, most recently coached Maccabi Tel Aviv and has been extremely successful overseas. Tom Thibodeau will be back for his fifth season with the Bulls.
The position to watch will be at point guard, barring any injuries to either Rose or Kyrie Irving who have both struggled to stay healthy throughout their careers. Rose is a former MVP and a three-time All-Star who averaged 25.0 points and 7.7 assists in his last full season in 2010-11. Last season, Irving played 71 games, the most he has played in his career, and he averaged 20.8 points with 6.1 assists and is a two-time All-Star. The two have only played each other once, but Rose still has the edge against Irving at the position.
At the moment, it appears Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins will be the starters at shooting guard. Butler is a lock-down defender, draws fouls and will show occasional flashes of brilliance, but he needs to be more consistent on the offensive end. Wiggins, perhaps the most hyped rookie since James, has a world of potential, but he will need to be more assertive in the NBA. Between the two, the athleticism is off the charts.
James has the clear advantage over any small forward in the league. It is unclear who will start for the Bulls at the three, but for now it will be Mike Dunleavy, who is said to be on the trading block. Look for James to re-assert himself as “the guy” after sharing the ball with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. In his last season with the Cavs, James averaged 29.7 points, 8.6 assists and 7.3 rebounds — all higher than his numbers this past season.
The Bulls may have the best frontcourt in the league after adding Gasol and Mirotic to the mix. Either Taj Gibson or Gasol will start at power forward. Gibson came in second for Sixth-Man of the Year and is a superb defender, while Gasol will provide a scoring punch and is a more than capable passing big man. The Cavs will start Tristan Thompson, unless of course they trade for Kevin Love. Thompson averaged 11.7 points and 9.2 rebounds last season. Whether it be Gibson or Gasol, the Bulls have the edge at the four.
At center, the reigning defensive player of the year Joakim Noah will battle with Anderson Varejao. Noah has a far greater effect on the game and is a two-time All-Star.
The benches for both teams are incomplete, but so far the Bulls will bring Mirotic, McDermott, Tony Snell, Kirk Hinrich and either Gibson or Gasol off the bench while the Cavs currently have Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett. The Bulls would like to add another shot-creator while the Cavs have yet to fill out their roster.
Any LeBron James-led team is a favorite in the East, but with a healthy Rose, the Bulls feel like they can challenge any team. Not only will the Bulls and Cavs fight each other for the division title, but they will also battle last season’s central division winner, the Indiana Pacers. Whichever team comes out on top in the division will likely be the top seed in the East.