As promised (yesterday), I'll now take a look the Bulls, Bobcats, and save the Cavaliers for the next time.
How are they this year?
They're in the race, but they're not in the upper-tier in the East. For as great as they played in the playoffs against the Celtics last year (a fantastic series), they've been a disappointment this season. One of the bright spots is that the team is 7-3 over it's last ten games, they started off the season playing some God-awful ball, but since their horrible start, they've solidified their rotation, and have played much better. Another reason for their terrible start, was that Derrick Rose wasn't 100% (hand injury I seem to recall), and since December, he's been averaging over 20 PPG and just a hair under 6 APG during that stretch.
Joakim Noah has probably been their most reliable player all year, which is surprising considering that his first two seasons were basically wasted and he didn't project into a player that he would eventually become this year. Sure, he was lottery pick, but he seemed to be a bit of a bust after he was selected. He's probably the heart of the team, with only 10.7 PPG, but with 11.4 RPG to go with 1.6 BPG. I've always liked Tyrus Thomas, but people in Chicago didn't, and he never really solidified a position in the team's rotation. I don't hear much about Taj Gibson, but he's getting more minutes as year goes on, and he's a decent rebounder at 6.9 per game and shot-blocker (1.19) per 25.1 MPG, which is actually quite good.
Luol Deng is the secondary scorer on this team, which is good, because he's not a true go-to-guy game-in/game-out. He's more along the lines of a Caron Butler or a Josh Howard; although he's taller and roughly 5 years younger than them. I don't know what's happened to Kirk Hinrich's shooting. I've always liked his sticky-defense, and his long range shooting, but his confidence isn't where it used to be. Brad Miller is okay in stretches, but he looks like he's about done. Hakim Warrick has talent, but he's been around now, and he looks like a guy who'll always be coming off the bench. Ronald Murray is a nice scorer off of the bench. Both guys are decent pick-ups, but the Bulls main problem is that they don't have a scorer in the post/down low. If Rose, Hinrich, Deng and Murray aren't hitting their long bombs, then it's not looking good for this team come playoff time. Those guys are incredibly streaky, too.
How did this team get this good?
They're not really that good, so I'll get that out of the way. But, there's potential to be great that's there, provided that they can land one of the major free agents this summer. They probably have the most attractive team to go to as well, with basically Rose as the starting PG, and Noah to do the dirty work. James, Bosh, Wade, maybe a Joe Johnson, about any of the major players could fit in and turn this team into a 50-60 game winner.
Since the Bulls dynasty ended, the Bulls have had tons of lottery picks. Their best draft was back in '99, when they selected Elton Brand (1st), Ron Artest (16th), and even Michael Ruffin (32nd) who has been fairly productive role-player on the defensive end (and a Charley Rosen favorite because he interviewed him).
But, I'm only counting this past decade (from '00 up until now), and I think it's safe to say that the Bulls have drafted some dogs since that time. Marcus Fizer could have been good, but he wasn't, and I think that had to do with Charles Oakley getting on him all of the time, including the fact that Chandler and Curry were more sought after and drafted (Chandler was traded from the Clippers for Elton Brand) the very next year. Fizer never really got going... Khalid El-Amin (so I thought) was a steal selected at 34, but he was kind of fat, or he looked fat, he wasn't very quick, and I'm unsure why I'm even mentioning him in the first place...
Eddy Curry has tons of talent, but sucks on the defensive end (and can't rebound worth shite). Jay Williams (2nd overall in '02) was supposed to be a core guy, probably what Derrick Rose is today, but more of a passer and less of a scorer. Unfortunately for him, he got into a motorcycle accident so it was over before it even really got started.
Kirk Hinrich was a fine pick, and I still believe he could be a good enough player in the right situation. Ben Gordon was good, but he's no longer with the team; and he has a VERY bloated contract for being a 6th man who only scores. The Bulls picked LaMarcus Aldridge, but he was traded away very quickly, and that brought them Tyrus Thomas who is very talented, but was traded away for decent spare parts; which isn't very good in the end.
For years, it seemed as though the Bulls were always going to land either Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, or Pao Gasol. They were never willing to trade enough pieces to get it done, which is too bad, because over the past few years, maybe they were pretty close to having a great team with a primary weapon. Garnett or Gasol would have been ideal for this team, considering that they've been too much of a guard/small forward type of a team for some time now.
A great player to build around, cog #1 (Noah #2)...
The Bulls really only made one big free agent move over the past decade, which was the Ben Wallace debacle (I suppose Ron Mercer could be considered as well). There biggest trade is generally remembered as Brand for Chandler, but I thought that the Artest, Brad Miller and Kevin Ollie for Travis Best, Jalen Rose, Norm Richardson, and a 2002 2nd round pick really hurt the team going forward. Sure, Miller and Artest blossomed once they left Chicago, but it's not as though they weren't playing well enough with the Bulls, and as much as I liked Jalen Rose at the time, he had a VERY fat and basically untradeable contract.
I'm not really a Vinny Del Negro fan (head coach), but he's doing an okay job; he more than likely won't be back next year.
Grading the key players
Derrick Rose - B+
Luol Deng - B
Kirk Hinrich - C-
Taj Gibson - B
Joakim Noah - A
Brad Miller - C
Hakim Warrick - undetermined
Ronald Murray - undetermined
This year - B-
Why? They've not lived up to what people were predicting of them in the off season. They were probably thought of being the team on the verge of something bigger, probably where Atlanta is right now. They can still steal a 1st round series, but just based on the season thus far, they've been okay, but a disappointment.
Long-term - A+
Why? Brad Miller will be off the books (UFA), and that's about $12,000,000 right there! Rose and Noah are great building blocks, the kind of guys that play defense, the kind of guys that free agents would like to play with. Chicago is a great city, rich history, big market, etc. The Bulls will have so much salary cap space to go out and be a major player. Even if they don't get an 'A' star, even the 2nd tier star (at a good price) could make this team very good. Only time will tell if they'll become an elite team, but the pieces and structure is there for them to at least make a go of it.
If I were the GM, what would I do?
I'd try to get Bosh, and if possible, I'd love to get him in a sign-and-trade with Toronto for Luol Deng. Bosh can play with Noah, doing all of the scoring, while Noah does all of the dirty work (and passing which he's very good at). If LeBron is willing to come here (he just might but I'm guessing no), I'd try to do a sign-and-trade with the Cavs (giving them Deng and assortment of other goodies). I wouldn't even think twice about giving away Rose for LeBron (in a sign-and-trade), if I knew that I could part with Deng for Bosh. No one would in Chicago would have a problem with that, besides, LeBron doesn't really need a PG like Rose; it's more of a luxury and it would hurt Rose's career by not getting the ball as much as he should. There really is no other back-to-the-basket player out there on the market, so I suppose Bosh is the ideal choice here.
Side Note: I thought that Noah was an immature punk, until I was happy to see him (anyone) stick it to LeBron.
How are they this year?
They're playing great D, and they've got the right pieces to be dangerous in the playoffs. They're probably a bit better than their record would suggest. I've never been a fan of 'Captain Jack', but he has been awesome with them. Yes, awesome! His shooting %'s have generally sucked, especially with the Warriors, but he's been shooting the ball well this year. If you look at his splits, you'll see that his numbers have gradually improved each month. I thought that the Bobcats were desperate trading for this guy, but I was so wrong. He's the perfect guy for this team, and he's fearless (if not insane).
I think that they made a mistake by trading away Emeka Okafor this past off season, because Chandler has been useless. Somehow, all of that surprisingly hasn't hurt them much. Raymond Felton finally gets recognition for being the team's primary PG, but was Larry Brown (part of the fraternity of UNC boys) really not going to let him keep the job? Felton isn't as good as Paul or Williams (same Draft), but he's still a quality PG who plays good D while making a respectable number of shots at a respectable clip.
Diaw is what he is, but with Tyrus Thomas being there now, it could help him (and I think it will). Shockingly, Nazr Mohammed has shown some life, and has had some monster games over the past several weeks. D.J. Augustin is in the same house that Chandler's in, which is the wrong one.
Gerald Wallace has been everything for this team. He's literally done it all. I remember reading (almost 10 years ago), that some scouts had thought of Wallace as being a Pippen-like player, and I always felt that they were way off on that one, but this year - his 9th in the league - I can see what they were once predicting. It's rare that those type of predictions come true, but this is one of those rare times, and it's not much of a stretch (though he's not as good of a passer as Pippen was).
How did this team get this good?
I guess that for all of the slack Jordan takes (soon to be the new owner by the way) for his lack of GM skills, he and his team took Wallace in the NBA expansion draft back in '04 (great move). They've yet to draft a truly great player, which has hurt them obviously, and they've really only picked 2 quality players in Okafor and Felton (who's just starting to come into his own).
The jury is still out on D.J. Augustin, although I happen to think he could be very good in the right situation. Sean May has been a complete bust, and a PR disaster for the team, and Adam Morrison was even worse than that based on what was supposed to be a very promising career). Jared Dudley is a quality bench player, but he was traded as part of a large deal with the Suns. Last year's pick Gerald Henderson (as well as Derrick Brown) have only played in spots, which shouldn't come as a surprise with a coach like Larry Brown. The deal with Phoenix that brought over Raja Bell and Diaw, has basically evolved to Diaw and Stephen Jackson for Jason Richardson (and Vladimir Radmanovic who was originally Adam Morrison).
Grading the key players
Gerald Wallace - A+
Stephen Jackson - A
Raymond Felton - B
Boris Diaw - C+
Tyson Chandler - D
D.J. Augustin - D+
Nazr Mohammed - B-
Tyrus Thomas - Undetermined
This year - A
Why? They've exceeded the pundits expectations, and they have a unit that's built on defense first; which should help them in the playoffs. They've managed to improve, to the point where they can beat any team on any given night. Larry Brown has got the city excited about NBA basketball, which probably hasn't happened since the days of Baron Davis (or maybe even back to the days of Glen Rice).
Great coach, with the greatest player ever!
Long-term - B-
Why? Wallace is pretty injury prone, and he's been playing above-his-head (although I hope I'm wrong), so everything is good this year, but what about next year? Jackson is happy to be away from all of the negativity surrounding the Warriors, but when will the honeymoon end with the Bobcats? He's great now, but will that fire be there next year, and he's almost 32 years old, and with his track record, he's not exactly movable/tradeable.
Felton is a nice piece, but he's not the type of guy you build your team around. Boris Diaw is what he is, which is that he does a lot of little things well, but nothing really great. If Tyrus Thomas can get his act together - and he just might - then the Bobcats have that one great asset. While this team isn't exactly old, their window to do well is basically now.
Jordan is just about to buy the team (good news), so I suppose that it's great because Larry Brown should be staying on for a while longer. Brown tends to leave teams -that he coaches - too soon, but in this case, I think he really loves working for/with Jordan, and being in Charlotte. I think that he probably makes a lot of the front office decisions; although that's just speculation on my part.
If I were the GM, what would I do?
Get something for Tyson Chandler; mission impossible. He's still only 27 years old, there will always be someone out there willing to take a chance and give him a shot (he is 7 foot 1 after all), and if you can't trade him, I do believe his contract is up this year or the next one. Ideally, I'd like to get him off the books, but this is the Bobcats, and a lot of players might not want to play in Charlotte under Larry Brown, so free agents probably won't sign here.
A trade scenario could be better, by maybe trading for a younger big, someone like an Anthony Randolf (20 years old), who has tons of upside (and currently he is in Nellie's doghouse), and maybe get an Andris Biedrins (23 years old) thrown into the mix to make the numbers work. He's a great rebounder, great blocker, but he needs a team that can appreciate his skills.