Can the Bulls make it back to the Eastern Conference Finals?

Edit: Major facepalm, folks. I wrote Rashard Lewis when I meant Hedo Turkoglu. My bad.

That was the lead topic in a recent ESPN 5-on-5 debate about the Central Division.

Of course, the question assumes there will be a 2011-12 season.

It also flies in the face of many unknowns. Like what effects the new CBA will have on team salary structures, how free agency will pan out, and what trades will be made. And there are always in-season injuries.

Still, given the over/under option, everybody who was asked ranked Chicago’s chances of returning to the ECFs as either a “push” or “under.”

David Thorpe of Scouts Inc. said: “Under, mostly because the East has LeBron and Wade on the same team, plus Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy, and throw in a Boston team that can fill the center void with a real player and not a brand name. Miami should lock down one spot, which leaves three teams for the other. And don’t forget how Chicago struggled last season once saddled with high expectations.”

Thorpe certainly has a point about the Heat. But the Magic? Howard’s supporting cast is awful and Orlando’s salary cap is a mess. Unless somebody trades for the ungodly contracts of Gilbert Arenas or Hedo Turkoglu — which I rate somewhere between “highly unlikely” to “bwahahahaha!” — the Magic won’t be better than the Bulls.

As for the Celtics, who’s to say they have any better chance of filling their void at center than the Bulls do of upgrading at shooting guard? Plus, I understand the trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen have earned “Never Bet Against Us” credentials over their careers, but those guys are in their mid-30s with plenty of miles on their legs. Maybe they have one more big run in them, but it seems more likely their time as legit championship contenders have passed.

Beyond those two teams, what do we have? The defenseless Knicks. The never-gonna-be-ready-for-prime-time Hawks. The Sixers should be pretty good and the Nets will likely improve, but will either of those teams be ECF-worthy? Doubtful.

As I see it, assuming no major personnel shakeups occur between now and whenever the next season starts, about the only thing that (in theory) should prevent the Bulls from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals again would be a playoff bracket in which they were forced to face the Heat in the second round. Because that’s the only team I see beating them in the postseason.

I mean, think about it. The Bulls are young. Deep. Play unbelievable defense. Have a fantastic coach and one of the best players in the league. When healthy, four of their five starters rank in the top 10 at their respective positions. From all accounts, they’re committed and driven, not to mention exceptionally tightly knit.

Will they win 61 games again? That I may take the under on. But as far as a return to the ECFs? I’ll take the over.

19 Responses to Can the Bulls make it back to the Eastern Conference Finals?

    Mike September 23, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    I just saw an article about how Battier and the Grizz are not going to see eye-to-eye on a contract for next season. I really hope the Bulls make a push for him. Although the defense might not be what it used to, he certainly can take some minutes from Lu, shoot the three, and provide excellent leadership. Does anyone else think he would be a perfect fit?

    Brad S. September 23, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    Ouch! It hurts to even get my brain to think about this. Know what I mean, Matt?

  3. Chuck September 23, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

    I think the Bulls and Heat are near locks to meet in the ECF again, with the mandatory “if they are healthy” stipulation. One team to look out for is Atlanta. They have some good players who actually play defense so they could make some noise. However they seem to always implode due to low basketball IQ (Josh Smith thinking he is Larry Bird from 3).
    Orlando = Dwight and a bunch of stiffs
    Knicks = Defensive sieve and little talent outside of the bigish three
    Celtics = Huge health questions and the non-core is not that good
    Indiana = Really?
    The Bulls are one good 2 from easily being the most complete team in the East.

    Mr Bull September 23, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    Man everybody over ESPN forgot that if bulls didn loose that game 5 and OT game,there would have been game 7 and who knows how that wouldve ended…

    Big Bobber September 23, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    Well someone already traded for Rashard Lewis… which is how Gilbert Arenas got on Orlando in the first place…

    random nba fan September 23, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

    Yes the Bulls can and probably will make it back to the Eastern Conference Finals. People tend to forget that the Bulls won 62 games last season with Carlos Boozer missing 23 games and Joakim Noah missing 34 games. Additionally, Chicago now has a full year with Tom Thibodeau at the helm. And one last thing, if Omer Asik had not gotten injured in Game 3, the Eastern Conference Finals may have ended a little differently.

  7. MaestroColtrane September 23, 2011 at 5:07 pm #

    Rashard Lewis is on the wizards now

    ben hinsdale September 23, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    I hope that Bulls can go into the Finals.

  9. F.R. September 23, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

    Rashard Lewis is on the Wizards. His ungodly contract was traded last season for Gilbert Arenas’s ungodly contract.

    Ed September 23, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    Not gonna lie there are a lot of bums in the Eastern Conference and you can add bums to the west as well. The NBA for the exception of the Bulls, Heat, Lakers, Thunder, Knicks, and Mavericks is pretty much on the decline.

    Celtics = old
    Magic = suck/need a new coach
    Hawks= suck
    Knicks= no defense
    Spurs= old

    The bulls have the MVP as well play in a bum division. To be honest I wouldn’t be shocked if the Bulls win 65 + games this season. You are looking at a team that was incomplete, who lost the majority of those ECF games by close margins. Once they get complete, you can count on about 4 rings minimum for Rose. Mark it down.

    Iain McD September 24, 2011 at 2:10 pm #

    Hasn’t Rashard Lewis been traded to Washington? Also, didn’t the Bulls win 62 games last year?

    Kenyatta September 24, 2011 at 10:45 pm #

    They definately can make it to the Eastern Conference Finals again as the East is at its worst since the 2000-2001 season, a season that saw the Sixers and Bucks meet in the east finals. One thing I want to say though, i wish people would shut up with this gaurantee that Miami will beat us again, because truthfully speaking, just like Mr. Bull said they weren’t suppose to beat us the first time, and before Miami Heat fans go off on me, think about it, the bulls blew the Heat out in game 1, in game 2 they had a ten point lead and lead the game all the way into the fourth quarter, game 3 miami dominated the bulls, in game 4 Rose had a chance to win in regulation with a game winning shot, which i believe if he had another chance would make that shot, and game 5 the bulls blew a 15 point lead to lose to miami, with just 3 minutes left the bulls blew game 5. So the way I see it Miami not only escaped the bulls, they stole it as well with their 100 free throws to 64, and the looks on the bulls players faces after the series. I’ve been a bulls fan for a long time, and the way the players felt after the series, i wouldn’t want to be the Heat playing the bulls again, because you can be sure that the bulls will try everything not to lose to them again and feel that way. Bulls – Heat ECF, and this time it might be the bulls winning,every year aint the same, especially if the bulls get Dwight Howard.

    Nick September 25, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    The Bulls had 62 wins last year not 61

    joe September 26, 2011 at 5:31 am #

    eff Lebron James

    Andy September 26, 2011 at 8:57 am #

    Kinda hurts your credibility when you think the Magic still have Rashard Lewis. Do your homework.

  16. Inception September 26, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    The season will be abbreviated or canceled altogether….it’s def not starting on time….in other words, I’d rather have MIA win the asterisk title or let’s just worry about the NBA in 2012-13….sad, but true.

    Enigmatik September 27, 2011 at 6:47 pm #

    Yeah, the Bulls struggled with expectations when they lost in the Eastern Conference Finals. Horrible time to struggle, but let’s be realistic. That was the only time the entire season that they lost more than 2 games in a row and those 4 games they lost were much closer than people realize. They were 7 wins away from title number 7. I don’t think anyone other than Bulls fans truly believed they would win that series any way.

    Oh well. The lockout continues.

    BFD September 28, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

    I think the only thing going for the Magic making a return to prominence is the supposed ‘contract amnesty’ that has been rumored to wipe out a bad contract from a team. They can in theory wave goodbye to Agent Zero or Turkoglu….I’m not sure how much that would help them out if the cap is smaller and/or hard but it would certainly make things interesting.

    luvabullnj October 3, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    Since BFD brought it up – if they do put in the amnesty clause in the new CBA, would the Bulls wave goodbye to Boozer. Think about it, did we get out of Boozer what we expected. Or even what we needed? Check out Carlos’ performance in the playoffs. No I don’t mean as a Bull. We Bulls fans all saw first had what “shrinking violet” Boozer became against Bosh. But check out his playoff performances as a Jazz. Save for one year, he disappeared every year in the playoffs. It was Darren Williams superior play that carried the Jazz deep into the playoffs not Boozer’s.
    More importantly these past seasons’ have been seasons for Rose to learn and grow. But after a year or two, when Rose has become the complete and polished finished product, ready to get to the finals and win a championship, will Boozer be up to standard to get the Bulls over the hump? I think not.

Designed by Anthony Bain