Besides telling most dogs I see that they’re the cutest pups in the world, I try to keep my lying to a minimum.
Honesty is the best policy, which is why I’m trying to be as honest as possible with myself as we head into the upcoming Chicago Bulls season. As excited as I am for basketball to start, I simply can’t walk into this new league year and expect a product that is drastically better than what we saw last season. Not only did the Bulls fail to make significant upgrades this summer, but they also showed how vulnerable they could be during the second half of last season. If health isn’t on their side, they could struggle to compete with the Eastern Conference juggernauts, and I already have concerns with Lonzo Ball’s status for the start of training camp still up in the air.
Having said that, I’m always optimistic. If this group could use basically one half of the regular season to lock in a top-6 seed last year, I do have some faith they can do it again. The high of reaching the No. 1 spot may not be in the cards this year, but the low of playing like a borderline Play-In team likely isn’t either. I expect a more consistent product – one that will continue to have them around where they finished last season.
Again, I say all of this to establish that I believe I have relatively realistic expectations for Year 2 of this core. But it appears ESPN would say otherwise.
ESPN’s latest Eastern Conference Projections have the Bulls finishing No. 8 with 44 wins this season. This puts the team behind the Toronto Raptors, Atlanta Hawks, and Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively.
While the 44 wins fall in line with what recent sportsbooks have placed the over/under at, ESPN’s 8th-place finish is technically below where both the PointsBet Illinois Sportsbook and DraftKings Illinois Sportsbook have the Bulls listed.
Look, I’m not as upset as I was when they projected last season’s Bulls to be among the six worst teams in the conference, but I’m still surprised there isn’t a little more respect for what the organization has built. We’re still talking about a team that sat above the squads they have listed in the top-5 for roughly half of last season. There is also no denying the Bulls looked considerably better at times than both the Hawks and Cavaliers, who ESPN now views as two better units.
To be sure, I’m not trying to say the Hawks or Cavs are incapable of finishing ahead of the Bulls. Adding Dejounte Murray is a big move for Atlanta and a sophomore breakout could be on the horizon for the Cavs’ Evan Mobley. But I’m just not sure the safest assumption is that both will surpass Chicago this season. And I feel like I can say the same thing about the idea of the Raptors finishing several games higher than the Bulls. Toronto finishing 5th felt like it was more about Chicago’s injury-related free-fall than their own late-season success. They might also see a big step forward from their second-year talent, Scottie Barnes, but similar questions on offense and at center persist.
I don’t know. Perhaps my expectation of finishing 6th doesn’t sound that much different than finishing 8th, but I’m still disappointed that most projections have the Bulls taking a step backward as opposed to at least standing pat. While I understand where an argument can be made (and I wish the Bulls did a little more to bolster the bench this summer), it just feels like this team is worthy of a little more respect.
Oh well, more bulletin board material.