So the Eastern Conference Looks Like It's About to be a Blood Bath

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So the Eastern Conference Looks Like It’s About to be a Blood Bath

Chicago Bulls

Continuity has never felt less sexy.

Arturas Karnisovas and the Chicago Bulls started to preach that sentiment at last season’s trade deadline. And, after overhauling the entire roster in one offseason and constructing the best on-court product since at least the 2014-15 season, the message felt reasonable.

Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, Lonzo Ball, and Alex Caruso looked like a core worth running back. Sure, there were holes on the roster, but that group quickly rose to the top of the Eastern Conference when fully healthy. So why not give it another go? Well, maybe because that version of the Eastern Conference is long gone.

This offseason, we’ve watched the Bulls’ competition grow much stiffer. Kevin Durant re-committed to the Brooklyn Nets and is now in line to play alongside two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons. The Atlanta Hawks – who appeared in the Eastern Conference Finals just two seasons ago – made a major splash by acquiring All-Star guard Dejounte Murray. And now the Cleveland Cavaliers have pulled off a blockbuster trade that will add three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell to a roster that has Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen, and 2021 No. 3 overall pick Evan Mobley.

Those are three teams who finished behind the Chicago Bulls in the playoff race last season, and all three – according to the sportsbooks – are now projected to finish in the opposite position. The PointsBet Illinois’ Sportsbook has the Nets win total set at 51.5 wins, the Hawks placed at 47.5 wins, and the Cavs bumped up from 42.5 to 48.5. Meanwhile, the Chicago Bulls hang around at 43.5.

Add in the pre-existing juggernauts like the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, and Miami Heat, and the Bulls’ road to locking in another first-round series becomes that much harder. The Bucks will welcome back a healthy Khris Middleton. The Celtics have improved their depth after a big-time Finals run. The 76ers will have their first full year of the Harden-Embiid combo. Fortunately, there are some questions around Miami – who stood pat while losing PJ Tucker this summer – but you also can’t significantly downgrade a team that has made the East Finals twice in the last three years.

Heck, I haven’t even mentioned the Toronto Raptors or New York Knicks! Toronto finished one spot ahead of the Bulls last year and has a reigning rookie of the year to build around. As for New York, while I don’t believe much in their current nucleus, they at least have an interesting backcourt brewing with Jalen Brunson and the recently-extended R.J. Barrett.

So, again, I’m not necessarily declaring the idea of continuity a problem. Several recent NBA success stories have shared the common theme of having a core that has multiple seasons of experience. The question for the Bulls, however, is whether or not they have a core capable of reaching that level of success. Is simply more familiarity (and health) going to be able to push this group ahead of rosters with more star power? Maybe … but maybe not. I can assure you that I felt far keener on the idea before I saw the significant moves the rest of these teams made this summer.

The Chicago Bulls currently reside as the Eastern Conference’s ninth-best team, according to the PointsBet’s over/under win totals. As much as I believe they can finish considerably higher than that, I’d be lying to you if I said I can’t see the world where they do tumble into one of the Play-In Tournament’s bottom seeds. The East is now just that stinkin’ talented.

The good news, though, is that the NBA has a knack for being unpredictable. If the Bulls’ ability to move ahead of teams like the Bucks and 76ers for much of last season taught us anything, it’s that being in the mix is better than nothing. The fact of the matter is the Bulls are still in a position to take advantage of another team’s shortcomings, but there are also now more teams around them that can do the same.

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Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.