NBA Eastern Conference preview: It won’t be easy for the Bulls

Offseason upgrades by several teams could mean Bulls keep waiting for long-awaited playoff spot.

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Guard Zach LaVine and the Bulls are likely to do better than the paltry 22 victories they  had last season, but a postseason berth  might be a stretch.

Guard Zach LaVine and the Bulls are likely to do better than the paltry 22 victories they had last season, but a postseason berth might be a stretch.

AP Photos

It’s Year 3 of the Bulls’ rebuild, and there’s supposed to be more for them this season.

More wins, more excitement, another step closer to not just becoming a playoff team but — as vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said the day he traded Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves in 2017 — challenging for the NBA title.

It all sounds good . . . until the Bulls start playing the games.

The Western Conference is still a who’s who of NBA elite, starting in Los Angeles, where the Lakers and Clippers could very well meet in the conference finals.

But to overlook the Eastern Conference and automatically pencil the Bulls into a top-eight playoff slot would be foolish. The Heat, Nets and Pistons have all made improvements in the offseason. And then there are the Hawks, who can claim that their rebuild has been more successful than the Bulls’.

If the Bulls fall short of a playoff appearance next spring, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an empty, lost season. Their win total seems almost certain to improve from the 22 they had last season, and if they continue to show upward movement, they’re confident that big-name free agents will begin to see Chicago as a destination.

“As I’ve mentioned many times, the internal growth of our guys is a key part of that,” Paxson said. “And I do believe when we establish winning again, that this city is a draw, that this organization is a draw. But that’s down the road.”

How far down the road?

This season should go a long way in determining that.

PREDICTED ORDER OF THE NBA BOTTOM

5. Grizzlies

4. Cavaliers

3. Knicks

2. Hornets

1. Wizards

PREDICTED ORDER OF THE EASTERN CONFERENCE, REGULAR SEASON

1. 76ers

2. Bucks

3. Celtics

4. Pacers

5. Raptors

6. Nets

7. Heat

8. Pistons

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

76ers over Bucks in six

ALL-EASTERN CONFERENCE FIRST TEAM

G – Ben Simmons – 76ers

G – Bradley Beal – Wizards

F – Jimmy Butler – Heat

F – Giannis Antetokounmpo – Bucks

C – Joel Embiid – 76ers

ALL-EASTERN CONFERENCE SECOND TEAM

G – Kyrie Irving – Nets

G – Zach LaVine – BULLS

F – Jayson Tatum – Celtics

F – Blake Griffin – Pistons

C – Andre Drummond – Pistons

EASTERN CONFERENCE HONORS

MVP

Giannis Antetokounmpo – Bucks

Most improved player of the year

Bam Adebayo - Heat

Rookie of the year

Tyler Herro – Heat

Coach of the year

Brett Brown – 76ers

Coach on the hot seat

Scott Brooks – Wizards

Most underrated player

Nikola Vucevic – Magic

Most overrated player

Kyrie Irving – Nets

Big-name trade candidate

Kevin Love – Cavaliers

PREDICTED ORDER OF THE

WESTERN CONFERENCE,

REGULAR SEASON

1. Clippers

2. Lakers

3. Rockets

4. Warriors

5. Jazz

6. Nuggets

7. Trail Blazers

8. Spurs

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

Lakers over Clippers in seven

NBA FINALS

Lakers over 76ers in six

ALL-WESTERN CONFERENCE FIRST TEAM

G – Stephen Curry – Warriors

G – James Harden – Rockets

F – LeBron James – Lakers

F – Kawhi Leonard – Clippers

C – Anthony Davis – Lakers

ALL-WESTERN CONFERENCE SECOND TEAM

G – Damian Lillard – Trail Blazers

G – Russell Westbrook – Rockets

F – Zion Williamson – Pelicans

F – Paul George – Clippers

C – Nikola Jokic – Nuggets

WESTERN CONFERENCE HONORS

MVP

LeBron James – Lakers

Most improved player of the year

Marvin Bagley III — Kings

Rookie of the year

Zion Williamson – Pelicans

Coach of the year

Doc Rivers – Clippers

Coach on the hot seat

Frank Vogel – Lakers

Most underrated player

Joe Ingles – Jazz

Most overrated player

Karl-Anthony Towns – Timberwolves

Big-name trade candidate

Chris Paul – Thunder

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