With NBA camps set to open, it’s a fun “what if’’ game to kick around.
What if former Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson hadn’t let ownership know last December that it should begin a search for a new front office? Would Gar Forman still be the general manager Tuesday, when whistles start blowing at the Advocate Center?
The rebuild was failing, and Paxson and Forman were growing apart. Paxson had long been aware that Forman privately didn’t have his back all the time on the college scouting trail. But loyalty is an important fabric in the Jerry Reinsdorf wardrobe, so perhaps all these ominous signs would’ve been overlooked.
Luckily for the Bulls’ organization, and especially its fan base, a “what if’’ is all it is. The reality is whistles will be blowing on Tuesday, and some hope is finally coursing through the Advocate Center.
There’s hope in new coach Billy Donovan, hope that an underachieving roster finally will develop and hope that new general manager Marc Eversley is in sync with vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas rather than pulling the rope in his own direction.
The problem is the Bulls aren’t alone in the Eastern Conference when it comes to hope. In a season with so much uncertainty, hope seems to be widespread.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
It’s the biggest question surrounding the Bucks as camp opens up, make that the only question: Does Giannis Antetokounmpo sign the supermax extension for $228 million over five years?
Why there’s camp hope: The Heat signed Bam Adebayo to a big extension, possibly taking them out of the ‘‘Greek Freak’’ running, and the Bucks showed with their offseason additions that they want to continue building around Antetokounmpo to keep him happy.
2. Brooklyn Nets
A healthy Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving instantly make the Nets a powerhouse in the East. Then they added Landry Shamet to go along with a strong supporting cast.
Why there’s camp hope: Can James Harden be on his way to Brooklyn to give the Nets a new “Big Three.’’ Tough to guess if it could work, but it would be a hell of a reality show.
3. Miami Heat
They played in the NBA Finals a year earlier than expected and added Avery Bradley and Precious Achiuwa to one of the best young rosters in the conference.
Why there’s camp hope: Retaining Goran Dragic was sneaky good, but something special is brewing in South Beach, and Pat Riley is never done looking to add.
4. Boston Celtics
Gordon Hayward had more injury moments than highlights, and the Celtics added shooting with Jeff Teague and draft picks Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard. Don’t discount the dirty work Tristan Thompson brings to the frontcourt.
Why there’s camp hope: Jayson Tatum is on the verge of becoming an elite superstar. Expect him to kick that door down.
5. Philadelphia 76ers
It’s likely make-or-break for the Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons Experience, but a new front office and coaching staff instantly changed the supporting players on the team, ridding the 76ers of Josh Richardson and Al Horford.
Why there’s camp hope: Daryl Morey and Doc Rivers seldom fail to deliver on a championship-caliber product. Trust the new process.
6. Toronto Raptors
The gang is still together . . . well, almost. Gone are veterans Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, but the Raptors kept the biggest free agent of the offseason — Fred VanVleet — and added talented Malachi Flynn in the draft.
Why there’s camp hope: It’s a well-coached team, and athletic forward Pascal Siakam is still improving.
7. Indiana Pacers
Nate Bjorkgren takes over as coach for a core group that returns intact. Victor Oladipo’s future is still uncertain, but the Pacers will enter camp with everyone on board — for now.
Why there’s camp hope: The Pacers seem to be stuck in limbo: a good team void of a superstar. But there is hope that a new coach can get this group to keep overachieving.
8. Atlanta Hawks
It has been quite some time since there was a buzz around the Hawks, but few teams in the East had a better offseason. The Hawks have added defense in Kris Dunn, Rajon Rondo and draft pick Onyeka Okongwu to go along with a high-powered offense led by bomber Trae Young.
Why there’s camp hope: Atlanta has put itself in playoff contention, and grabbing Bogdan Bogdanovic sealed it.
9. Charlotte Hornets
The addition of Gordon Hayward and his fat new contract could blow up in Michael Jordan’s face, but they needed some sort of veteran scoring punch and had to pay the price.
Why there’s camp hope: The drafting of LaMelo Ball could be an organization-changer, especially if he can live up to the hype.
10. Washington Wizards
There’s some nail-biting going on with John Wall, but that contract is all but impossible to move.
Why there’s camp hope: Wall is finally healthy again, and the drafting of Deni Avdija received high marks.
11. Orlando Magic
Losing Jonathan Isaac to an ACL for the season hurts, but Nikola Vucevic is a borderline All-Star, and they added a potential lead guard in Cole Anthony in the draft.
Why there’s camp hope: The Magic took steps to reach the postseason last year, and while that will be tough to duplicate, this core has at least tasted it.
The front office and coaching staff went through an overhaul, which was applauded leaguewide.
Why there’s camp hope: A real coach can now show this front office what it has talent-wise.
13. Detroit Pistons
The draft was good for the Pistons, who nabbed Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey, but the big issue is what they do with trade chips Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose.
Why there’s camp hope: The rebuild is underway and was jump-started with this draft class.
14. New York Knicks
Clearing $40 million in cap space shows that the new-look front office and coaching staff are prepping for something big. If only ownership could stay out of the way.
Why there’s camp hope: Light on in the coaching office way past midnight. Yep, Tom Thibodeau.
15. Cleveland Cavaliers
As long as that Kevin Love contract is breathing, the misery will continue.
Why there’s camp hope: Isaac Okoro gives the Cavs hope that they have the next Jimmy Butler.