Joe Cowley’s annual NBA preview: Bulls finally crash the postseason

Who will be the MVPs of both conferences? What about Rookie of the Year? Plus, East and West standings predictions.

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Bulls executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas conducted the autopsy on the staff offices in Year 1 of his reign.

He found a lack of leadership, so the swamp was drained.

This past offseason, he turned the scalpel on the roster.

He found a lack of cohesiveness, so parts were removed and replaced.

In his no-nonsense style, Karnisovas not only wants a team that can end a four-year playoff drought this season, but a foundation that will last for years. He wants Chicago to be a destination for free agents and the Bulls to be a consistent contender.

Karnisovas says the momentum began at the trade deadline, when the Bulls showed how serious they were about adding big-name players by acquiring Nikola Vucevic from the Magic.

“I think that showed that winning is important,’’ Karnisovas said. “And I think the pitch this summer to free agents was we’re building something and we want to win. So I think that helped.

‘‘Having Zach [LaVine] and having ‘Vooch’ as two All-Stars already on the roster, I think that helped. And we were pleasantly surprised that a lot of guys wanted to play in Chicago.

“It obviously says a lot about building a new staff. It says a lot about players like Zach and ‘Vooch’ that players want to play with them.’’

But how much will it say in late April and May?

That’s what really matters. And anything short of that will be dealt with by Karnisovas. The scalpel is always ready.

NBA BOTTOM

PREDICTED FINISH 

5. Raptors

4. Thunder

3. Rockets

2. Pistons

1. Magic

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PREDICTED FINISH 

1. Nets

2. Bucks

3. 76ers

4. Heat

5. BULLS

6. Hawks

7. Knicks

8. Celtics

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

Nets over Heat in six

ALL-EASTERN CONFERENCE FIRST TEAM

G James Harden, Nets

G Jimmy Butler, Heat

F Kevin Durant, Nets

F Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

C Joel Embiid, 76ers

ALL-EASTERN CONFERENCE SECOND TEAM

G Ben Simmons, 76ers

G Zach LaVine, BULLS

F Jayson Tatum, Celtics

F Bam Adebayo, Heat

C Nikola Vucevic, BULLS

EASTERN CONFERENCE HONORS

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Most improved player: Lonzo Ball, BULLS

Rookie of the year: Jalen Suggs, Magic

Coach of the year: Erik Spoelstra, Heat

Coach on the hot seat: James Borrego, Hornets

Most underrated player: Donte DiVincenzo, Bucks

Most overrated player: Kyrie Irving, Nets

Big-name trade candidate: Ben Simmons, 76ers

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Jazz

2. Lakers

3. Clippers

4. Warriors

5. Suns

6. Mavericks

7. Nuggets

8. Grizzlies

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

Lakers over Warriors in seven

NBA FINALS

Lakers over Nets in six

ALL-WESTERN CONFERENCE FIRST TEAM

G Luka Doncic, Mavericks

G Steph Curry, Warriors

F LeBron James, Lakers

F Kawhi Leonard, Clippers

C Anthony Davis, Lakers

ALL-WESTERN CONFERENCE SECOND TEAM

G Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

G Klay Thompson, Warriors

F Zion Williamson, Pelicans

F Paul George, Clippers

C Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

WESTERN CONFERENCE HONORS

MVP: Luka Doncic, Mavericks

Most improved player: Michael Porter Jr., Nuggets

Rookie of the year: Jalen Green, Rockets

Coach of the year: Frank Vogel, Lakers

Coach on the hot seat: Luke Walton, Kings

Most underrated player: Kyle Anderson, Grizzlies

Most overrated player: Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves

Big-name trade candidate: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

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