We’re going to try to post two team previews a day for two weeks, then make some predictions about the top eight in each conference. The previews for Atlanta and Boston can be found previously in this blog.
Coach: Bernie Bickerstaff
Starting five: PG Raymond Felton, SG Gerald Wallace, SF Adam Morrison, PF Emeka Okafor, C Primoz Brezec
Off the bench: PG Brevin Knight, SG Matt Carroll, PF Sean May, C Jake Voskuhl
Most underpaid: If you look at their numbers after the All-Star break last season, the difference between rookie of the year Chris Paul and Bobcats point guard Raymond Felton doesnt seem like much at all. Felton averaged 16.7 points, 7.6 assists and shot 38.7 percent from 3-point range; Paul averaged 16.5 points, 8.0 assists and shot 27.4 percent from beyond the arc. Theres nothing more misleading than a player putting up numbers on a bad team – – the Bobcats finished a meager 26-56 – – but Felton left no doubt he is something special. His scoring average, assists per game and minutes increased with every month last season. Felton was a $6.68 million player making $2.8 million on his rookie contract.
Most overpaid: Theres not a lot of discussion any more about whether Orlando should have taken Dwight Howard or Emeka Okafor with the No. 1 pick in 2004. Okafor played in only 26 games and was on the court for just 22 percent of the Bobcats total minutes last season. His injured ankle never improved and he didnt play after Jan. 10. Okafor still can be a double-double machine (he has 63 in 99 career games) but he needs to show he is healthy this season. Okafor was a $2.23 million player who made $4 million; Charlotte can start talking contract extension with him after this season.
Outlook: The Bobcats have an intriguing mix of former college stars but Michael Jordan and Co. has some spending to do to get to the NBAs minimum payroll of $39.85 million. They could have upwards of $30 million to spend on free agents next summer, with a guard spot that has Vince Carters name on it.
Coach: Scott Skiles
Starting five: PG Kirk Hinrich, SG Ben Gordon, SF Andres Nocioni, PF P.J. Brown, C Ben Wallace
Off the bench: PG Chris Duhon, SF Luol Deng, SF Adrian Griffin PF Tyrus Thomas
Most underpaid: For as regularly as Kirk Hinrich is mentioned as one of the NBAs most underrated players, Luol Deng was Chicagos most undervalued player last season. The Bulls simply play better when Deng is on the court, an important fact to consider as long as he is backing up Andres Nocioni. Deng averaged 14.3 points and 6.6 rebounds in 33.4 minutes last season and wont turn 22 until April 16. He rated as the NBAs third most productive second-year player, behind only Dwight Howard and Andre Iguodala. Deng was a $9.6 million player who made $2.4 million.
Most overpaid: At age 37, P.J. Brown will be entering his 14th NBA season, which also happens to be the last for which he is under contract. Brown is exactly the kind of rugged veteran the Bulls need with such a young nucleus of players to nurture. And the good news for Chicago fans is that the team was able to recoup much of the money spent on Ben Wallace by shipping Tyson Chandler and his weighty contract to the Hornets for Brown. By letting the Knicks overpay for Eddy Curry, the Bulls made two shrewd moves. Brown was a $2.62 million player who made $8 million last season.
Outlook: The Bulls were the toughest team to hit a shot against last season (42.5 percent) and added a defensive anchor in Wallace. They beat Miami twice at United Center during last seasons playoffs and theres every reason to expect to see the two teams in the Eastern Conference Finals. As if that wasnt enough, the Bulls get the Knicks top draft pick again in 2007 as part of the Curry deal.