Last year, the Chicago Bulls were the best team in basketball. They posted the most wins of the season with 62 and they had all of the statistics to go along with it. They had the best rebound differential in the league—they took home 5.74 more rebounds a night than any of their opponents. The Bulls were also the second best defensive team in basketball, allowing only 91 points per game to their opponents. While they were one of the worse teams offensively (only scoring 98.6 points per game), they posted the second best differential, scoring 7.31 points more than their opponents per night.
The best team's differential was the Miami Heat. However, the Heat squad has already been taken apart by free agency. They lost PG Mike Bibby to the Knicks and Mario Chalmers isn't the answer at PG. He has not proven to be a reliable asset to them as a franchise. While they've taken some chances such as signing Eddy Curry in the offseason, he isn't the option at center either. They're weak at two out of the five positions in basketball.
Not only that, but the Heat are also not built for longevity—they are a glass cannon. If Wade, James or Bosh get injured and miss significant time, who will be there to pick up the slack? Last year we saw both Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah get injured for the Bulls, and the Bulls were still able to compete with a stocked bench (neither Boozer nor Noah played 60 games).
The Heat simply cannot compete with the Bulls, especially now that the Bulls are making efforts to sign an efficient shooting guard. The only way the Heat beat Chicago last year was by stocking the front court—shut out Derrick Rose and worry about the other players later. With another capable offensive weapon, the Heat will not be able to defeat the Bulls.
The Dallas Mavericks, on the other hand, grow older with each passing season. Jason Kidd is almost 40 and both Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are already in their mid-thirties. They've already lost key pieces of their championship-winning team anyway: Caron Butler, Tyson Chandler and J.J.Barea all left during this offseason. While they've managed to sign Vince Carter and trade for Lamar Odom, both are traditional forwards and neither are strong enough or tall enough to play center.
The Los Angeles Lakers might be a contender based on how well they do in the trade market. However, with the way things are going, they do not have what it takes to even get to the finals. We watched last season as they imploded against the Mavs, and a hungry Western Conference is not going to let them dominate without the correct pieces. Bryant is a force in this league, and while he is old, he can still preform. Before they can be potential finals contenders, they need to improve drastically by resorting to the trade market to fill their problems at various positions.
And to shortly mention the other playoff teams: The San Antonio Spurs are old, and last season they showed that they can be completely dominated by a younger, hungrier squad like Memphis. Memphis, on the other hand, cannot beat the other giants in the Western conference without all of their players elevating their level of play. The Grizzlies are one of the most complete teams in the league, but they do not have clear players who dominate at their respective positions. The Grizz are young and will improve with time.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are poised this year to reach the finals. They can dominate the old Western Conference with their young superstar Kevin Durant and their tough interior defense. OKC's problem though is that they simply cannot beat the defensive-minded Chicago Bulls. OKC beat the Bulls once last year, but that was a game without Carlos Boozer. With Boozer in the game, the Bulls beat the OKC soundly while also shutting Kevin Durant down and frustrating him constantly. The Thunder rely too much on their main star in Durant, and Russell Westbrook is not always reliable.
The New York Knicks have made some good moves to compete, but again, this team cannot beat the Bulls. They were one of the worst rebounding teams in basketball last year, and while signing Tyson Chandler helped them defensively, they now have a hole at point guard that Mike Bibby cannot fill. They pair up poorly against the defensive Bulls: The Knicks rely on a high-powered offense to win games that the Chicago Bulls will shut down. Without that, they will fall apart as Derrick Rose scores relentlessly at the point guard position.
Unlike the rest of these teams, the Chicago Bulls can compete immediately. If the season started today, the Bulls would be in a primary position to win the most games again and take themselves all the way to the NBA Finals. All the Bulls need to do is make sure that they can sign a relatively above-average shooting guard (like Rip Hamilton) and focus on getting Noah, Boozer and Deng into the offensive side of the game more.