Bulls

Can anybody beat the Warriors? Breaking down which teams have the best chance

Can anybody beat the Warriors? Breaking down which teams have the best chance

With most of the major offseason moves already made in the NBA, it's probably a good time to take stock of whether any team has closed the gap on the rising dynasty in the Bay Area.

Golden State is young and talented with most of its core players locked up for the next several years. The Warriors re-signed two-time MVP Steph Curry to a designated player extension worth over $200 million and also brought back NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant on a two-year deal that was about #9 million less than what he was entitled to under the league's collective bargaining agreement.

Durant's willingness to give the Warriors a "hometown discount" allowed general manager Bob Myers to also bring back productive vets Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston on multi-year deals, while using league exceptions to add shooters Nick Young and underrated Omri Casspi for depth off the bench. The Warriors also re-signed veteran big men Zaza Pachulia and David West. Barring a serious injury to one of the team's stars, Golden State is locked and loaded to steamroll the league for the foreseeable future.

But that doesn't mean the other 29 teams have given up trying.

Houston GM Daryl Morey says it's now an "arms race" for contending teams, adding the Warriors "aren't unbeatable." Morey struck before the start of free agency with a blockbuster trade to acquire one of the league's top point guards, Chris Paul, from the Clippers, and he's still pursuing a Carmelo Anthony deal with the Knicks to form the NBA's latest "super team."

Problem is, does anyone really believe a Houston team with three ball-dominant players in Anthony, James Harden and Paul have any chance to beat Golden State in a best of seven series? Especially given the fact Harden and Anthony are going to get torched on the defensive end? I didn't think so.

San Antonio is still a threat after bringing back most of the key players from last year's team, along with free agent addition Rudy Gay. But even though Kawhi Leonard is a top 10 player, and LaMarcus Aldridge is a reliable secnd scoring option, the Spurs are getting pretty long in the tooth with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol. Plus, they lost one of their most dynamic bench players, Jonathan Simmons to Orlando in free agency.

Can Gregg Popovich lead this group past the Warriors? I don't think so.

Love what Sam Presti did in Oklahoma City, adding top 10 talent Paul George in a trade with Indiana for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Both George and league MVP Russell Westbrook can be free agents next summer, so it will be fascinating to see if they can develop some on-court chemistry and lead OKC to a top four seed in the West, while pushing their own personal agendas to the side. The Thunder have a couple of talented big men in Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, and they also brought back defensive specialist Andre Roberson. But beat the Warriors. No chance.

Let's move over to the East. Boston won the free agent sweepstakes for Gordon Hayward, and top draft pick Jayson Tatum was impressive in summer league play. But the Celtics had to sacrifice Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson to fit Hayward in under the salary cap. So, is Brad Stevens' team really better than the one that had the best record in the East last season? Maybe, but probably not improved enough to beat the Cavs.

Speaking of Cleveland, the biggest offseason story for the Eastern Conference champs involves the future of LeBron James. James reportedly is frustrated and disappointed by the lack of roster improvement, but then what should he expect, considering the Cavs still haven't replaced general manager David Griffin, who was fired over a month ago.

Chauncey Billups turned the job down after getting a low-ball initial offer, and the Cavs missed out on their opportunities to acquire George or Jimmy Butler in part because of the front office dysfunction. Cleveland still figures to be the class of the East next season, but anything short of a championship could send James looking for a better life out west with the Lakers or Clippers.

As for the rest of the East, Toronto and Washington should hold on to top-four seeds after re-signing their key free agents, and Milwaukee could be a team on the rise, especially if Chicago native Jabari Parker can make it all the way back from a second ACL injury.

Philadelphia will be fun to watch with the top picks from each of the last two drafts, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, and free agents J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson joining talented big man Joel Embiid. But it's pretty bleak after that, with the Pacers and Hawks joining the Bulls in pushing the reset button and hoping for luck in next year's draft lottery.

Back to our original question: Can anyone beat the Warriors next season? Sure doesn't look like it.

Observations from the Bulls' preseason finale loss to the Raptors

Observations from the Bulls' preseason finale loss to the Raptors

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Justin Holiday shines again

It's pretty evident who the leader of the Bulls is through the preseason. Whether he wanted it or not - and it seems like he did - Justin Holiday is the go-to man in Chicago. He finished his impressive presason with a 17-point outing against the Raptors, including 6-for-12 shooting, four 3-pointers, a steal and a block in 28 minutes. He even added four assists, showing some playmaking to go along with his scoring. He finishes the preseason averaging 17.2 points on 44 percent shooting, 57 percent (!!) from deep and 1.6 steals. He and LaVine will be fun to watch together on the wing.

Lauri Markkanen's jumper stays confident

Lauri Markkanen's NBA career got off to a rough start. But he's more than righted the ship. Gone is the 1-for-9 performance in his first outing, and in is the 11-for-21 he shot in his final two games. That included 7-for-12 from deep, and he even added seven rebounds on Friday against Toronto. Markkanen has plenty of weight to put on before he can hang inside - Toronto's tough interior pushed him around quite a bit in his 29 minutes - but this was another step in the right direction for Markkanen, whose back issues seemed non-existent.

Jerian Grant flirts with a triple-double

Jerian Grant was likely to earn the starting point guard job out of training camp even if Kris Dunn didn't get injured, and tonight would have solidified it. Grant had 10 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in 27 efficient minutes. Though Kyle Lowry had his way (17 points in 26 minutes) that was more or less to be expected. But Grant was confident stepping into his shot, played aggressive on defense (two steals, two fouls) and found plenty of open shooters. The Bulls may struggle this season, but Fred Hoiberg has to be happy starting a backcourt of Grant and Holiday.

Bobby Portis: Some good, some really bad

Bobby Portis has had a not-so-great preseason, so it was nice to see him score 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting and grab four rebounds in his preseason finale. Then again, he played 18 minutes and somehow committed eight turnovers. Between losing balls in traffic, errant passes and some head-scratching decisions, it was tough to call Portis' night a success. He should find time on the second unit, but he needs to show improvement in all areas, not just scoring.

Antonio Blakeney gives it one (nine) last shot(s)

It'd be nice to see a great story like Antonio Blakeney stick on the Bulls' roster, and he made sure he was remembered in his final preseason game. In 20 minutes he took nine shots, hitting three for nine points. He didn't record any other stat but three fouls in his time on the floor, and was a -21 as the Raptors rode away with the win in the fourth quarter. But we're putting him here because there's a chance he can make the Bulls' roster, especially with LaVine out and Zipser potentially needing to miss time.

Someone has to score for the Bulls, so why not Justin Holiday?

Someone has to score for the Bulls, so why not Justin Holiday?

Justin Holiday probably isn’t at the top of Las Vegas’ list for odds on being the Bulls’ high scorer, but if the preseason is any indication he’ll establish himself as a decent one.

The Bulls will struggle, especially until Zach LaVine returns, but shots will have to come from somewhere and Holiday’s aptitude for Fred Hoiberg’s system combined with his aggressiveness makes him a candidate to lead the Bulls in that category.

“This offense allows myself and guys on this team to flourish,” Holiday said. “A lot of movement, which I do well. Cutting and obviously shooting the ball. This offense is made for the team we have and made for me. We’re showing it thus far.”

Nikola Mirotic is more gifted and has a longer resume, but consistency isn’t at the top of his docket; He’s prone to go missing in action for weeks at a time.

Holiday’s ceiling doesn’t go as high but his floor isn’t as low. He takes shots in the flow of the offense. Because he moves around the perimeter so well, floating to the corner for skip passes and swing passes, he’ll have more than his share of open looks.

“I think the biggest thing Justin has done is his cuts, getting out on the break,” said Hoiberg. “We’re stressing simple plays. He takes what the defense gives him. He’s one of the guys who can stop on a dime, rise up with great balance and shoot the ball. Continue to make simple plays. It’s really an equal opportunity offense to where you cut hard and make the right reads you’ll get open shots.”

Seeing him average close to 15 points a game isn’t far-fetched for a guy who never averaged more than seven shots per game in his first four NBA seasons.

“I can’t say I thought it would be like that on a night-to-night basis. I mean I knew I would have more responsibility, more to do offensively,” Holiday said. “When I was here last time, with the guys who were able to score, that’s what I’m able to do, play with guys who can get buckets and still be effective. So I have the same mentality as I did.”

Holiday originally played for the Bulls in 2015-16, acquired in a trade involving Kirk Hinrich and then put in the package that sent Derrick Rose to New York right before the 2016 draft.

He was steady in his limited time that season, when the Bulls were in a different place and Holiday was certainly more of a complementary piece than a potential primary scorer.

As he’s worked on being a more consistent scorer, he’s noticed a change in Hoiberg, who was in his first season when Holiday arrived.

“I think he’s a little more assertive,” Holiday said. “He seems a little more comfortable, after the years and experiences he’s had. Ups and downs make you better for it, I think he’s better than he was the first time.”

Now he’s one of the few Bulls with a decent amount of NBA experience, although he’s still looking to establish himself individually. It puts him in a unique position of being looked to as a leader while also making sure his feet are firmly planted on the ground.

“I enjoy it. I feel like I’m trying to establish myself like they are,” Holiday said. “So I know I am considered a vet but I don’t think I’m an old dude. I think we’re all trying to get somewhere, we’re all trying to make it. That’s how it is for me.”

So when he was asked about potential statistical achievements this season, he shifted the conversation.

“My goals changed and me being a leader. The main thing I’m focused on was how I can lead to make this team successful,” Holiday said. “Some people might think leading is easy. Some people might not. To put your team in front of you before yourself, especially when you’re able to be on the floor a lot is something I’ve been focused on, not myself.”