Oct 29 2013 5:47PM

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CHICAGO BULLS

WHERE THEY LEFT OFF
2012-13 record: 45-37, fifth in Eastern Conference, lost to Miami in Semifinals
The Bulls overcame the absence of Derrick Rose for all of last season, and injuries to several other key players late in the year, to finish second in the Central and win a first-round playoff series. They played with their usual mix of fire and defensive tenacity under coach Tom Thibodeau, one of the best in the business, and showed no signs of regression even without their star in the lineup. In the playoffs they faced more adversity, losing Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich to injury, but still beat the Nets in 7. They then gave Miami a scare by winning Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semis before losing four straight. Considering all they dealt with, that was a good run.

2013-14 OUTLOOK
Rose is back. His knee is no longer an issue. The Bulls don't have to answer questions about it anymore. These are good things. The biggest question still remaining is can Rose return to the form that earned him the 2011 MVP? If he does, the Bulls should challenge Miami (and anyone else in the East) for a Finals appearance. In addition to Rose, they also have Deng, Hinrich, Carols Boozer, Joakim Noah and breakout performer Jimmy Butler back, giving them a strong group of savvy players who know what it takes to win. They'll need to stay healthy and have some bench players step up. But this is set up for another strong season in Chicago, perhaps enough for them to win their first title since MJ left town.

3 POINTS

Tom Thibodeau never takes credit when his team wins and always takes the blame when they lose, so it's no surprise he remains in the background even though he's one of the best tacticians in the game. If there was ever any doubt about that, Thibodeau proved it again in the first-round of last year's playoffs, guiding the Bulls to a Game 7 upset in Brooklyn even without Deng and Hinrich and Noah battling a major injury. Luol Deng had another stat-stuffing season in Chicago, averaging 16 points, six rebounds, three assists and one steal a game. He's in the final year of his contract so there's plenty of motivation for another strong season, and with Rose back at the point he should get plenty of easy kick-out looks from midrange, where he makes his money. He could be making a lot more after this year. It's impossible to overstate how important Joakim Noah was in the playoffs. Even while battling plantar fasciitis, and limping noticeably after games, Noah was an absolute beast in the middle for Chicago, averaging 10 points, nine boards and two blocks. When healthy, he's the man who makes Chicago's defense go with his intense presence around the rim.

COMPLETING THE PUZZLE
You might be sick of reading Derrick Rose's name, but get used to it, because Chicago's hopes rest on his knee. Sure, the Bulls were good last year, good enough to make the conference semis. But the difference between making the Conference Semis and the Finals is Rose. He has to be the playmaker he was before he tore his left ACL for the Bulls to have any chance against the Heat, or any of the big-timers in the East. Yes, they need their other stars to play well too. But Rose is the difference maker. With the Bulls, it always seems like the biggest question comes down to health, and with just cause. Rose was out all of last year. Deng and Kirk Heinrich missed time in the playoffs. Noah is always battling some nagging injury. Boozer was healthy last year but missed chunks the previous two seasons. That's a starting five with a history of serious health concerns. In order for them to have a chance to win the East, they'll have to avoid the injury bug that's been flying around them lately. One of the issues with having so many injuries to key players is it hurts on-court continuity. No where is that more obvious than with Rose. He's a player who needs the ball in his hands driving to the rim to be most effective. The Bulls want him in that position but it takes time for the other player to adjust and get their spacing right. Last year Chicago was a low post team with strong perimeter shooters. They didn't really have a guy who could penetrate consistently--outside of the now departed, and hardly used until the playoffs, Nate Robinson. But if they want to maximize Rose's talents, and their own potential, building that chemistry will be vital. Chicago isn't a team that's going to run you up and down the court. That's not their style. They like to beat you in the half court, on both sides of the ball. For them to do that with consistent success on offense they need their outside shooters to knock down shots. Jimmy Butler proved he can shoot from deep (38 percent last year) and the Bulls added Mike Dunleavy (37 career three-point percentage) in the off season. Equally important will be having Deng and Boozer knocking down the mid-range shots they Bulls rely on to open up the court. Offensive wins games and defense wins championships, right? Well then the Bulls should be in good position. Their defense has been the one consistent trait that separates them from the rest. They play with intensity and desire on the defensive end and are coached by a defensive specialist, Thibodeau, giving them the perfect recipe to be the team they are. It almost reminds you of the 80's and 90's watching this team play D. They beat you up inside, are right in your face outside, foul hard when you drive the paint and throw elbows when you try to cross the middle or grab a rebound. That will never change under Thibodeau.

FLYING UNDER THE RADAR
A two-time All Star, an 11-year vet with career averages of 16.9 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, yeah it's hard to imagine Carlos Boozer being under the radar. But that's exactly what he is coming into this season. The major storylines in Chi-city revolve around Rose's return and Deng's contract, plus the expectations of the Bulls challenging Miami for a spot in the finals. That leaves Boozer as the forgotten man, perhaps the most important forgotten man in the league. The Bulls need him to be a presence on offense as much as ever. His outside shooting touch keeps defenders honest and the lane clear, which will be more important with the return of Rose. It shouldn't be much an adjustment for Boozer playing with Rose again. He had his best season in Chicago when Rose won the MVP, averaging 17 points and nine boards. His defense remains suspect. But that's not what the Bulls pay him for. Leave the dirty work to Noah, assuming he's healthy, and let Boozer knock down the open shots, which should be a little more open with the addition of Rose.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

WHERE THEY LEFT OFF
2012-13 record: 24-58, 13th in Eastern Conference
The Cavs missed the playoffs for the third straight year since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, but at least they gave fans some hope for the future. Kyrie Irving improved dramatically from his first year and proved he can be a star in this league when healthy. Dion Waiters flashed some scoring ability in his rookie year before a knee injury knocked him out in April. The Cavs beat the odds by winning the draft lottery for the second time in three years and picked UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett No. 1, giving them another talented young prospect to build around.

2013-14 OUTLOOK
There's a common belief around the league that the Cavs have the talent and depth to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10. Ask Kyrie Irving what he thinks the Cavs are capable of and he'll tell you making the playoffs isn't enough. He wants a series win. Irving and offseason acquisition Andrew Bynum could form one of the top inside-out tandems if Bynum returns to the form he had in Los Angles before missing all of last season. Long-time Cav Anderson Varejao also needs to stay healthy after three injury-riddled seasons. Recent top picks Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson had another off-season to improve and the Cavs bench got better with the addition of Jarret Jack and Earl Clark. And don't forget about No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett. He should see good minutes.

3 POINTS

Mike Brown returns to the Cavs sideline three years after they fired him. His Princeton-style offense didn't fly in Los Angels, where Brown was sent packing by the Lakers five games into last season, but people around Cleveland still have fond memories of him leading it to the 2007 Finals. He's a defensive-minded coach, which should help a team that gave up 101.2 point per game last year, and his .653 career winning percentage gives instant creditability to the struggling franchise. If Kyrie Irving is Batman on the Cavs, Dion Waiters could be his Robin. Waiters averaged 16.1 points after the All-Star break and 14.7 in his rookie year overall. A left knee injury sidelined him for the season in April but he didn't need off-season surgery and reported to training camp in good shape. He's expected to play exclusively at shooting guard this year after alternating between that and point guard as a rook, which should help him develop better chemistry with Batman, AKA Irving. Anderson Varejao, the lone holdover from the LeBron James era, hasn't played anything close to a full season since, well, James left in 2010. He averaged career highs in points (14.1) and rebounds (14.4) last year but only played 25 games because, among other thing, of a blood clot in his lung. He's should be back to 100 percent this year and the Cavs could use his energy and passion on the floor. Besides, who doesn't want to see that hair dew again?

COMPLETING THE PUZZLE
Completing the puzzle Everything for the Cavs starts and stops with Kyrie Irving and everything with Kyrie Irving starts and stops with his health. The third-year player averaged 22.5 points, 5.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game last year, emerging as one of the top point guards in the league. The highlight of that came at Madison Square Garden, where Irving hung 41 points on the Knicks despite wearing a face mask to protect a broken jaw. But therein lays the problem with Irving: He's an amazing player capable of breathtaking performances in big situations, but always seems to be battling some injury. Last year all of the Cavs were. There's no need to go into every season-ending injury suffered by the Cavs last year. But as a quick recap they were without Irving, Varejao and Waiters for big chunks of the season, with the three of them playing together for less than a third of it. Those three need to build chemistry with the other players on this team to create some continuity and there's no way to do that if they're injured. At some point the Cavs need their stars on the floor for them to be a cohesive unit and win more games. There's no way around it. One of the most important players to that goal is offseason acquisition Andrew Bynum, who might be the biggest wildcard in the entire NBA. He missed all of last season while recovering from multiple knee surgeries and showed carelessness when he went bowling and hurt himself again. When healthy Bynum is among the most talented centers in the game, which is why the Cavs signed him to a 2-year, $24 million deal with $6 mill guaranteed. There's no timetable on Bynum's return, other than him guaranteeing he'll play this year, but then again he said he would play last year in Philadelphia. The Cavs better hope he actually suits up this year because they need a scoring presence down low to take some of the pressure (and physical beating) off Irving. Defense was a weakness for the Cavs last year, which is one of the biggest reasons they re-hired Mike Brown. He's one of the best defensive tacticians in the game but has a reputation of lacking offensive ingenuity, which is why he was unceremoniously dumped by the Lakers. Brown has a lot to prove, namely that he can win without LeBron James or Kobe Bryant on his roster. For the Cavs, that starts with changing the defensive mindset after they gave up the second most points (101.2) in the Eastern Conference last year. The Cavs are one of the youngest teams in the league (average age around 23) and that could be a benefit or curse. Their youth could allow them to run past the older teams as the year progresses or their inexperience could cost them games against more disciplined, savvy teams. Likely it will wind up being a mix of both. Anthony Bennett, the top pick in last year's draft, is the perfect illustration of that paradox. He's only 20 (will be 21 in March) but doesn't have much experience, having only played at UNLV for a year. He could play a big role in the team's success, especially on defense, but could be a liability in critical situations. The Cavs hope it's the former for all their young players.

FLYING UNDER THE RADAR
Tristan Thompson improved dramatically his second year, starting all 82 games for the Cavs and averaging 11 points, nine rebounds and one block, proving why they selected him out of Texas with the fourth pick in the 2011 draft. So how did he celebrate? By switching shooting hands of course. In one of the more bizarre offseason moves (perhaps ever), the athletic 6-9 forward decided to switch shooting hands in the off season, going from lefty to righty. The Canadian didn't start playing basketball until he was in middle school and said he might have been a righty all his life and never knew it. That sounds strange. But if Thompson makes another big jump in year three, you'll know why. It's going to be hard for Thompson to get as much time as he did last year (31.3 MPG). Varejao's return and the addition of Bynum and Bennett pretty much guarantees that. But Thompson has loads of upside and could be the Cavs top bench player, so don't overlook his importance to their success.

DETROIT PISTONS

WHERE THEY LEFT OFF
2012-13 record: 29-53, 11th in Eastern Conference
The Pistons toiled in mediocrity once again, finishing with a sub-.500 record for the fifth straight season. It was another disappointing campaign for a franchise that's been in rebuilding mode since the days of the Chauncey Billups/Rip Hamilton/Ben Wallace/Rasheed Wallace quartet that went to six straight Conference Finals from 2003-2008. Greg Monroe, a big part of the latest rebuilding effort, continued to post solid numbers in his third year. Rookies Andre Drummond (7.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.6 bpg) and Kyle Singler (8.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg) offered hope for the future, flashing the kind of skills vital for team success. But Detroit needed more stars and they went out and got them in the off season.

2013-14 OUTLOOK
Where they left off 2013-14 outlook New coach, new stars, new lineup, new outlook. For the first time in a long time, things are looking up for the Pistons. They signed talented forward Josh Smith (four-year, $54 million) and point guard Brandon Jennings (three-year, $24 million), two of the highest profile offseason acquisitions in the League. They also hired veteran coach Maurice Cheeks and brought back Chauncey Billups, who should provide leadership to a team that needs to build a winning mentality. With Smith, Jennings, Monroe and Drummond figuring to lead the starting lineup--Billups, Rodney Stuckey (when he heals from his offseason broken thumb) and eighth-overall pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will likely battle for the shooting guard spot--the Pistons have quickly transformed themselves into contenders for a playoff spot in the East.

3 POINTS

It's going to be great seeing Chauncey Billups back in a Pistons uniform. Sure, he looked good in the powder blue of Denver and home white of the Clippers. But they never fit quite as well as the blue and red of Detroit. Billups isn't the same player he used to be. But he's a winner, a leader and a veteran, three traits Detroit can't get enough of. Plus, the guy can shoot, an invaluable commodity for a team that needs to stretch the floor. It's going to be interesting to see how Andre Drummond progresses in his second year. His rookie season was promising and filled with highlight-reel dunks. But the 6-10 center is still young (20 going on 21) and developing an offensive game away from the rim. The Pistons believe he can be the best pick-and-roll big man in the game (yes, even better than Blake Griffin). Now he has to avoid the sophomore slump. Greg Monroe has been the centerpiece of the Pistons since they drafted him in 2010 out of Georgetown. But his stats went stagnant from year two (15.4 ppg, 9.7 RPG) to year three (16.0 ppg, 9.6 RPG), making one wonder if he's already reached his ceiling. The addition of Smith and Jennings and the development of Drummond likely signals an end to an offense revolved around Monroe. But he has the talent to impact games in other ways.

COMPLETING THE PUZZLE
With all the new additions the Pistons made (plus the departure of starting point guard Brandon Knight), chemistry will play a key role in how they perform. Some say chemistry isn't as important as talent in the NBA. But when you're installing new defensive and offensive schemes under a new coach (Cheeks) and have three new starters in your lineup including two focal points (Jennings and Smith), chemistry and cohesion become more important and not just words reserved for college or high school ball. Perhaps Detroit should get together for a pasta party before the season starts so they're all on the same page. Whenever there are three bigs on the floor at the same time, especially ones used to getting the ball down low, spacing becomes a major issue. Drummond and Monroe had problems with that when they were on the court together last year and adding Smith and his penchant for driving to the equation clogs the paint even more. The Pistons have to mix in some shooters to keep the wing defenders honest and give their frontcourt trio room to operate. Otherwise Smith and/or Drummond will have to shoot from outside their range, leading to missed shots and fast break opportunities for the opponent. Ball security is of the utmost importance for every team. You can't win if you constantly turn the ball over. That's basketball (or any sport) 101. But because the Pistons expect to feature Smith and Jennings in their offense, it will be even more paramount to avoid turnovers. Both have a history of making bad decisions with the ball and it will be Cheeks' job to fix that problem along with his assistants. Forget the highlight alley-oop plays fellas. Just stick to a good old fashioned bounce pass and see how far it takes you. This is Cheeks' third try as a head coach and his performance could determine how far this team goes. Coaching up a young big like Drummond, cooling down the emotions of a fiery forward like Smith and honing in the talent of an unpredictable point guard like Jennings isn't easy. But if Cheeks can do it, if he can get those players to perform to their potential and play within a system that spaces the floor and gives them opportunities to be successful, he could be up for Coach of the Year. Many times you hear players go to a franchise that hasn't won in a while and say they need to change the losing mindset in the locker room. The Pistons needs that bad. They've won only 150 games over the last five years. While there was a strike-shortened season in there, 30 wins per year isn't getting it done. Ever. Billups will bring his hatred of losing back into the locker room. But he's going to need the budding stars (Smith, Jennings, Monroe and Drummond) to hate losing as much as he does to change the culture of the franchise back to a winning one.

FLYING UNDER THE RADAR
Kyle Singler stunned most prognosticators with his impressive rookie campaign, starting 72 games and averaging around nine points and four rebounds for the Pistons last year. As a second-round pick, he wasn't expected to get that much time or produce so much. But he earned his spot and made the most of it. Hopefully he savored it too. Singler most likely isn't going to get nearly as much starting lineup love as he did as a rookie simply because the Pistons frontcourt is too deep with the addition of Smith. But Singler could prove to be a valuable piece to their success off the bench because he's smart (Duke doesn't admit dummies), is a proven winner (NCAA MOP in 2010), can shoot from deep (35 percent last year) and is versatile (he plays small forward and guard). It will be an adjustment for Singler coming off the bench. But he's already proven he'll do anything to win and succeed at several positions on the floor. Those are the kind of players Detroit needs.

INDIANA PACERS

WHERE THEY LEFT OFF
2012-13 record: 49-32, third in Eastern Conference, lost to Miami in Conference Finals
The Pacers were in position for a major breakthrough in last year's playoffs. They had the defending champion Heat on the ropes, tied 3-3 in the Conference Finals after a dominating 14-point victory in Game 6. But then they laid an egg in Game 7, getting blown out by 23. It was a disappointing finish to an otherwise outstanding season where they won the Central and knocked off the second-seeded Knicks in the conference semis, all with star Danny Granger playing only five games because of injury. Roy Hibbert, Paul George and Lance Stephenson stepped up in his absence, leading the Pacers to within a game of the Finals.

2013-14 OUTLOOK
The Pacers are hoping to build off the momentum their playoff run created and take it a step further. Granger is back after dealing with a knee injury last year and should bolster and already multitalented offense. He might not wind up starting right away with George and Stephenson expected to grow following last year's breakout performance. But his shooting is an invaluable asset for any team. Hibbert continues to be one of the best big men in the game, dominating the paint on both sides of the ball. The Pacers defense was a big reason they were so successful last year and Hibbert is the centerpiece. George Hill and C.J. Watson are both capable point guards and power forward David West remains a threat.

3 POINTS

After another solid regular season (11 ppg, 8 rbp), Roy Hibbert exploded in the postseason, averaging 17 points and 10 boards per. He also played dominant D in the paint, proving to be LeBron James' kryptonite, at least some of the time. If he can build off that performance, he could be considered the best big in the game by years end. Stephenson is a streetballer trapped in a NBA universe. Hailing from Brooklyn, his dribble-penetration ability reminds you of a great pick-up player from Rucker Park. Like all streetballers, his greatest ability is scoring, no matter what the situation. He had his best year as a pro last year and ironically enough, it was primarily because of his defense. There may not have been a bigger breakout star last year than Paul George. Not only was he an All-Star in the regular season, but he stood toe-to-toe with LeBron James on both sides of the ball in the conference semis. Don't forget, he was guarding James on the perimeter, then draining deep shots over him (and everyone else on Miami) from the outside. Only 23, his best years are in front of him.

COMPLETING THE PUZZLE
With Granger returning to the lineup, the biggest question is how coach Frank Vogel splits up the minutes, and lineups, with Granger, George and Stephenson on the wings. George is going to get his time. His outstanding regular season and playoff performances guarantee that. But Granger and Stephenson also want starter minutes, no matter who actually starts the game. That could be a possibility with no real depth behind them. But what happens if one gets hot? Does he get more time? That's a question for Vogel to answer. Speaking of Vogel, he's got to do something about the Pacers offense. They were one of the slowest-moving units in the NBA and the second-lowest scoring team to make the playoffs, behind only the Bulls. Sure, they play great defense, arguably the best/most consistent in the league along with Chicago. But their offense was anemic at times, especially in Game 7 against Miami, when they were held to 76 points, the second time they were held below 80 in that series. In order to get over the hump, they've got to get more movement and better shots on offense. Over the last three years, the Pacers have progressed one round further in the playoffs than the previous year. With only the Finals to go, you don't have to wonder how motivated they are to take that step. But because their lineup is basically the same as last year, they better hope guys like Hibbert, George and Stephenson improved dramatically in the offseason and Granger will return to his old form. They need more than one superstar (George) to beat the three-headed monster of the Heat and if it doesn't come from within, they likely won't progress for a fourth straight year. The NBA has become a point guard driven league and the Pacers need theirs to perform well if they are going to reach their expectations. George Hill and C.J. Watson are both experienced players and proven scorers. Hill is coming off his best season as a pro (14 ppg, 4 apg). Watson is coming off one of his worst (7 ppg, 2 apg) while with the Nets. Their primary goal will be avoiding turnovers (the Pacers weakest point last year) and finding the scorers. They aren't being asked to lead the team. They're being asked to be caretakers for it. Stick to the script and the offensive will run smoothly. The Pacers have always been the underdog hunters of the NBA; an overlooked commodity that took the backseat to star-driven teams like Miami, New York (both of them) and Chicago. Now they're one of the favorites to come out of the East with the hype to go along with it (at least by Indiana standards). There's no telling how a team reacts to that change. The Pacers must avoid complacency and continue playing with the underdog edge that got them this far. Otherwise they may fall into the trap of believing their own hype.

FLYING UNDER THE RADAR
For the last two years, ever since he tore his ACL while with New Orleans, it seems like there has been some prognosticator out there saying David West is done before the season starts. Then West goes out there and shuts them up once again. Like a fine wine, West seems to get better with age. He averaged 16 points and nearly eight boards last year – a little bit better than his career averages--and continued to play tough interior defense. His silky smooth shot from the 10-foot range forces his defender out of the paint, thus opening up the interior of their defense, and he's always been a master finisher around the rim, evidenced by his career field goal percentage (49.1). His role will likely change this year with the addition of veteran Luis Scola. But West remains the starter and Scola should give him a nice reprieve if his legs get tired. He won't admit they are. But there's probably a prognosticator out there willing to say it for him.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS

WHERE THEY LEFT OFF
2012-13 record: 38-44, eighth in Eastern Conference, lost to Miami in first round
The Bucks continued their recent tradition of being an around .500 team that's always in the playoff picture. After two years of missing out on the postseason, they pulled out the eighth seed in the East, where they were promptly swept by the mighty Heat. They were led by the likes of Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Mike Dunleavy and J.J. Redick for most of the season. But like they have in the past, the Bucks shipped those players off when they became too expensive to keep, thus starting another rebuild with another group of players.

2013-14 OUTLOOK
Despite losing four of their top five scorers (Jennings, Ellis, Dunleavy, Redick), the Bucks put together a young squad capable of competing this year and building a foundation of success in the future. They signed shooting guard O.J. Mayo in the offseason and got point guard Brandon Knight from Detroit in the trade for Jennings. They also signed veterans Caron Butler, Luke Ridnour and Zaza Pachulia and hired former Atlanta coach Larry Drew, all of whom should bring a professional, winning culture to the locker room. Teamed with budding young standouts like C Larry Sanders and PF's John Henson and Ersan Ilyasova, they should have the talent to challenge for one of the lower playoff spots in the East.

3 POINTS

Ilyasova was the Bucks third leading scorer last year (13.2 ppg) and the only player from their top five back. He's had five solid but not spectacular seasons in Milwaukee but could be in line for a bigger role with the departure of so many scorers. Even if he doesn't start more games, his ability to finish and rebound will be important. Newly-hired coach Larry Drew posted three winning seasons in Atlanta but was let go by the Hawks in the off-season. Seeing an opportunity to pounce, Milwaukee landed the fourth-year head coach with the .561 career winning percentage. He'll have a chance (and a challenge) to mold the young players and make the most of their talent. The Bucks success depends on it. You might not know much about Larry Sanders, but he could be the biggest key to the Bucks season. The 6-11 center is a shot-blocking terror who is still just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. He averaged career highs in scoring (9.8) and rebounds (9.5) last year and the Bucks need him to build on that in his fourth season in the League.

COMPLETING THE PUZZLE
The hard thing about being a Buck is you know you're not going to win the NBA title this year. They'll say that's the goal, they'll say that's what they're focused on, but really the goal is to get to the playoffs and make some noise. No one is planning a title party. So where does the motivation come from? It will have to be internal. The players have to be motivated to win as many games as possible, even though they know the end result won't be holding the Larry O'Brien Trophy. That's a hard pill to swallow. But losing 50 games is even worse and Milwaukee can't allow itself to go down that road. Developing young talent is always paramount to long-term success. For the Bucks, it's even more important to their short-term success. They have four players under-26 who are expected to play significant minutes this year (Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo, Larry Sanders, John Henson) and need them to develop into consistent contributors for them to win. They also have a teenager from Greece who they drafted in the first round (Giannis Antetokounmpo) who they'll need to develop. But he's a long-term project. The previous four need to be solutions now. With so much youth leading this team, the Bucks need a strong veteran presence to build a winning mentality in the locker room. That falls mostly on the shoulders of Caron Butler, Luke Ridnour, Zaza Pachulia and Carlos Delfino. It will be up to those guys to teach the young guns how to survive and excel in the league. Of course they'll need those young players to listen. But the vets have got to get the ball rolling. Coach Drew wasn't exactly considered a defensive expert during his time in Atlanta. But the people of Milwaukee might like to see some defense this year. The Bucks gave up the most points by any team making the playoffs in the East (100.4) and had an -1.5 scoring differential on the year. That's not good. The first step to changing that is changing the defensive culture in Milwaukee. They need guys like Sanders and Ilyasova to become intimidators in the middle. Otherwise giving up 100 ppg will continue to be the norm. Another one of Drew's challenges is getting a new starting five to mesh together on offense. Sure, they have guys who can score. But they need the entire unit to play as one to be successful. It's not like they have that one guy who can light it up night-in, night-out. They have a handful of guys who can play a role and succeed in that role but need their teammates help. Passing, screens, movement, anticipation and understanding the offense will be the only way this team performs at a high level on offense.

FLYING UNDER THE RADAR
It's always hard to say that the highest paid player on a team (in this case tied for highest paid player with O.J. Mayo at $8 mill), is under the radar. But come on, when was the last time you heard someone mention Caron Butler as the key to the Bucks success. It may sound crazy. It also could be true. Butler, who is from Racine, Wis., close to where Milwaukee plays, was traded to the Bucks this off-season by the Suns. The two-time All Star has averaged over 15 points in his career but saw those numbers dip during his time with the Clippers the last two years. For the Bucks he immediately becomes an important part of their rotation. They need someone with his mid-range shooting ability and veteran presence on the court to help direct the younger players. Butler may not be as versatile as he used to be, but he can still put the ball through the hoop, and that's something Milwaukee needs.