This is the time of year to begin taking a serious look at the upcoming season. Preview requests are flying in from all directions and I've been considering how the Pacers stack up against the competition in the Eastern Conference. I'm stuck though because there remains a good chance that Jamaal Tinsley and at least one other player may be dealt before the season starts. Kind of makes it hard to commit to a preview if there's a missing piece to the puzzle to be named later.
For now, I'll leave it up to Bruno and Larry Bird. In his latest Caught in the Web, Bruno accounts for the improved rosters among the teams in the East and where that might leave the Pacers. This is going to have to be settled on the court because there's a case to be made for six or seven teams that should compete for the final two or three playoff spots.
Considering teams like Washington, Miami, Chicago, Toronto, New Jersey, Charlotte, and Atlanta, the Pacers may lead the league in questions marks. I can still make the case for the Pacers earning a playoff spot and will as the season draws closer, but it is much easier to outline scenarios where they end up in the lottery.
Obviously, Larry Bird has high hopes for this team but it sounds like he has questions too and can't wait to start getting some answers on the court.
"My expectation is always to make the playoffs," Bird said. "We've got a group of guys that's committed to getting back to the playoffs and playing the style of ball Jimmy (O'Brien) wants to play. Obviously, defensively we've got to get better. We're going to score points. It's just up to us to be able to stop other people and I think these guys have enough talent. We don't have any so-called superstars on this team but we've got a lot of good basketball players. It'll be interesting to me to see how a lot of these new guys fit in.
"They're committed to what we're trying to do and they want to be a part of it. They feel it would be special to come in here with a team that's been down for a few years to try to help us get back to the level we want to get to. It's not a magic wand or anything but I feel good. I think these guys will be a major improvement to our team not only on the court but in the locker room and in the community. I think they're willing to do whatever to help out."
The East has definitely taken a couple of steps up this year, making a run at the playoffs more difficult for the Pacers despite the change in direction and improved depth of talent on the roster.
Who do you like coming out of the East as of today? I'll take...