Point/counterpoint: Which team will win the NBA title?

BY DI STAFF | DECEMBER 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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Chicago Bulls

When discussing potential NBA title contenders for the upcoming season, people seem to forget about the team that led the league in victories in 2010-11.

They seem to forget that same team boasts last year's MVP.

They forget that same club's head coach garnered the league's Coach of the Year award.

That team? The Chicago Bulls.

While most veer toward the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Mavericks, or even the veteran-laden Boston Celtics for teams in the NBA title hunt this season, basketball fans should be talking about the Bulls.

Coach Tom Thibodeau's team made the Eastern Conference semifinals last season, when Thibodeau was a rookie head man. Now he's in second season; he's better prepared and more experienced.

The Bulls fell to the Heat, four games to one, in the conference finals, so there's a lot of playoff work to do. But a league-best 62 wins is always good for the résumé.

Oh yeah, there's that Derrick Rose guy, too.

Rose is coming off an MVP season in which he averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists per game. The Chicago native continues to impress the world with his talents, and he has become a mainstay on the highlight reels.

Add in Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and Carlos Boozer, and the Bulls certainly have some formidable players.

Former Piston Richard Hamilton is likely to join the parade sometime in the next few days, after Detroit released him earlier this week. Even if Hamilton agrees to a contract but ends up on the bench, a combination of Rip, Ronnie Brewer, and Kyle Korver is feasible at shooting guard.

Look out for the Bulls this season as Thibodeau, Rose, and Company gain more experience. The sky is the limit for this team.

— by Matt Cozzi

Oklahoma City Thunder

Last year, we saw the Oklahoma City Thunder fall to the eventual NBA champion Dallas Mavericks after six games in the Western Conference Finals.

The Thunder will take the next step this season and will be the team that ends up with the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

General manager Sam Presti has developed a roster that oozes with talent.

That roster has grown more and more every season, and this year it will simply be too good to stop.

The Thunder have one of the best players in the league in 6-10 forward Kevin Durant. The 23-year-old is the two-time defending scoring champion, is unguardable, and has the ability to shine in crunch time — unlike other superstars (cough, LeBron James, cough).

He's joined by Russell Westbrook, an All-NBA second-team member last season coming off a disastrous playoffs. Westbrook is perhaps best remembered for ignoring Durant and forcing too many bad shots with games on the line last season.

This led the media to speculate that Westbrook couldn't handle deferring to Durant. ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons even compared the Durant-Westbrook partnership to Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale, two friends who become enemies due to the imbalance of power in "The Wire."

But fear not; assuming Westbrook will realize Durant needs the ball in the game's most important minutes, he can be an elite talent at point guard.

Swingman James Harden emerged in last season's playoffs, and I expect him to have a breakout year this season.

Add in freakishly athletic forward Serge Ibaka and good bench depth, and the Thunder will take the next step.

They'll be the NBA champions.

— by Ben Wolfson

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