Age, contracts give Bulls-Miami a chance for long rivalry
Just two games into the Eastern Conference finals, the Bulls-Miami rivalry has been wildly popular.
South Beach vs. Broad Shoulders. Three Stars vs. Team Concept. Over-Celebrators vs. Humble MVP.
Game 1 drew the highest television ratings in NBA cable history, with an audience of 11.1 million. Wednesday's rematch was watched by an estimated 10 million viewers.
It's easy to think this could be just the start. The Bulls nucleus of Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer sports an average age of 26. Miami's Power Trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh averages 27.3 years.
Trying to predict the NBA's future is tenuous with a new round of labor negotiations under way. But whatever the new collective bargaining agreement brings, it's not likely to affect players already under contract.
Rose signing a maximum extension whenever the lockout ends figures to be a formality. That transaction would leave Rose, Deng, Noah and Boozer locked up until at least 2014.
The Power Trio committed to Miami through 2014, but could exercise options for two years beyond that.
Free agency usually prevents teams from staying together. Imagine what sort of offers Taj Gibson would get if he hit the open market this summer.
But Gibson is in his second season, so he wouldn't become a restricted free agent under the current rules for two more years. The Bulls can keep Gibson, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson for two more seasons.
The Heat used the Power Trio's leftover fund to lock up Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller and Joel Anthony through 2015. Eddie House and Zydrunas Ilgauskas have player options for next season, according to hoopshype.com.
There's still a long way to go in this series. But not since the Bulls and Detroit Pistons met from 1989-91 have the same teams faced each other in the conference finals for three straight years. The longest run was four years in a row, Boston and Philadelphia from 1965-68.
The prospects of another team in the East breaking up the Bulls-Miami rivalry seems remote, but here's a closer look:
The Celtics tried to inject some athleticism by acquiring Jeff Green from Oklahoma City. But they're hurting on the inside without Kendrick Perkins, while Kevin Garnett showed his age in the playoffs. Ray Allen turns 36 this summer.
As long as Dwight Howard is around, the Magic will be a playoff contender, having visited the Finals two years ago. But how long will Howard be around? He can hit the open market in 2012, which might create a Carmelo Anthony-style auction next season. The Lakers for Andrew Bynum is the most logical destination.
The Hawks gave Joe Johnson a ridiculous contract last summer, thinking they needed him to remain a playoff contender. Atlanta made a nice showing in the second round against the Bulls and now must decide whether to pay Jamal Crawford. Point guard Jeff Teague's strong playoff performance might be an influence.
Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire have yet to win a playoff game together. The new CBA could make it tough to add another significant piece. Maybe Toney Douglas will keep improving.
The Cavs own the first and fourth picks of this year's draft and are expected to select Duke point guard Kyrie Irving No. 1. If he's the second coming of Chris Paul and the Cavaliers can add size with that second pick, they could field an interesting lineup. J.J. Hickson, Alonzo Gee and Christian Eyenga have shown promise, and maybe Antawn Jamison's expiring contract can be traded for something useful.
The scrappy Pacers need some sort of creator to take scoring pressure off Danny Granger. Someone like Detroit's Rodney Stuckey could turn Indiana into a top four seed, but finding a guy like that is easier said than done.
Evan Turner stepped it up late in the season, giving the Sixers a nice collection of athletes. Philadelphia has a couple of unfriendly contracts with Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala.
The Nets have two-fifths of a promising lineup with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. The future Brooklyn residents sent Derick Favors and the No. 3 pick to Utah for Williams, so additions will be need to come in free-agency.
John Wall, Nick Young, Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee. There's some talent there, but maturity might keep this team in the lottery for a long time.