Last week we previewed the (stacked) Western Conference and now it is time to tackle the East. The Miami Heat look to make it not one, not two, but three conference championships in a row. Can they do it? Who can rise to the occasion? Who is at the bottom of the barrel? Let’s start there …
15. Philadelphia 76ers: I find it glorious that for David Stern’s final season, there is a team with enough charisma to say, “Here we are … tanking in all its glory” from the day the draft took place all the way through the trading deadline. Where will Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young wind up? I’m not sure they care, as long as it is out of Philly. While I like what Philly did on draft night acquiring Noel and MCW, there is no hope for this team in 2013/14. Zero. Zilch.
14. Orlando Magic: Victor Oladipo is very likely going to be a very good NBA player, but this team lacks talent across its frontcourt. If they can find a taker for Jameer Nelson during the season, they might give the Sixers a run for their money on ping pong balls.
13. Cleveland Cavaliers: Dan Gilbert wants this team in the playoffs, yet continues to do the strangest things on draft night. I love Kyrie Irving, I just wish he played almost anywhere else in the league. Cavs fans have to hope that Michael Bennett doesn’t eat himself out of the league (not a ringing endorsement for the #1 pick of the draft) and rely on getting something from Andrew Bynum and/or Anderson Varejao. This isn’t going to end well.
12. Boston Celtics: The Celtics are rebuilding but I can’t put them any lower than this, given what you just read. In fact, I actually wanted to put them a little bit higher, but figure this seems about right if Danny Ainge wakes up one day and says, “You know what, we are too good to get enough ping pong balls, Rondo needs to go”. Rajon Rondo and the supporting cast (Jeff Green, Courtney Lee) are good enough to stay ahead of the prior three teams.
11. Charlotte Bobcats: On paper, this is a pretty intriguing team that you might want to keep an eye on, but then you remember it is the Bobcats. They have a serviceable rotation of guards, signed Big Al Jefferson, and I love MKG. Then I remember that they are the Bobcats and just drafted Cody Zeller at #4 ahead of a handful of others that would have been a nice fit. Would the real Bismack Biyombo please stand up this season?
10. Detroit Pistons: This is going to be fun, right? Right?! Chauncey Billups returning to Detroit and trying to lead the Pistons with Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, and Andre Drummond. At what point does Billups flat out retire? It would be great if he just walked out of the locker room at halftime to never come back. This is where we start thinking about teams that could sneak their way into the Eastern Conference playoffs … with 35 wins.
9. Toronto Raptors: Another team that is intriguing on paper and then you give yourself a reality check on second glance. Do you want Kyle Lowry as your starting PG? Is DeMar DeRozan ever going to turn it on? How much of a leap is Jonas Valanciunas really going to make in one year? Is Rudy Gay just going to shoot 33% from the field this year on 1,500 shots? Sorry, no playoffs for this franchise.
8. Washington Wizards: Relying on the health of an already injured Emeka Okafor may not be the wisest strategy, but there is too much talent here to not make the playoffs in the East. John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. (another great pick from the Wizards front office?), and enough able bodies for big men. If you go to their second unit, you have some defensive studs as well with Singleton and Ariza on the wing. This could be a team to keep an eye on and is already on my League Pass watch-list.
7. Milwaukee Bucks: Every year I get sucked in and every year there is disappointment. Where OJ Mayo goes, so does some bizarre allegiance to overrate the team he’s playing on. That bus landed in Milwaukee this year. I like their big men as a group, but not any particular individual. You have ex-Wolf Luke Ridnour and Brandon Knight as the PG’s and Gary Neal as the fourth wheel in the backcourt. It will be interesting to see what they get out of the SF position where the Bucks have two wily veterans in Caron Butler and Carlos Delfino. This roster is good enough to make the playoffs. (Until it isn’t)
6. New York Knicks: Look at how the NY Giants football season is going and that is what I would like to predict for the Knicks. However, they have too much talent for the Eastern Conference to go any lower than this. They will play .500 ball and get into the playoffs with ease. Here’s what I like about the team: Tyson Chandler, from a few years ago. That’s it. There is nothing on this roster that I like. Despite his gaudy numbers, there is virtually nothing Carmelo can do to not make me believe that he is an underachiever; outside of taking less than max money in his next contract and deferring to another star in order to win a championship.
5. Atlanta Hawks: This is my Eastern Conference “I have no idea where to put this team, so they are going here”. I cannot give a team home court advantage in round 1 of the playoffs if that is my general feeling towards the team, so they land at #5. Love the Paul Millsap and Al Horford combination, like Jeff Teague, but have no idea what to think of their rotation of wings. The Hawks’ wings really just need to fill roles though, right? That should be good enough for a .500+ record and another trip to the postseason, only to be quickly disposed by the …
4. Chicago Bulls: We’ll get to this when we go through the playoff brackets later, but I see the Bulls coasting through the regular season, monitoring Derrick Rose’s minutes, resting him occasionally, etc. This team is tough as nails and will do what is necessary to get to right around the 50 win mark. It won’t be pretty, we won’t enjoy it when they beat up the Wolves in the paint, but this team will get it done.
3. Brooklyn Nets: Prokhorov’s tax bill is “a bit” much, but you have to love an owner that is willing to spend any and all money possible to put together a championship contender. Unfortunately for the Nets, there are too many stronger teams that will grind this team out of the playoffs at some point. Deron Williams has a lot to prove and I see this team putting together a very strong regular season due to all of the veterans in the locker room.
Best of luck to KG in Brooklyn and a big “kudos” for the Big Ticket in wearing the #2 jersey with the Nets – in memory of Malik Sealy. I might have to drag myself to the Barclay’s Center to see KG one last time in person.
2. Indiana Pacers: The country finally got to see who Paul George was and what this Pacers roster is all about in last year’s playoffs. I don’t expect them to digress whatsoever. In fact, if Danny Granger can stay healthy and Luis Scola provides quality backup minutes at the PF/C spots, this team is very, very dangerous. Quite honestly, I love this team.
(You didn’t think I would talk about the Pacers and not mention David Kahn’s selection of Wesley Johnson over Paul George, did you? The worst lottery pick the franchise has ever made. The worst … and the bar is pretty ‘high’ for that proclamation. THE WORST! Let’s move on before my blood pressure pills start wearing off …)
1. Miami Heat: The Heat won something like 75 games in a row (it was 27) last season and the NBA Championship. You know the story and the cast of characters. Until someone knocks them off the pedestal, it is hard to place them anywhere else.
Which brings us to the playoffs, based on the seeds above. Here is how I see the Eastern Conference Playoffs unfolding:
The top four teams in the East are light-years ahead of the rest of the conference, so they should all advance pretty easily out of the first round – unless you like the Knicks. Then things get very interesting. As mentioned above, I think the Bulls take it “easy” in the regular season a bit but knock out the defending champs, which sets up a close to epic battle against the Pacers. I simply believe it is the Pacers time.
The early exit for the Heat leads to about 15 million stories and rumors about LeBron heading back to Cleveland, to the Lakers, etc. etc. That’s going to be a lot of fun!
What do you think? Is it too early to dethrone the Heat? Do they have another trophy coming? What are your surprise or disappointment teams in the conference? Let us know below!