The Eastern Conference is more competitive than it’s ever been in recent years, with many teams having busy off-seasons so let’s take a look at each individual team and what the future holds for them.
The Celtics are clearly in a rebuilding stage, with veterans such as Kevin Garnett and long-time Celtic Paul Piece gone the Celtics are hoping to rebuild around young point guard Rondo (who is also coming off a season ending ACL injury). Boston also parted ways with coach Doc Rivers who coached the 08 Championship team. Jeff Green had some special moments last year, most noticeably against the Miami Heat where he dropped; 43-points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 4 blocks while guarding the eventual MVP LeBron James (who later hit the game winning shot but let’s look over that for the time-being.) Re-building takes time, however a young nucleus of Rondo and Jeff Green means that times look promising for the men in green.
The Boston Nets (that was a joke) have certainly had a busy off-season, acquiring veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and former 6th-man-of-the-year Jason Terry. That, added with the addition of new head coach and former player Jason Kidd (sidenote: has a player ever gone from playing/being on a roster to being the head-coach of a team within one off-season?) means that expectations have been raised for the Nets. Kidd is widely regarded as one of the best point guards of all time and therefore it will be interesting to see what affect his coaching has on Deron Williams. Williams got off to a slow start last season, pre all-star break he averaged: 16.7ppg on 41% FG and 34.7% 3PT with 3.3rpg and 7.6apg. However, post all-star break he increased his production to 22.9ppg on 48% FG and 42% 3PT with 2.5rpg and 8.0apg. Hopefully he can return to his post all-star break form this season. Conclusion; let’s just say if the Nets go 0-82 things won’t be gravy. (C’mon, that was kinda funny.)
New York Knicks
The Knicks managed to add Ron Artest and Andrea Bargnani in the off-season. That, in addition to 6th man of the year J.R Smith and the best scorer in the league Carmelo Anthony should be enough to compete with the Heat this season….can you sense the sarcasm yet? On a serious note though the Knicks seem bound for another season of mediocrity. They haven’t improved defensively which is their main issue, JR Smith and Carmelo will still be volume scorers…and that’s all she wrote. Oh, and there’s some guy called Amar’e Stoudmire who the Knicks are throwing $100 mill at to come off the bench…when he’s healthy. Sorry Knicks fans, another 2nd round exist (at best) seems on the horizon for you.
The biggest change in Philly this off-season was the departure of point guard Jrue Holiday and the acquisition of the 6″11 Nerlens Noel who the 76ers picked up with the number 6 pick. Outside of that the 76ers are mediocre at best, and that’s being kind. Evan turner’s career has been a disappointment so far and I would look for him to have a bounce-back season, Jason Richardson is aging and the 76ers roster is filled with what can only be described as “meh” players from Kwame Brown to Spencer Hawes.
The Raptors are a young, athletic team that have potential but still lack leadership and experience. DeRozan continues to improve and the Raptors may have the most athletic perimeter in the league with players such as Rudy Gay, DeRozan and Terrence Ross. Outside of the high-flying trio there’s Austin Daye, D.J Augustin, Steve Novak and Kyle Lowry who again, all fit into that “meh” category. In my opinion the Raptors are moving in the right direction but very slowly, I don’t see them making the playoffs this year.
D.ROSE BACK, D.ROSE BACK, THAT’S ALL THEM BULLS FANS SCREAMING THAT D.ROSE BACK. Derrick Rose is finally back! Whether you’re a Bulls fan or not, chances are you’re excited about the return of Derrick Rose. I expect Rose’s efficiency to go up this season due to him taking less shots and would look for him to average around 23points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds on 46% FG. But outside of Rose there’s an emerging defensive stud in the form of Jimmy Butler. Although the Heat won the second round series 4-1, Butler did hold LeBron to 36% FG while playing 44.2mpg. Luol Deng should be back to full strength by the time the season comes around and so should Joakim Noah (who was robbed of defensive player of the year in my opinion). The Bulls are a defensive first team, and with players such as Butler, Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich, Dahntay Jones and Joakim Noah it will be interesting to see how they bond as a unit this year on the defensive side of the floor. The Bulls along with the Pacers are the two teams that are most likely to ruin the Miami Heat’s chances of 3-peating.
The big story in Clevleand is the emerging point guard Kyrie Irving. While I think Irving’s talents are some-what over-rated considering he has yet to play a full 82 game season, there’s no denying that the future is brighter than it was 3 years ago for the Cavs. On paper a healthy Kyrie Irving and Bynum along with Anderson Verajäo and 6th-man-of-the-year contender Jarrett Jack seems like a good base for a team (well, kinda). It will definitely be interesting to see where the Cavs end up this season and if they’ll make the playoffs for the first time since LeBron left 3 seasons ago.
As the memories of the 2004 NBA Finals float into the sunset, the Pistons are slowly re-building both on and off their player-roster. Rasheed Wallace is now an assistant coach and 04 Finals MVP Chauncey Billups is back at the PG spot. The Pistons acquire Josh Smith to go along with the big-man duo of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, who has reportedly improved a lot in the off-season. Brandon Jennings joins the Pistons, much to the relief of the Milwakue Bucks. With veteran guard Billups providing much needed leadership for Jennings and Stuckey and with veteran big-man Wallace providing leadership for Monroe and Drummond it will be interesting to see where the Pistons end up this season.
The Pacers, despite being without Danny Granger, managed to take the Heat to seven games in the ECF. Paul George (the most improved player of the year) looked like a super-star at times, and if he continues his development he certainly will be at that level. Hibbert shot a league-worst 47% from under the basket last season and as a 7″2, 280lb center that’s terrible. On the other hand reports are that he’s bulked up this season and has been working with Tim Duncan. Additionally the Pacers have added Luis Scola, who, with the ‘addition’ of Granger make the Pacers a very deep team. Many tip the Pacers to defeat the Heat in the playoffs this year, and with the moves they’ve made this off season, along with the conitnued progression of Paul George, they’re defintely moving in the right direction.
The Bucks’ roster seems to be full of scraps from other teams; Caron Butler, Brandon “DeAndre killed me” Knight, O.J Mayo and Gary Neal. Defensively the Bucks seem weak, very weak. O.J Mayo is in-consistent on both ends of the floor, Caron Butler is ageing and so on and so forth. I don’t see the Bucks making the playoffs this year.
Al Horford quietly had a good year last season averaging 17.4ppg on 54.3% FG, 10.2rpg, 3.2apg with 1.1 steals and blocks per game. Things get interesting when you look at his pre and post all-star game stats. Pre all-star game Horford was averaging (rounded): 16/10/3ast on 54% FG, post all-star break he averaged 20/11/3ast on 54%FG, a definite improvement. If the Hawks are to have a good year then Horford needs to continue his post all-star game form. New additions include Elton Brand who will look to be a solid contributor and former Utah Jazz power-forward Paul Millsap who averaged 15/7 on 49% FG last season. The Hawks should be solid team this season, nothing great, not absurdly terrible, saying that however I don’t see them making the playoffs.
The Bobcats had some-what of a busy off season; acquiring big man Al Jefferson and drafting 7″0 Cody Zeller with the number 4 pick. Legendary centre Patrick Ewing joins the Bobcats as an Assistant Coach and will no doubt be looking to help both Jefferson and Zeller improve upon their game. Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist fill the point and shooting guard slot. The aim for this team is simple, win more games than last season. They’re not going to make the playoffs but one can only hope that the Bobcats start to improve, otherwise Jordan may have to come back….(that was a joke, you can calm down now).
Fresh off of winning their second straight championship the Miami Heat are looking to do two things; become the first team since the 80s Celtics to reach 4 straight NBA Finals (is it just me that doesn’t see the point in reaching 4 finals if you don’t win all four of them, why did we all of sudden start celebrating second place?) and become the first team since the early 2000 Lakers to 3-peat. A big question mark still remains though; Dwyane Wade’s health. Reports are that Wade has been working with Tim Grover this off-season in order to get back to his form of years past. Wade’s production has been in decline since his 2011 season and his health has been temperamental. If Wade stays healthy I see the Heat being the number 1 seed in the East again this year but that’s a big ‘if’. Over the last 2 years LeBron has definitely silenced his critics however he will be looking to do what no other player has ever done; win a 3rd straight MVP and finals MVP! The Heat are an ageing team and some may even say that they scraped and clawed their way through the post season and finals last year. With other teams such as the Pacers and Bulls getting stronger we can only wonder if their time is up.
The biggest addition to the Magic this year was the 6″4 shooting guard Victor Oladipo who was taken at the number 2 pick. Oladipo certainly has a lot of potential and many, including myself, predict that he’ll be the rookie of the year. Outside of him though the Magic’s roster isn’t that exciting; Hedo Turkglu, Glen Davis, Jason Maxiell and Arron Afflalo are just a few of the names. I don’t see the Magic making the playoffs this year but with Victor Oladipo developing the future looks bright.
The Wizards struggled for the most part of last season, however, when John Wall returned they were certainly an exciting team to watch. Wall’s athleticism allows him to be one of the best defenders at the point guard position when he puts his mind to it. The rest of the team however isn’t so promising. Ariza is inconsistent, Josh Childress has been in and out of the league, Okafor isn’t what he once was and Al Harrington is past his prime. It won’t be an easy season for the Wizards and I don’t see them making the playoffs.
My prediction for the top 8 seeds:
1. Miami Heat; 62+ wins
2. Chicago Bulls; 58+ wins
3. Indiana Pacers; 55+ wins
4. New York Knicks 52+ wins
5. Brooklyn Nets 47+ wins
6. Detroit Pistons 45+ wins
7. Clevleland Cavaliers 42+ wins
8. Boston Celtics 40+ wins