NBA Preview- Eastern Conference

Posted: 10/28/2013 by levcohen in Basketball

The NBA season has come so fast! It seems like the Miami Heat were hoisting the trophy and breaking San Antonio Spurs’ fans hearts just days ago (in fact, it was in June), but the season starts tomorrow. I always thought that baseball had the shortest off-season, but in fact basketball’s is even shorter, with just four months between meaningful games (that is more like five months in baseball). I think this has a lot to do with the fact that basketball’s playoffs are so much longer, so half the teams in the NBA have seasons that end months earlier, while in the MLB the majority of teams have their seasons end less than a month before the World Series. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at each team in the Eastern Conference.

1. Miami Heat (60-22): The Heat won’t win the 66 games they won last year, but that’s because they’ll need to rest more and more often. LeBron, DWade and Bosh are all a year older and have played in a huge number of games over the past three years (about a whole extra year including the playoffs, but it’s more like two or three extra years given the added stress and importance of playoff games). The Heat won’t have another long winning streak, mainly because they won’t let themselves. They know they need to save themselves for the playoffs, so they’ll win the #1 seed and then relax.

Best case scenario: Lock up the #1 seed early and then get some rest
Worst case scenario: They don’t get the #1 seed and can’t rest their players

2. Indiana Pacers (57-25): After proving that they could hang with the Heat last year, the Pacers are truly one trade away from being on equal footing to Miami. Although with Danny Granger injured for three weeks, that trade becomes harder. The Pacers have one of the best small forwards in the league in Paul George, and this isn’t Granger’s team like it was before last season. They have a great defensive team, but they do need one more guard who can create his shot on the perimeter. Maybe they can trade Granger and add a first round pick to get that piece, but they need it to put them over the top, because Danny Granger is not a good fit for this team right now.

Best case scenario: Granger gets traded for a shot creator, the Pacers role into the playoffs with a top-2 seed
Worst case scenario: David West gets hurt and the Pacers lose their main leader. Roy Hibbert regresses from his playoff performance last year, and the Pacers finish with a 5-6 seed.

3. Chicago Bulls (56-26): D-Rose is back, and he might well be better than ever. Rose says he added five inches to his vertical, which is amazing giving how high he already jumped beforehand. Which is a really scary thought for the rest of the league. Now, with Rose and the supporting cast back and fully healthy, this Bulls team is a legitimate counterpart for the Heat.

Best case scenario: Derrick Rose proves he is as good as he was during his MVP season and the Bulls enter the playoffs at full strength.
Worst case scenario: Rose is a step slow, the Bulls end up trading Luol Deng for future draft picks, and the Bulls are eliminated in the first round in the playoffs

4. Brooklyn Nets (53-29): The Nets are a good team, but they are going to be taking it easy throughout the whole regular season. Kevin Garnett is going to play very limited minutes, as is Paul Pierce. I think the Nets will get to 53 wins for two main reasons: They have pretty impressive depth and the Eastern Conference stinks. They’ll lose a lot of games to playoff teams, but I think they’ll be able to handle all of the tanking teams near the bottom of the standings.

Best case scenario: Everyone is healthy and happy going into the playoffs, and the Nets are still able to secure a top 3 seed where they can avoid Miami until the Eastern Conference Finals.
Worst case scenario: Deron Williams feuds with Jason Kidd, KG and Pierce check out, Joe Johnson’s game deteriorates, and the Nets have to play the Bulls or Pacers in the first round of the playoffs.

5. Atlanta Hawks (44-38): I’m not going to lie, this is a four team conference, and I can’t make a great case for any team at #5. The Hawks have a very good front court, as they have Al Horford, one of the best centers in the NBA, and Paul Millsap, who isn’t quite as good as Josh Smith but who they got a great deal on (Millsap averaged 15-7-3-1-1 last year in just 33 minutes per game). Lou Williams is back, Kyle Korver is one of the best shooters in the NBA, and Jeff Teague is quickly developing into a solid average PG. The Hawks also have the “German Rondo” Dennis Schroder as their backup point guard, so this is a team full of sneaky upside.

Best case scenario: They get the five seed or tank the season and get a top 5 pick
Worst case scenario: They are stuck with the 7-8 seed

6. New York Knicks (41-41): I just get the feeling that the Knicks are going to self destruct. Carmelo is going to put up his 30 a game, but does he have enough support? J.R. Smith got his money, and I have a feeling that he will take a big step back this year. Tyson Chandler is getting older. Amare Stoudemire is, well, Amare. And he isn’t ever healthy. Raymond Felton is a fine point guard, but not a particularly good one. All in all, I couldn’t put the Knicks under .500 because of Carmelo, but they will fall from the #2 seed they got last year.

Best case scenario: I’m wrong and the Knicks get the #2 seed again
Worst case scenario: I’m right and Carmelo starts packing his bags before signing with the Lakers in free agency.

7. Detroit Pistons (41-41): The Pistons have a ton of upside on their roster. Just look at it. Brandon Jennings, Rodney Stuckey, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond.. They are the fifth most talented team in the Eastern Conference, but it seems like they (mainly Jennings, Smith, Drummond) could just as easily self destruct. By the way, how about Monroe for Rajon Rondo as a trade idea? Then Smith can move to his more natural position (power forward), Jennings can play shooting guard, and Stuckey can be the sixth man. I don’t think a team with Brandon Jennings as the starting point guard can win a round in the playoffs, but with Jennings at SG? I can warm to that. Maybe he would too.

Best case scenario: Jennings is happy and facilitates the Pistons talented bigs, Josh Smith stops shooting jumpers and attacks the basket, Andre Drummond becomes Dwight Howard circa 2008, and the Pistons win home field advantage in the first round.
Worst case scenario: Jennings gets unhappy and starts chucking up shots and the Pistons narrowly miss the playoffs

8. Washington Wizards (38-44): The Wizards are alright, and they just made a trade to upgrade their starting center position. However, people forget that they went below .500 even when John Wall was in the lineup, and the backcourt of Wall and Bradley Beal can only carry them so far. They signed Martell Webster to a way-too-pricey deal, and I only see them making the playoffs because the rest of the East is so bad.

Best case scenario: The Wizards avoid the 6-8 seed range and finish top 5. Wall is an all-star and Beal scores 20 points per game
Worst case scenario: The Wizards miss the playoffs completely.

9. Cleveland Cavaliers (36-46): The Cavs are supposed to put it all together this year. It’s easy to tell why. They have Kyrie Irving, an amazing young point guard. They have #1 pick Anthony Bennett, who should immediately be explosive. They have Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao, and Andrew Bynum. That looks all well and good, but the problem is: What happens when Varejao and Bynum are injured? Big men don’t get better over time in terms of injuries, so I don’t think it’s fair to expect either of those (they played 25 games combined last year, all from Varejao) to play even half of a season. Kyrie has also had some injury issues, so I see this season getting derailed.

Best case scenario: The big men stay healthy and carry the Cavs
Worst case scenario: Bynum’s season goes as it did last year. The Cavs season also goes as it did last year, and they’re stuck hoping for LeBron to come back.

10. Toronto Raptors (33-49): I really don’t know what to make of the Raptors. I love Jonas Valanciunas, but I don’t really like the rest of their team. It doesn’t seem like they have much upside.

Best case scenario: They unload Rudy Gay for the SF of the future (either a draft pick or someone like Luol Deng) and make the playoffs. Valanciunas becomes a star.
Worst case scenario: They remain stuck in limbo

11. Milwaukee Bucks (30-52): Most people think that the Bucks are going to be terrible this year. I obviously don’t think they’ll be great, but due to the trade for Brandon Knight and the signing of OJ Mayo I think they have a chance to sneak into the playoffs as an eight seed, much like they did last year. That’s what their owner wants, but it’s not what they should be doing, which is tanking for a high draft pick. If they really want to contend, they can ship Caron Butler’s expiring contract off for a good piece.

Best case scenario: The Bucks lose 70 games and get the #1 pick
Worst case scenario: They are again on the playoff fringes

12. Charlotte Bobcats (28-54): At least MJ and the Bobcats are trying. They signed Al Jefferson to a big contract, and Al Jefferson is truly a really good player, one that can attract double teams and give the Bobcats shooters more room to work with. Kemba Walker is a burgeoning superstar, and #4 pick Cody Zeller should contribute immediately. That’s all I’ve got.

Best case scenario: The Bobcats young players (for example: Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist make huge strides) and the Bobcats need only one more top draft pick before vaulting themselves up the standings
Worst case scenario: The young talent stalls and the Bobcats are back where they started.

13. Boston Celtics (24-58): The Celtics clearly want to tank. They shipped off two all stars and all time greats, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, for some draft picks, Kris Humphries, and Gerald Wallace. That is clearly the definition of tanking. And by the time Rajon Rondo gets back, the Celtics will surely want to trade him, too. Full on tank mode.

Best case scenario: #1 pick
Worst case scenario: Their young players stall but Humphries and Wallace chip in. Rondo gets back early and then re-injures himself before the Celtics can trade him. The C’s are stuck with a pick in the 7-12 range.

14. Orlando Magic (21-61): The Magic have a lot of solid young pieces, led by Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, and number two overall pick Victor Oladipo (who everyone loves). Those four guys in a lineup together will be pretty exciting to watch, if not effective. If Orlando can get their point guard (maybe Marcus Smart) in next year’s draft, they’ll be pretty much set for the future.

Best case scenario: The Magic get a top pick, but their youth continues to progress
Worst case scenario: The Magic play themselves out of a top 5 picks while at least one of their young studs development stalls and they need to address another hole.

15. Philadelphia 76ers (14-68): They are pretty bad.

Best case: #1 pick
Worst case: Not #1 pick

MVP Candidates: LeBron James, Paul George, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams
ROY Candidates: Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, Kelly Olynyk, Anthony Bennett
Comeback POY Candidates: Dion Waiters, Evan Turner, Jameer Nelson, Lou Williams
DPOY Candidates: Roy Hibbert, LeBron James, Paul George

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