The draft is over, free agency is nearly complete, and it’s time to get in some very early 2010-2011 NBA predictions. Plenty can change between now and October – hopefully, nobody will pull a Monta Ellis in the coming months – but for the most part, here are our thoughts on what the East will look like next season. We’ll tackle the West tomorrow.
1 Miami Heat – 60+ wins and would be absolutely shocked if they didn’t reach the Eastern Conference Finals. Also, 70 wins could be within reach if the Big Three can remain healthy. That being said … still not sold on their depth, nor will we call the Heat a lock to win the title. The “fan” in us likes Orlando to beat Miami; the realist in us thinks LA is the only team better than the Heat.
2 Orlando Magic – Pencil them in for 55-60 wins again, and another deep run in the NBA playoffs for the deepest team in the league. Pietrus in the starting lineup for Barnes means more offense. Only concern? Beef between JJ Redick – who wants to start – and Vince Carter.
3 Chicago Bulls – Might take a minute for a team with two new starters (Brewer, Boozer) and a new coach to gel, but this is a 50-55 win team that we hope Miami has to go through in the postseason. Among players 1-8, the Bulls have as much (if not more) talent than the Heat. But they’re still a year away from any serious title talk. Derrick Rose is our sleeper MVP pick.
4 Boston Celtics – We were right about the Celtics last year … until they got it together in the postseason and nearly stunned everyone by winning the title. Two potential keys to the regular season: Rookie Avery Bradley, and whomever backs up Paul Pierce with Tony Allen gone to Memphis.
5 Atlanta Hawks – Essentially the same team as last year, unless they get major production from rookie Jordan Crawford or 2nd year PG Jeff Teague.
6 Milwaukee Bucks – Remember how awful this team looked last summer? The front office has made a slew of smart moves to make up for drafting Joe Alexander in the 2008 lottery. Andrew Bogut has help at PF (Gooden, Brockman, Gallon, Sanders), Corey Maggette can score, CDR could be a valuable reserve, and if John Salmons can play like he did late in the season … 45-50 wins is entirely possible.
7 New York Knicks – Surprise No. 1. Yes, we’re a NYK fan. Best case scenario – they have the longest, most active frontline in the East (Randolph, Turiaf, Stoudemire, and Jordan), Gallanari improves again and scores 20 a night, Ray Felton runs the pick-and-roll to perfection, and the bench firepower is impressive (Buike, House, Rautins, Walker). The goal should be .500, but 45 wins seems possible.
8 Washington Wizards – Surprise No. 2. This projection is regardless of what happens to Gilbert Arenas. This team’s going to be young, exciting, and the bench has two decent players (Hinrich, Jianlian). The Wiz could be a boom team (42-42? Boom enough?) or bust with a rookie point guard (28-54).
Charlotte’s had too much change, ditto for Toronto, and the only other team we can really see in the playoffs is Philadelphia, if it goes to a 3-guard lineup of Holliday (whom we didn’t think would be ready for a few years, but looked good in the summer league), Turner, and Iguodala. But the 76ers don’t have nearly enough up front, unless you think Speights is going to explode into a 20-10 monster. Don’t bring up the Pacers, who could look vastly different by the All-Star break (and still don’t have a point guard). And then there’s Cleveland, with a nucleus of Jamison, promising JJ Hickson and Mo Williams. Ha. How does 35 wins sound?