How does the Eastern Conference look now that NBA free agency is just about over? The teams that dominated the East the last two years, Indiana and Miami, will fight for the final playoff spot. That’s how crazy the offseason has been.
1. Cleveland. This was before Paul George got hurt. And this is with OR without Kevin Love. LeBron’s the best player in the NBA, and he’ll lift the games of everyone around him. Want a laugh? Look at Cleveland’s bench in the second half of last season. Now, look at their potential bench this season (assuming Love deal happens): Mike Miller, Tristan Thompson, James Jones, Brendan Haywood and maybe Shawn Marion. Slight upgrade. Right now, I’ll guess 58-24.
2. Chicago. As always, it’s a Derrick Rose thing. With him, elite in the East. How many teams in the East can hang with a frontline of Gasol/Noah/Gibson? Jimmy Butler and emerging Tony Snell on the wing, Doug McDermott spotting up for 3-pointers … what’s not to like? Assuming everyone stays healthy, 55-27 seems about right.
3. Washington. Too high? Wall/Beal is the second best young backcourt in the NBA, and here’s the optimistic view – Paul Pierce (in place of Trevor Ariza) adds veteran leadership; Otto Porter actually contributes, Gortat/Nene/Humphries own the interior, and the Wizards go 50-32.
4. Toronto. The only team in the East that really had no movement this offseason. But the East is slightly better (it certainly couldn’t get any worse), so … 46-36.
5. Brooklyn. Lost Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston, but will get back Brook Lopez from injury, and Deron Williams can’t play any worse. The Nets were burdened by expectations last year, and struggled for the first two months with a rookie coach. With an experienced coach in Lionel Hollins, it wouldn’t shock me if the Nets surprised next season, and rose to 3rd. How’s 45-37?
6. Charlotte. After LeBron going to Cleveland, I think the second biggest move in the East was the Hornets adding Lance Stephenson from Indiana. If they had been able to secure Gordon Hayward, I might have pushed Charlotte into the 3rd spot. Michael Jordan’s success this year will hinge upon the potential of three young players he had a hand in drafting: Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh, and PJ Hairston. Can Marvin Williams replace Josh McRoberts? 44-38.
7. Atlanta. Pushed the Pacers to seven games without Al Horford. Sneaky good frontcourt trio in Horford/Millsap/Antic, and let’s see what Payne can add off the bench. Still wonder if they have enough at small forward, but the Teague/Korver backcourt is nice. 43-39.
8. Miami. Not as bullish on the Wade/Bosh/Deng core as everyone else. There’s zero depth on this rapidly aging team. Go down the roster, 1-7 and the Heat have much less talent than the teams listed above. For now, I’ll go with 42-40.
9. Indiana. Losing your best two players, having to hope Roy Hibbert (assuming they don’t trade him) finds his top form and finding somebody to become the takeover scorer? Good luck, Vogel.
10. Orlando. Yes! Love the Magic this season! They’re probably a year or two away from being this high, but gimmie the over.
11. Detroit. Sleeper playoff team, and I think they have more talent than the Heat. Also, in SVG I trust.
12. New York. Wait until next July, when Bargnani/Amare are off the books and Phil goes big game hunting.
13. Boston. Nice draft, but long way to go. Surprised Rondo hasn’t been traded yet.
14. Philadelphia. Could end up with Anthony Bennett in the Kevin Love/Andrew Wiggins trade. So there’s that. TANK AWAY!
15. Milwaukee. There’s some talent here (Greek Freak looked good in summer league), but not enough to get out of the basement.