Today I’m looking at the Eastern Conference as a whole. If you missed it, the Western Conference preview was yesterday. Tomorrow we’ll head into the individual team previews, where the real meat of this season preview resides. Also, you may want to check out the Season Preview Primer for more info on some of the stats I’m going to be using.
1) Cleveland Cavaliers – No one wants to see this team in the playoffs. LeBron has proven over the last two years that he is capable of single-handedly winning a playoff series. Adding Mo Williams was big for them, and they still have the expiring contracts to add another piece at the deadline. Scary. I originally had them at #2, but I just have a feeling that this is the year for them. LeBron these days just looks like he’s in a video game, guys bounce off him like Techmo Bowl Bo Jackson.
2) Boston Celtics– They got a bit lucky last year, with all 3 of their big guns staying healthy almost the entire year. However, they were the league’s best team all of last year, and they bring back everyone of value but James Posey. If they’re healthy come playoff time, they’re still deadly. We’ll have to see if they can maintain their killer instinct though.
3) Orlando Magic – Only 4 teams ranked top 7 in the league in both offensive and defensive rating: LA, Detroit, New Orleans, and Orlando. Questions still remain with interior depth and at point guard, but they shored up their SG position, and Dwight Howard should continue to improve as the league’s most dominant center. There’s a good chance they make the jump to contender this season.
4) Philadelphia 76ers – This is all dependent on Elton Brand returning strong after his injury, but Philly is a really scary team. They were a top 10 defensive team last year, they just added a top 5 power forward, and they have a ton of young players who should continue improving. They don’t have the kind of perimeter shooting I’d like to see, but few teams can match up with their athleticism.
5) Toronto Raptors – They were better last year than anyone gave them credit for, but a long stretch of missed games by Chris Bosh, and point guard turmoil with T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon derailed them heading into the home stretch. The addition of Jermaine O’Neal should immediately improve their defense, and they should continue to be one of the league’s most efficient offensive teams. Their success will depend on the health of O’Neal and Bosh, but the ceiling for this team is really high.
The Walking Dead
6) Detroit Pistons – Now, before you all get mad at me, I think the Pistons probably finish higher than 6th. On paper, they’re still an extremely talented veteran group. They could finish as high as 2nd and I wouldn’t be surprised. However, does anybody think these guys are actually title contenders anymore? Yeah, didn’t think so. Without a substantial change, nobody fears the Pistons anymore.
Stuck In The Mud
7) Washington Wizards – I want to like the Wizards. I really do. I like Gilbert Arenas. I like what he’s done with his blog and I admire how hard he’s worked to become a star after being a second round pick. I like Antawn Jamison. I like Caron Butler despite the fact that he ripped my heart out in college by beating my Wolfpack on a last second shot. However, they just don’t have the right team to contend, and now they’re stuck in mediocrity for the foreseeable future.
8 ) Indiana Pacers – I like them to be the last playoff team mostly because they have less glaring holes than the other teams in contention for this spot. They’re solid at every position, they’ve got a dynamic point guard (if he can stay healthy), and Danny Granger is one of the league’s unheralded young stars.
9) Miami Heat – Call me skeptical, but I’m not as convinced as most that Miami is going to bounce back into the playoffs this year. They have gaping holes at center and point guard, 3 of their 4 best players are power forwards, and Dwayne Wade is injury-prone.
10) Atlanta Hawks – On the plus side, they’ll have a full season from Mike Bibby. On the down side, well, Bibby isn’t all that good anymore. Also, I’m not sure anyone realized quite how good Josh Childress was last year. They couldn’t very well match the deal he got, but they’ll definitely miss him.
11) Milwaukee Bucks – If Scott Skiles can make these guys play defense and Ramon Sessions can be as good over a full season as he was in 17 games, this team has the talent to be very good. If, as is more likely, they remain one of the league’s worst defensive teams, they’ll struggle to reach 40 wins.
12) Chicago Bulls – This is effectively the same team they had for the second half of last year, only with the addition of Derrick Rose. If you think there’s no way these players can be as bad as they were last year, that’s a good thing. If you think there’s very little chemistry and no interior scoring on this team, that’s probably a bad thing. I, obviously, lean towards the latter.
Let’s Not Mince Words, These Teams Suck
13) Charlotte Bobcats – Michael Jordan should be sending daily thank you notes to Isiah Thomas. Were it not for Thomas’s historical ineptitude, MJ would be the worst famous player-turned-executive this decade. The players who are good are injury-prone, and the player who can stay healthy are average at best.
14) New Jersey Nets – This team told you all you need to know about their focus when they traded Richard Jefferson for Yi Jianlian. Their focus is the future, namely the 2010 offseason. There are some quality young players to keep an eye on though.
15) New York Knicks – Mike D’Antoni is a great coach, but he’s not a miracle worker. Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry aren’t going to evoke any comparisons to Amare and Marion. There are probably 2 players on this roster that I’d want on my team, everyone else is overrated and overpaid.
Beasts of the East
PG – Chauncey Billups
SG – Dwayne Wade
SF – LeBron James
PF – Kevin Garnett
C – Dwight Howard
There’s really only one spot here that’s debatable, and that’s point guard. If Arenas were healthy, he’d be the pick, but he’ll miss at least 2 months of the season. Jose Calderon is wildly efficient and wildly underrated, but I wouldn’t put him at Billups’ level yet.
Rooks to Look For
These are guys who may not be high profile, but could surprise you with their effectiveness.
Chris Douglas-Roberts, SG, Nets – CDR fell in the draft, but his loss is New Jersey’s gain. He may not be Mr. Versatile, but he’s an instinctive scorer and a solid defender. It may not always look pretty, but his herky-jerky style is tough to guard and he can make shots from all angles.
Roko Ukic, PG, Raptors – The league’s most international team adds another European prospect (along with Australian center Nathan Jawai) who will take over the backup point guard spot. He’s got great size, a high skill level. International players historically have trouble adapting to the league, but it helps that the Raptors run a more international style than most teams.
J.J. Hickson, PF, Cavs – I had to throw him out there since he’s a fellow N.C. State Wolfpacker. Beyond my bias though, Hickson looked spectacular in the summer league, and Cleveland could definitely use an infusion of athleticism in the frontcourt. Despite his youth, he has an NBA-ready body, and he has excellent touch inside to finish through contact. A Jason Maxiell-type impact is not out of the question.
BallerBlogger contributing writer ‘xphoenix87′ is a college student who dreams of one day writing about sports for a living. Since that’s not gonna happen, he’ll do this instead. ‘xphoenix87′ will be writing a season preview for all 30 NBA teams — stay tuned.