It's hard to believe the NBA preseason gets underway in just another month. It seems like just yesterday LeBron James was without a ring, and the Oklahoma City Thunder were headed to their first of many Championships. Not only did the King get his NBA hardware, but he also captured gold in London for Team USA.
Looking at the Eastern Conference after this wild summer, the Heat are still clearly the favorites. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the bracket fills out though, considering all of these other teams are so evenly matched; on paper anyway. Looking at how the rosters are assembled as of today, here are my projections for the Eastern Conference playoff bracket next season.
1. Miami Heat
The defending Champions got even better during the offseason, which is scary for the rest of the league. Adding a player like Ray Allen makes them so much more complete because he is the type of player they were lacking last season. Teaming him with LeBron, Wade and Bosh creates havoc for every other team in the NBA. As long as LeBron and Wade are healthy, they will undoubtedly be the team to beat in the East, and it isn’t even close.
The Pacers didn’t make any groundbreaking moves during the offseason, but they kept their starting five intact by paying Roy Hibbert and George Hill. They also added a few more bench players that should contribute immediately. DJ Augustin, Gerald Green and Ian Mahinmi are not stars, but that’s not what this team is about. This team knows how to play well together. If Paul George takes the next step this season, they should mirror the success they had last year.
Which team will challenge Miami for the top spot in the East?
You wouldn’t have thought it towards the end of last season, but by replacing Jeremy Lin with Raymond Felton, the Knicks actually got much better. Guys like Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire need the ball to be effective, while Felton and Tyson Chandler can contribute without it. Ronnie Brewer and Jason Kidd will also come in ready to contribute. JR Smith is back, and Iman Shumpert will be back from his injury, giving the team a great defensive weapon.
Much like the Lakers, the Nets have a tremendous starting five, but their bench is lackluster. The pairing of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson will be one of the best combos in the league. Obviously Marshon Brooks is the sixth man here, but what else is there after that? CJ Watson and Keith Bogans can contribute, but they will need to add some more talent to the bench to reach the conference finals next season.
The Celtics should be better after losing Ray Allen right? Maybe not. But the additions of Jeff Green, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry along with a slew of rookies could make this a team to watch late in the season. A healthy Avery Bradley will help too, as he is one of the best on-ball defenders in the league. Doc Rivers and Boston’s “Big Three” will get everyone on the same page, with the focus being championship or bust.
This team goes as Derrick Rose goes. Sure his rehab is “ahead of schedule,” but you can be sure he is going to miss some significant time early in the season. It’s a long season, and the Bulls should have enough guys to keep things going while he is recovering. They lost some key contributors, but they do have Marco Belinelli, Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, Nazr Mohammed and Nate Robinson eager to hit the floor in Chicago.
The Sixers lost some big names after last season, but they have some great additions to fill the void. The biggest, Andrew Bynum, comes over from Los Angeles to be the cornerstone of the franchise. Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young return, with more contributions sure to come from Jason Richardson and Nick Young. If Bynum shows maturity, Philly could raise some eyebrows next season.
After years of mediocrity, is this the year the Deer really do strike fear into the opponent? The guard combination of Brandon Jennings and Monte Ellis should produce better results this season. The same can be said about the frontcourt with the rotation of Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson and Samuel Dalembert. Throw in another rookie like Doron Lamb to go with Mbah a Moute and Mike Dunleavy, and you have a team that could finally get back to the playoffs.