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By winning 54 games, the Knicks solidified themselves as one of the Eastern Conference's elite. They finished with a greater record than each team in the conference sans champion Miami Heat, a much-needed rejuvenation for a franchise that's dealt with too much mediocrity over the last decade.
Unfortunately, despite improving the team this summer, there remains the possibility that they could be overtaken by three or four East teams this season. Let's run through the list:
The Miami Heat have maintained the majority of their roster from last year, and are on the heels of back-to-back championships. They employ the game's most dominant human being in LeBron James, and it'd be foolish to expect anything other than greatness from them again.
The Indiana Pacers fell one game short of the NBA Finals, almost pulling off the upset of Miami in the process. Paul George solidified himself as one of the game's up-and-coming elite, and the team's defense was nothing short of spectacular over the course of the season.
All that in itself would be enough to suspect a huge 2013-14 season, but we haven't even discussed the return of Danny Granger, who missed most of last season with knee troubles.
Granger, formerly assumed to be Indiana's finest piece and No. 1 weapon, is set to return at the onset of the season. He'll be paired with George, who naturally plays the same position as Granger, so it'll be interesting to watch how that unfolds.
Speaking of members of NBA greatness returning from injuries, former-MVP Derrick Rose will once again suit up for the Chicago Bulls, who managed to finish fifth in the East without him.
The Bulls' defense finished second in the East in efficiency, only to Indy. Like the Pacers, their defending is enough to keep them in games versus most squads, and the return of Rose should improve the offense enough to immediately make Chicago a favorite for a top-three seed.
Then there are the Brooklyn Nets, who managed to improve their roster and get out from under Gerald Wallace's contract while handicapped just as much financially as New York.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett give Deron Williams two all-star-caliber weapons in addition to Joe Johnson—a six-time All-Star—and Brook Lopez—possibly the most offensively gifted center in the league.
Brooklyn undoubtedly will contend for the Atlantic Division crown, but Pierce and Garnett's age may prove to be a factor over the 82 games. Even without the pair of former Boston teammates, the Nets have the offensive firepower to take on even Indiana and Chicago's defense.
The Knicks proved last season that they can compete with the class of the East, but that class is about to become much more competitive in 2014. New York made their own commendable improvements as well, so it'll be interesting to see where exactly they fall amongst the revamped East powerhouses.