The offseason in the NBA is one of the defining parts of a team’s season. However, it can also be one of the most devastating.
Whether a team loses its star player or gains an efficient role player, each NBA club must make sacrifices to succeed in the league. Many of these sacrifices turn teams in circles, while others are made primarily for financial reasons.
Some trades do, however, turn out to propel a team to the Championship in June, while others can cause a once dominating club to tumble spectacularly from greatness.
Below, I will weigh the strengths of the best three Eastern Conference sides, and discuss their chances of holding the NBA Championship when June comes around.
(The number stands for the final position in the standings that will be held by each team, and next year's predicted record is in parentheses).
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (65-17):
After last season's playoff defeat at the hands of the Orlando Magic, LeBron James marched off the floor in disgust.
He had become a victim of the playoffs once again.
The Cavaliers were heavy favorites in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, a playoff series that was filled with excitement and disappointment.
Excitement, however, was not felt by the Cavaliers. But rather by an up-start Orlando Magic team, who in the previous round defeated the favored Boston Celtics, as they took on the Cavaliers.
Confident about their play, the Magic defeated the Cavaliers and paraded into the NBA Finals, leaving the city of Cleveland again in a state of disappointment.
Next season, however, the Cavs will be out for revenge. LeBron and Shaq will join forces to take on the Eastern Conference. With the signing of Anthony Carter, who will most likely backup Delonte West next season, the Cleveland Cavaliers are once again the team to beat in the East.
With Mo Williams at Point Guard, Delonte West at Shooting Guard, LeBron James at Small Forward, Anderson Varejo at Power Forward, and Shaq at Center, the Cavaliers starting five looks to be the most dominating in the Eastern Conference.
And with Anthony Parker, Wally Szczerbiak, Daniel Gibson and Big Z coming off the bench, the Cavaliers look to be more dangerous than ever before.
Home Record: 36-5
Road Record: 29-12
2. Boston Celtics (63-19):
Last season, the Boston Celitcs lost Kevin Garnett for the entire playoffs. They should, however, count themselves lucky that the injury wasn't any worse.
Next season, the 2008 NBA Champions should look to continue their recent dominance over the Eastern Conference. This off—season, the Celtics went out into the free—agent market and brought back Rasheed Wallace from the Detriot Pistons.
Not only can Rasheed Wallace play down in the post, but he can also stand out from behind the three point line and drain the 3 ball.
During the playoffs last season, a big problem for the Celtics was keeping the low-post guys fresh and out of foul trouble. Next season, however, Garnett, Perkins, Wallace and Davis should change that for Boston.
Along with the low—post scorers, Boston also havve Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo, which makes for a very dangerous starting five rotation.
With Rajon Rondo at Point Guard, Ray Allen at Shooting Guard, Paul Pierce at Small Forward, Rasheed Wallace or Kendrick Perkins at Power Forward, and Kevin Garnett at Center, the Boston Celtics look like a formidabble team.
With strong bench play and coaching, the sky is the limit for this group of players.
Home Record: 35-6
Road Record: 28-13
3a. Orlando Magic (56-26)
The Orlando Magic team that made the NBA Finals just one season ago have changed many faces around the organization.
This may turn out to be a great trade for all the parties involved, but I just don't see that happening.
Many other players who sparked the playoff run, such as Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee, and Tony Battie, were involved in the trade that sent Ryan Anderson and Vince Carter to Orlando.
Don't get me wrong, Vince Carter is an outstanding basketball player. The problem is he may have already passed his prime, the time in which all outstanding athletes excel.
He could fit in perfectly with Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson, and then again he may not. It will be interesting to see how much Orlando misses the guards that they traded away to the Nets.
With Jameer Nelson at Point Guard, possibly Michael Pietrus at Shooting Guard, Vince Carter at Small Forward, Rashard Lewis at Power Forward, and Dwight Howard at Center, this Orlando lineup still seems very dangerous.
However, at certain times in last years playoffs, we saw that Orlando lives and dies by the three. Will this team be as guard-friendly as last years? No, but this team is more athletic, more versatile.
And Vince Carter may be more motivated knowing that he is on a team that can be very successful. I see this team succeeding, just not getting past Boston or Cleveland next year.
Home Record: 33-8
Road Record: 23-18
3b. Atlanta Hawks (56-26):
You may call me crazy for ranking the Hawks as the number three in this list, but they are such a young group of talented guys that it was very difficult for me to pick against them.
Joe Johnson is slowly developing into a superstar.
Mike Bibby is playing as effectively as ever.
Addimg these players to Josh Smith and Al Horford, who are due to have breakout seasons, and what do you get? A very successful team.
Zaza Pachulia is another key player for the Hawks, and he efficiently backs-up Al Horford at Center. Pachulia recently signed a four year, $18 million contract with the Hawks.
Marvin Williams, however, is not certain to remain with Atlanta. Williams is trying to negotiate an extension with the Hawks, but if another team wants to pay him more than that, there are doubts the Hawks would match it.
The Hawks have recently shown that they could excel in the playoffs, even though they were swept away by the Cleveland Cavaliers last season in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Still, with Mike Bibby at Point Guard, Joe Johnson at Shooting Guard, Maurice Evans or Marvin Williams at Small Forward, Josh Smith at Power Forward, and Al Horford at Center, look for the up-and-coming Hawks to play outstanding basketball throughout the course of the season, and make a deep run into the playoffs.
Home Record: 32-9
Road Record: 24-17
Eastern Conference Playoffs:
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Cavaliers def. Hawks: 4-1
Celtics def. Magic: 4-1
Eastern Conference Finals
Cavaliers def. Celtics:4-3