The old jokes about the East being weak are officially dead. Not only is the Eastern Conference alive, but it's getting stronger.
Some teams in the Western Conference improved (click for conference recap), but not to the degree that the East did overall.
I've beaten the draft to death this off-season, and these grades are derived from the outcome of free-agency and trades.
Who passed the class? (Click for YouTube recap)
First, there was Shaq. The Diesel was brought in to battle Dwight Howard; no longer will Mike Brown have to tell the huddle, "either foul him or let him dunk the ball."
Yes he's old but great centers can still win titles when they are old, just ask Kareem. Shaq is dedicated to a crown (really, it's all he cares about) and a motivated mammoth is always a good thing.
The Cavs were also able to keep 6'11" F-C Anderson Varejao on the roster; this gives them one of the best bunch of bigs in the NBA.
Cleveland didn't just stop down low. The Cavs saw what Orlando and Boston were doing and signed Anthony Parker, a defensive-minded wing and very smart basketball player.
They also have an offer tending for Jamario Moon, the uber-athletic wing who gets blocks and steals, and can hit the open three.
If the deal goes through, Cleveland will have added more value to their core than any other team in the League.
Final Grade: A
The Magic have done a serious revamp in their Eastern Conference Championship roster, saying goodbye to Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee, and Rafer Alston as they make room for Vince Carter, Brandon Bass, Matt Barnes, and Ryan Anderson.
Orlando matched Dallas' offer to Marcin Gortat to keep their depth at the center position, even if they overpaid.
Talent-wise, Carter, Anderson,, Barnes, and Bass is an upgrade over the players they lost. Bass adds toughness and athleticism in the post, Carter still has gas in the tank, and Anderson will thrive in an off-the-bench role where he is encouraged to shoot threes.
The new players may take time to adjust, and I am worried about depth at point guard, but Orlando deserves to be rewarded for their effort.
Final Grade: B+
The Wizards are invested and ready to win now, which is why I fully applaud them trading for two dynamic combo players.
Mike Miller is one of the smartest players in basketball, and last year's production in Minnesota was a fluke. When Miller is surrounded by other good players, his crafty passes will find cutters instead of the baseline, and he will be hitting threes in rhythm.
Randy Foye is a bit of an insurance policy for Gilbert Arenas, but he is a good player in his own right and plays a similar brand of basketball to Arenas.
There are two concerns with what Washington has done. They brought injury-prone guys to an injury-prone team and they didn't add any post production.
What they did will keep them in the running out East, and the Wiz do have two promising young posts.
They gained a lot and lost very little in focusing on the 2009-10 season.
Final Grade: B
For the first time in a long time, Detroit has a new face on the franchise after signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.
The guard and wing combo bring energy, points, and youth to the Pistons lineup that had become stagnant.
Detroit has also signed Chris Wilcox, a dunking forward who can be very effective in the right situation.
There were losses for Detroit this summer, and Richard Hamilton may still be on the move, but for the time being Detroit has come out ahead on their deals.
Final Grade: B-
The most important thing for the Raptors is that they brought in a player who actually wants to be in Toronto. Hedo Turkoglu fits the Raptors' brand of basketball, but he needs to remain hungry after the big payday.
The Raptors also made a move to get tougher when they acquired Reggie Evans in a trade for Jason Kapono.
Evans isn't a big numbers guy, but he always provides quality minutes and "The Bone Collector" is a rebounding machine.
Combo guards can be very effective in the NBA if used right, and Jarrett Jack was used right last year, which is why the Raptors thought he would be a good addition.
Jack adds depth to the backcourt and is an insurance policy against injuries, having played 82 games for two straight seasons.
The Raptors did lose Anthony Parker and Shawn Marion, but signing guys who want to be there helps them make the grade.
Final Grade: B-
For close to nothing, the Atlanta Hawks acquired Jamal Crawford from the Golden State Warriors.
Crawford will make a push for Sixth Man of the Year; he can play the one or the two; and he is one of the NBA's premier scorers.
Not only did Atlanta add a player with 50-point games on his resume, but they also kept Mike Bibby and Zaza Pachulia on the roster.
If they can keep Marvin Williams. it will be one of the most successful off-seasons in franchise history. The Hawks can consider that their final exam.
Final Grade: Incomplete
There were all sorts of rumors coming from Boston this summer of them trading Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen or trading for Tyreke Evans.
Instead, Boston has kept their starting five intact and brought in Rasheed Wallace.
Sheed and Kevin Garnett seem like an implosive combo, but I anticipate them being focused and determined. They will also share time in order to keep each other healthy.
The only trouble for Boston is that Glen Davis and Leon Powe are free agents. With the addition of Wallace, Powe can walk, but Boston needs to bring Davis back so they can bang with the deeper frontcourts in the East.
Final Grade: Incomplete
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