Joe's Eastern Conference Preview For 2009-2010

Joe SlowikCorrespondent IAugust 10, 2009

BOSTON - MAY 02:  Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics encourages his teammates from the bench in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bulls in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at TD Banknorth Garden on May 2, 2009 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeated the Bulls 109-99. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
I know it's early, but the NBA offseason is winding down, and there's little to talk about in the sports world until basketball starts. I think at this point we can get a decent idea of what to expect from NBA teams this season.
There were plenty of moves among the teams of the Eastern Conference, especially at the top. All three contenders added a big name player to bolster their roster.
However, I'm not so sure that the East got any better. This is still a very top-heavy league that will have at least a couple of average teams make the playoffs. Unless injuries strike, the lower seeds should offer little resistance in the playoffs.
I've added tiers to the rankings because some gaps will be a lot bigger than others.


1) Celtics—I really think they have the best lineup if KG is healthy. Their big three are getting a bit old, but Rondo and Perkins are very solid younger players that can produce at a high level if someone misses. Even without Garnett, they managed to take the Magic down to the wire before losing game seven. Perkins is one of the few guys in the league that can slow down Dwight 1-on-1. So in my opinion, they have an edge in that matchup if KG is even 80 percent.

2) Magic—Carter has more talent than Turkoglu, and they improved their depth quite a bit. The Lewis suspension probably hurts their chances of getting the one seed, but it won't really matter in the long run. My biggest question about them is how close Jameer Nelson will get to last year's performance? He was having a great year before he got hurt.

3) Cavaliers—On paper they don't look terribly impressive, but Lebron has a bigger positive impact on their record than any player in the league. I hate predicting their finish because in my book, where they finish depends almost entirely on how dominant Lebron is. They're probably a mid-lottery team without him. The supporting cast will have to step up in the playoffs if they are going to be a major title contender.

----major drop-off-----

4) Hawks- They're a weird team. I really like a lot of their guys, but they don't have that one transcendent player. Every player on their roster is about one spot higher on the scouting report than they should be on a true contender. I think their final record will depend on how well Al Horford plays. If he keeps putting up about 11-9 then they're going to finish with about 45 wins. If he can take the next step and start averaging 16-18 points, it'd be a huge boost for them. Whether Jamal Crawford hurts or helps them is another issue.

----another, smaller drop-off----

5) Raptors- This is where things start to get murky. Unless absolutely everything goes right, I have a hard time seeing anyone else in this conference reach the high-40s in wins, they all have some pretty significant flaws.

Offensively, the Raptors will be impressive. Bosh gives them a balanced No. 1 option, and Bargnani, Turkoglu, and Calderon can all hit from outside. The defense is another story though. All of those guys are average at best on that end. Strong interior teams that can push them around will have field days against them. They'll play a lot of games in the triple digits and probably finish a bit over .500.

6) Heat—If anything happens to Wade, drop them near the bottom. The rest of this roster is pretty awful. I think Beasley will have a breakout year, if he gets the minutes, and I kind of like Chalmers and Haslem as role players. However, nothing works for them if Wade isn't dominant.

7) Bulls—Between Rose's talent and their overall depth, I'm fairly confident that they'll make the playoffs. They really need Deng and/or Thomas to perform to help compensate for the loss of Gordon, though. If Deng keeps getting hurt and/or Thomas continues to be inconsistent, they will definitely slide down the standings.

---drop-off, teams fighting for the last playoff spot or two---

8) Philadelphia—Losing Miller hurts because they don't have a good option at point guard. However, Iguodala and Young are talented wing players, and they have some talent up front. A healthy Brand would be a big boost, but if he plays like last year they're in trouble. Dalembert needs to get better, though they might just be better off playing my guy, Marresse Speights.

9) Washington—On paper they're pretty strong, but they were awful last year and definitely suffer from chemistry and defensive issues. They have a lot of low percentage chuckers, and no one who can be a distributor or an enforcer inside.
Still, that might be enough to eek out a playoff spot, as they have the potential to score in bunches when their shots are falling. If Gilbert Arenas is 100 percent healthy, bump them up a few spots.

10) Detroit—I'm not really a fan of this roster. They have several guys that can score, but Stuckey is still developing at the point. Their interior defense and rebounding could also be significant issues. Like a few other teams, they'll also rely very heavily on the jumper, hurting their consistency.

---Drop-off to random collections of junk that won't really matter in the long run---

11) Indiana—Between Granger and a potentially healthy Dunleavy, they should score enough points to steal some wins. However, their front court is full of average or worse players, and TJ Ford looks better on paper than he is at this point.

12) New Jersey—Devin Harris and Raul Lopez should prevent them from being totally awful. I also like Courtney Lee as a breakout candidate. But besides those players, they're woefully short on depth and scoring options.

13) Milwaukee—If Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut are relatively healthy, and Ramon Sessions is retained, I think they can be somewhat respectable. If not, they'll end up in the high lottery.

14) Charlotte—They're very short on scoring. Gerald Wallace is pretty solid when healthy, but they'll struggle to reach the high 90s on a consistent basis.

15) New York—There are very few redeeming qualities on this roster. Basically, the only guy I like at all is David Lee, and he hasn't signed yet. They'll need some significant help from Mike D'Antoni ball to be even remotely successful.