2009-'10 Eastern Conference Playoff Team Predictions
With the NBA's opening night about 48 hours away, it's time to predict how I think the eight playoff teams in each conference will eventually stack up.
Obviously, it's impossible to predict how injuries will affect things, so let's assume that each of the 30 teams is able to make it through the season 100 percent healthy from start to finish.
Here's how I think things will end up in the Eastern Conference.
1. Boston Celtics
The the additions of Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels should help to give Boston major depth, something that hurt them once injuries to key players set in last season.
The Celtics boast arguably the most talented roster in the entire league, and certainly do not lack veteran leadership.
If Kevin Garnett is able to come back and enjoy a healthy, productive, KG-like season, the Celtics should be back to their 2007-'08 selves.
Rajon Rondo should continue to develop into one of the NBA's premiere young point guards.
If they can stay relatively healthy and their older players can fight off decline for another year, I think the Celtics will be playing well into the summer.
2. Orlando Magic
Last season's surprise Finals participant comes back in 2009-'10 having undergone a major makeover.
GM Otis Smith was throwing money around all summer long, acquiring Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Ryan Anderson, and Brandon Bass, while re-signing backup center Marcin Gortat to a full mid-level exception.
Will the chemistry that helped lead Orlando to the Finals last season take a hit with all the new faces?
Also, the $126 million man, Rashard Lewis, is suspended for the first 10 games of the season after testing positive for an elevated testosterone level.
I don't think the Magic will have much trouble adjusting to the new personnel, and should have a very successful season.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
Last season's No. 1 seed made a few changes over the summer, none bigger than the Big Aristotle himself.
While there are questions of how much Shaq's presence will help LeBron and company, I think it was a good, low-risk, high-reward type of move to get him, considering they gave up essentially nothing.
The addition of swingmen Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon should prove beneficial for Cleveland as well, especially on the defensive end of the floor, where Cleveland's tiny backcourt of Mo Williams, Daniel Gibson, and Delonte West had issues defending bigger guards last season.
I don't think the Cavaliers will dominate in the same fashion they did last season, but I do think this team is built better for the long haul.
4. Washington Wizards
Nobody will make a bigger leap from last year to this year than the Wizards, and it's no secret why.
Gilbert Arenas should finally be 100 percent healthy and ready to go, and Washington was also able to hire Flip Saunders as head coach, one of the more underrated coaches in the NBA.
A major key for Washington will be the play of their big men.
JaVale McGee had a fairly successful rookie season, and looks as though he could be the center the Wizards have been looking for for quite some time.
Brendan Haywood should benefit from having his longtime teammate/rival, Etan Thomas, shipped out of town over the summer.
There's no doubt that the Wiz have enough firepower, with a roster that includes Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison, along with new additions Randy Foye and Mike Miller.
I think Flip should be able to lead Washington back to the playoffs, and could be in the running for Coach of the Year.
5. Atlanta Hawks
The third Southwest Division team in the East's top five could be Atlanta.
Last season's fourth seed made some minor moves in the offseason, picking up Jamal Crawford and Joe Smith, while drafting point guard Jeff Teague.
It'll be interesting to see if Josh Smith can finally make "the leap" and show the Hawks that they made a good investment when they decided to ink him to the five-year, $58 million contract last summer.
However, this team doesn't come without its question marks.
Will Smith and head coach Mike Woodson be able to get along?
Will the lack of long-term commitment from Joe Johnson affect the team at all?
Will Atlanta's point guard play be strong enough?
6. Chicago Bulls
While Ben Gordon's departure is certainly an underrated blow, I don't think it'll hurt Chicago enough to knock them out of the playoff picture this season.
New acquisition Jannero Pargo, who came back to the NBA after one season playing in Europe, is a very similar player to Gordon, and should provide Chicago with a nice jolt off the bench.
Last season's Rookie of the Year, Derrick Rose, comes into 2009-'10 with expectations substantially higher than your typical second-year point guard.
The Bulls' success this season also depends very much on the development of big men Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah.
Last year, Thomas showed major signs of an impending explosion, and thinks himself that he's capable of averaging 20 and 10.
Noah is trying to shed his label as a defender/hustle player type, and become more of a threat on offense.
Based on preseason performance, it certainly does seem as though Noah put in plenty of work on his offensive game, and could prove to be an extremely valuable asset to the Bulls.
7. Miami Heat
Not many teams were as inactive over the summer as Miami.
Their "major acquisitions" were Quentin Richardson and Carlos Arroyo.
However, the Heat are expecting second-year forward Michael Beasley's production to improve, thus making him something of an offseason pickup.
The 6'10" 20-year-old averaged about 13 points and five rebounds per game last year, when he struggled to stay on the floor due to lack of commitment to defense.
If he can start to look something like the dominating force he was during his one year of college, the Heat could be dangerous.
Miami's performance this season also obviously has tons of impact on whether or not franchise player Dwyane Wade decides to re-sign before next season.
8. Toronto Raptors
GM Bryan Colangelo spent tons of money to overhaul the Raptors' roster during the offseason, and we'll see what comes of it.
New faces for Toronto include Hedo Turkoglu, Jarrett Jack, Amir Johnson, Antoine Wright, Marco Bellinelli, Reggie Evans, and rookie DeMar DeRozan.
They also signed former first overall pick Andrea Bargnani to a lucrative contract extension.
The Raptors are under an awful lot of pressure this season, because if they don't show that they're able to contend, Chris Bosh may be on his way out of town next summer.
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