NBA Eastern Conference Preview: Part III

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NBA Eastern Conference Preview: Part III
(Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

The NBA season tips off tonight and I am still working on my preview. It can’t hurt that it is the first week of the season, right? People need to read up on how the season will play out, right? Right?

During the last couple weeks, we covered the bottom feeders of the Eastern Conference:

Part I

Part II

 

8. Toronto Raptors

 

Key Additions

Hedo Turkoglu, G/F (trade, Orlando), Reggie Evans, F (trade, Philadelphia), Antoine Wright, F (trade, Dallas), Marco Belinelli, G (trade, Golden State), Rasho Nesterovic, C (Indiana), Jarrett Jack, G (Indiana), Amir Johnson, F (trade, Milwaukee), Sonny Weems, G/F (trade, Milwaukee), Demarr DeRozan (R).

 

Key Losses

Jason Kapono, G/F (trade, Philadelphia), Kris Humphris, F (trade, Dallas), Nathan Jawai, C (trade, Dallas), Shawn Marion, F (trade, Dallas), Anthony Parker, G/F (Cleveland), Carlos Delfino, G (trade, Milwaukee), Roko Ukic, G (trade, Milwaukee).

The Raptors received the most hype of the offseason with some blockbuster moves. Their star player, Chris Bosh, enters free agency this upcoming offseason, and I believe GM Bryan Colangelo felt the pressure to make this a do or die season.

First of all, I like the pickup of Hedo Turkoglu, though not at the dollar figure they gave him.

I believe he is a very solid player who can shoot the ball well and is a playmaker. He will make Bosh a better player, along with the others around them.

What he is not, though, is a shutdown defender and he does not possess a tenacity to him. Some people may ask what does being tenacious have to do with Turkoglu and picking him up in the summer?

Well, the Raptors' No. 1 problem for years has been their softness. Even their superstar power forward’s body looks like Lindsay Lohan’s on a coke binge.

Combine him with Bargnani and Nestrovic and the Raptors are not a force down low and not a great rebounding team.

Now, Reggie Evans did come over in a trade with Kapono and he will help with toughness and rebounding, but I do not believe it is enough to go deep in the playoffs.

I like the signing of Jarret Jack in the offseason as a backup and possible backcourt mate of Jose Calderon.

People have ranted and raved about Calderon these past two years, but I do not necessarily buy it. He is OK as a starter and it will be great for the Raptors to have such a solid backup PG coming off the bench, especially considering Jack’s defense on the ball.

The Raptors will have enough talent to make the playoffs, but I still believe they lack some key components to make a splash.

Their defense is still weak and their rebounding is questionable. If they are able to address these issues, either by trade or some miraculous coaching, then I see them going further into the playoffs.

 

7. Washington Wizards

 

Key Additions

Mike Miller, G (trade, Minnesota); Randy Foye, G (trade, Minnesota); Fabricio Oberto, C (Detroit).

 

Key Losses

Etan Thomas, C (trade, Minnesota); Darius Songaila, F (trade, Minnesota); Oleksiy Pecherov, C (trade, Minnesota).

The No. 1 ingredient for the Wizards this year is to stay healthy. If they are healthy, they will make it to the playoffs.

In his first year with the Wizards, new coach Flip Saunders will have plenty of talent to work with.

Over the offseason, I liked the moves Ernie Grunfield pulled off to make his team better. The Wizards did not need youth and Grunfield parlayed the fifth pick in a weak draft into Randy Foye and Mike Miller.

Granted, I have never been a huge Foye fan, but I do think he can fit in nicely alongside a healthy Gilbert Arenas.

Miller also gives the Wizards another shooter off the bench, which is so highly valuable in the NBA, particularly come playoff time.

To round out the wings, the Wizards still have former All-Star Caron Butler, sharp-shooter Nick Young, and solid defender and all-around player DeShawn Stevenson. Those are five solid players to fit into three positions.

The frontcourt is no slouch, either. Antawn Jamison will start at the four position, and if he can resemble his All-Star days, he will be a great compliment to Butler and Arenas like he was just a few years back.

The Wizards have Brendan Haywood returning from injury and he is one of the more underrated big men in the game. I am not saying he is All-Star caliber, but he does a good job defending other bigs (much needed against the likes of Howard and O’Neal) in the league and rebounding the ball.

Saunders doesn’t need much scoring from him, which is a good thing, and he will play his role.

Picking up Oberto from the Spurs via the Pistons will bolster the bench as well as he comes from a winning organization and does the little things well.

Andray Blatche (6'11") is back as well. He has shown flashes of greatness in the past and the Wizards hope to get more consistency from him.

I believe the Wizards have a chance to finish higher than seventh in the East, but I do think the injury bug will plague them at some point this season—hopefully for them, not too much.

If they land where I think they will and remain healthy going into the playoffs, the team that gets seeded in the No. 2 spot in the East should watch out come playoff time.

 

6. Miami Heat

 

Key Additions

Quentin Richardson, G/F (trade, Minnesota).

 

Key Losses

Jamario Moon, F (Cleveland), Mark Blount, C (trade, Minnesota).

This team is Dwayne Wade. Period. The ship will go on how well he goes, and more importantly, if he stays healthy.

The Heat kept their team in tact this offseason preparing for what could be an explosive 2010 free agency for them.

Last year, the talent surrounding Wade was good enough to get the fifth spot in the East. This year, they slip a spot in large part because of other teams getting better.

The Heat will be marginally improved with PG Chalmers entering his second season along with the second pick in the 2008 Draft, Michael Beasley.

Beasley’s turbulent offseason (checking himself into rehab) raises plenty of question marks. All signs out of Heat camp have been positive (on the court) and that he is back on track to have an improved second year.

The Heat will have C Jermaine O’Neil for a full season, but he needs to stay injury-free, which has been extremely difficult these past few seasons. Either way, he is not the Jermaine O’Neil of old.

The Heat do have others in the frontcourt to fill the void in Magloire, Haslem, and Anthony, but nothing that strikes fear into the opponents’ gameplan.

James Jones will be looking to return healthy after missing most of the year this past season. He will provide help to Wade with his outstanding outside shooting touch and I believe people forgot how good of a player he can be as a role player. Look for some good things out of him this season.

The bottom line is the team will only go so far as Wade can take them. Wade is a top five talent in the league and he is exceptional. If he stays healthy, they are in the playoffs. If not, they get a lottery pick and tons of free-agent cap space to go after the likes of LeBron or Chris Bosh to pair up with Wade.

Which one is Pat Riley hoping for?

 

5. Atlanta Hawks

 

Key Additions

Jamal Crawford, G (trade, Golden State), Joe Smith, F/C (Cleveland), Jason Collins, C (Minnesota), Jeff Teague (R).

 

Key Losses

Speedy Claxton, G (trade, Golden State), Acie Law, G (trade, Golden State), David Andersen, C (trade, Houston), Solomon Jones, F (Indiana), Ronald “Flip” Murray, G (Charlotte).

After two straight trips to the NBA playoffs, the Atlanta Hawks will try to make it three in a row behind All-Star Joe Johnson.

The Atlanta Hawks’ offseason was fairly quiet and the roster was basically kept in tact, leaving them to get one year older.

For some players, the extra year is added maturity to grow their game (Al Horford), while for others, it is the beginning of the end (Mike Bibby).

To combat Bibby’s aging and diminishing game, the Hawks went out and traded for Jamal Crawford of the Golden State Warriors.

The Hawks did not give up much in return for Crawford, and he will provide some much needed scoring off the bench. If there is one thing Crawford can do, it is his ability to put the ball in the basket. It will be interesting to see how he fits in with the other Hawks players, particularly Joe Johnson.

The rest of the crew is basically the same. Marvin Williams and Josh Smith will fill in the forward spots with Al Horford anchoring the middle.

Good offensive rebounder Zaza Pachulia will come off the bench to back up Horford, and veteran Joe Smith was signed to add beef to the bench, though don’t expect much out of him.

With the number of moves by other teams in the conference, the Hawks' improvement will rely heavily on how well some of their youngsters have grown.

Two of their shining frontcourt stars and cornerstones to the future of the franchise are Horford and Josh Smith, who are both only 23 years old and have room for improvement.

If their games have indeed gotten better, look for the Hawks to break through even further than they have.

Over the past four seasons, the Hawks have averaged an improvement of 8.5 games per year and if they continue on this pace, that will put them at 55 wins and give them home court advantage in the first round. However, I wouldn’t count on it.

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