Now that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh
have joined forces in
Miami, it's time to reassess the Eastern Conference. Below is how I see the regular season playing out.
1) Miami—I know that they have plenty of holes to fill and I don't think they are a lock to win the championship (or even the Eastern Conference finals). But here's the way I see it: if LeBron James can win 60+ games with a below average supporting cast, then James, Wade, and Bosh and a below average supporting cast should lead this team to the No. 1 seed relatively easily.
—The core of Dwight Howard, Vince Carter, Jameer Nelson, and Rashard Lewis is still in place and I fully expect them to give the Heat a run for their money for the No. 1 seed. J.J. Redick seems to be on his way out of town, so another shooter is needed, but solid bench players like Chris Duhon, Mickael Pietrus, and Marcin Gortat will help guide the Magic to a top seed and, potentially, an epic conference finals against Miami.
—Easily the most quickly forgotten good (OK, half-decent) team in the league, the Hawks return their top nine players from the third seed in 2009-2010 and
Josh Childress may be coming back from Greece, as well. The Hawks flamed out in the second round of the playoffs, but this team is built for the regular season and should have no trouble winning 50-55 games again.
is the league's next superstar, Carlos Boozer is a perfect second fiddle, Joakim Noah is a high-energy big man, and Luol Deng has the potential to be a great "glue" guy. Deng is the forgotten man here—he's not great at anything, but he does everything well. If he's your fourth best player, you're in very good shape. I fully expect the Bulls to improve on their 41 wins from last year and win home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
—It's not that I think the Celtics are the fifth best team in the conference; I just think they'll fart around in the regular season (just like last year), fight their way through injuries (just like last year), and focus on getting geared up for the playoffs rather than winning the maximum number of games in the regular season (just like last year). Except they're a year older, so I expect them to slip to the fifth seed heading into the playoffs.
—And....here's where the conference falls off a cliff. This is a pretty boring team that will win 40-45 games. I don't have much else to add. Jennings, Bogut, and Salmons are all pretty good, but none of them are great nor are they particularly interesting. Can someone from Milwaukee send a picture of Michael Redd holding a current newspaper? Are we sure he's still alive?
—Once again, you'll hear about how fun this team is to watch and you won't see a minute of them all season. I really like a lot of the players on the Bobcats (Boris Diaw, Gerald Wallace, Stephen Jackson, Ray Felton, and Tyrus Thomas) but there's a 0 percent chance that any of these guys will ever be anything more than the fourth best player on a championship team.
—Man, it was pretty hard to pick an eighth team in the East, but I ended up going with the Pacers. They have a high quality lead player in Granger, good role players in Troy Murphy ,Roy Hibbert, and T.J. Ford, and have rolled the dice with their two draft picks (Paul George and Lance Stephenson ). 38-41 wins may be enough for the eighth seed in this top heavy conference and I expect the Pacers to rise up and take the last playoff berth.