It is pretty safe to say that the Eastern Conference is a lot stronger than it was a few years ago.
This off-season so far has swung a large amount of momentum to the East. There could very well be 4 to 5 teams that win 50 or more games this season.
I feel it will be a lot more competitive than previous years; much like how the West is. Each team will be fighting for first place in their respective divisions all year.
I'll start with:
1. Boston Celtics - They are the reigning Eastern Conference champions. They kept Doc, Pierce, and Allen. I still like what this team has going. They are an older bunch but they really impressed me with their playoff run, and fight against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals. I know people think the age thing is still a huge factor, and that losing Perkins will hurt them. But I like what Rondo is becoming, he creates plenty of opportunities for his team. They are still a talented core of guys, and with Rondo on that team they will still continue to get great offensive looks. Defensively they are still a top team, we saw them return to their 2008 defensive form with their entire run to the Finals this year. Still deserve the top spot here.
2. Orlando Magic - Two Eastern Conference Finals, and one Finals appearance in two seasons. Although they have not won a championship yet, it's safe to say they are close, and on the right track. Dwight Howard continues to be the most dominant defensive player in the league, winning his second consecutive DPOY Award. Howard anchors that Orlando defense, while still learning to tune his offensive game. Nelson, Carter, and Lewis also add to Orlando's high octane offense with their ability to score from beyond the three-point line. I still feel Stan Van Gundy is an underrated coach, some hate him, some love him. He knows his team the best, and will make sure they do the right things when the challenges face them. Watching him for the past three seasons I've noticed he is one of the greatest "in game" adjusters, he really knows how to prepare his team in crucial situations. My biggest wish is that we continue to grow together. Having Vince Carter for a season might make him feel a bit more comfortable in our offense. As of now, they land at two.
3. Miami Heat - Alright Heat fans, here it is, what you've been waiting for. Miami arguably just had one of the best off-seasons in American sports history, probably global sports history. Retaining Wade, and landing megastar LeBron James while also getting a good player in Bosh... is just... out of this world. I was blown away as an Orlando fan when I heard James utter the words "I'm bringing my talents to South Beach." Ugh, it makes you cringe as a Magic fan. But you can't deny the level of talent this team has now. Riley is some miracle worker. I still am skeptical about whether or not this team can win it all in its first year together. The "Alpha Dog" theory will be put to test, obviously you have Wade and LeBron who are both monsters offensively, and decent defenders. But who is the ball going to in crunch time? Are we going to see some chemistry conflict? There are too many questions right now to put this team at #1. They still have no answer for Howard, and the bench could be a problem in their first year. Expecting these guys to play 40 minutes a night for an 82 game season and expecting them to break 72 games won is ridiculous, I just don't see it happening the first year. This team is built for the future though, and they are going to be pretty scary when they can go out and get some real role players later on. But coming in at three is pretty fair for not seeing this team play together yet.
4. Chicago Bulls - Hate to say it... but with Cleveland losing LeBron, and Chicago signing Boozer they become favorites to win the Central Division. (I think the Milwaukee Bucks are going to put up a good fight this year though.) I really liked the Boozer signing, even though some might say he was overpaid. He really brings another established big to Chicago. Between Joakim Noah and him they are going to be a great rebounding team. Derrick Rose is an All-Star point guard who is continually getting better, his game is going to get more refined as he plays. He creates enough for his team, while also being first option. If he isn't recognized as a superstar yet, he will be after this season. Thibodeau was a good hire, he's got the potential to turn that team into a defensive powerhouse.
5. New York Knicks - Getting Amar'e Stoudemire was a good pickup, a big who is a very big offensive threat. I just wish he was a more consistent defender, he gets handled from time to time. I hope he's right about the Knicks being back, for my sake. Placing the Knicks at five for me was a bit of a stretch. It wasn't an easy decision, like I said the East has become pretty competitive and I think teams will be going at it in each division all year long. But you can't ignore the steps the Knicks have taken in improving their lineup, trading David Lee for solid players in Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike add some much needed depth. Knicks also still have the chance to go out and make one or two more splashes in free agency if they choose. I think the main thing with this team is that they will be motivated. I would say the motivation is close to that of Miami's, this city is ready to start winning again. I think their hunger this season will be proven by claiming a 4th or 5th seed.