The last time a team from the Eastern Conference won the NBA Finals was the Boston Celtics in 2008, when they defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.
Since then, the Lakers have won the NBA Finals two years running, most recently against the Celtics in a grueling seven game series. So where does this put the Eastern Conference? After some surprising off-season moves, including "The Decision," a shuffling of the deck may be in order...
Click through the slides for a most unorthodox seeding order...
The talk in New York has revolved around many rumors as of lately, including LeBrongate, the Carmelo Anthony wedding toast and Chris Paul's allegedly stated desire to join the storied franchise.
The reality, however, centers around their new All-Star big man Amare Stoudemire re-uniting with his former coach Mike D'Antoni in D'Antoni's trademark transition-fastbreak offense.
With players like Gallinari, scrappy point guard Raymond Felton, and now Stoudemire, the Knicks have a talented enough nucleus to move back into the Playoffs as soon as this year.
The Knicks are certainly a long shot in terms of contending for an NBA Championship this year (the Pringles-man never made it out of the Conference Finals in his tenure with the Suns, and Raymond Felton is no Steve Nash), but it's only a matter of time before the Knicks find the right pieces, and find themselves in contention.
Fear the Deer! The Milwaukee Bucks were one of the surprising feel-good stories of last season, but the anti-climactic (and scary) injury to Andrew Bogut, the franchise's most beloved Australian, derailed them from being a potential playoff contender.
After having surgery, Bogut now has full range of motion in his arm and is shooting once again, which is good news. He won't be ready for training camp, and expect him to have a slow start to the season but gradually recover.
As for off-season activity, the Bucks re-signed Salmons (a shrewd move), managed to keep potentially excellent role players in Mbah a Moute and Illyasova, and traded a second round pick for Chris Douglas Roberts (which is kind of like selling an unused lotto scratch-and-win for $10— the chances of Jersey getting the better end of this deal? Slim).
I'd say overall, the Bucks are in better shape than they were last season, except this year their opponents will do much more than just Fear the Deer; they'll prepare for them. Here's to hoping they don't get caught in headlights.
Here's a couple things I like about Atlanta's off-season moves:
- Signing Josh Powell. Not as much of a no-brainer as you might think, but the guy can play a couple minutes of relief while Horford catches a breather. For a million dollars, I mean, it's hard to refuse. Expect this guy to get more than garbage minutes on this squad.
- Firing Mike Woodson. No offense, I haven't seen a coach that gives less of a sh-- about his team losing than his players do. Did anyone else see these post-game press conferences?
I've seen every post-game press conference look, from Rasheed Wallace's glazed-over, "I need a joint" look c. 2000, to the Kobe Bryant "someone is getting it in the shower" glare c. 2006. Hell, I even remember seeing Latrell Sprewell when choking coach P.J. Carlesimo was just a mad glint in his eye.
And then I saw Mike Woodson after Game 2 and Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. I saw a man who was simply defeated, who wasn't watching the same game we were, a man who couldn't give less of a crap that his team was getting man-handled.
Any GM with two brain cells to rub together saw that this wasn't just another instance of the coach being a scapegoat. Former Coach Woodson was absolutely a part of the problem.
I'm not the type of guy to do people's jobs for them (OK, I lied, yes I am, but you still love me), but if you followed me on BTF before I moved back to B/R, you know that Woodson's lack of passion for this talented nucleus cost him his job.
- Keeping Joe Johnson.
Moves I don't like:
- Keeping Joe Johnson for the league maximum. How ironic is it that the one guy that was the general consensus "shouldn't receive the league maximum"-guy ended up getting paid more than LeBron and Wade?
It's a move that pours cement over this Atlanta Hawks squad for the time being; perform with this squad or perish. I have a feeling they can, though. Is anyone else feeling like Al Horford goes full-retard next season? It makes perfect sense to me, the guy's plenty capable of notching 19-11.
Will it take them to the NBA Finals? Hell no. Can it put them in the Eastern Conference Finals next year? A puncher's chance, but it's possible.
An open letter to Boston GM Danny Ainge.
Dear President Ainge,
I realize last season the Celtics were one quarter away from winning the NBA Championship for the second time in three years. However, I need to tell you that your particular, costly approach to chasing Larry O'Brien trophies will eventually fail miserably.
What I saw initially as a title run built upon a house of cards was blown away in one fell swoop and one undeniable truth: the Lakers, and many other teams in the NBA, are taller, stronger, and will get better next year. I can't say the same thing about the Celtics, at least not anymore.
You attempted to address the need for a big man by signing an O'Neal, with a second one on the way; I realize that Kendrick Perkins is injured and signing someone like the two O'Neals is a necessary precaution. However, I saw that the alleged cornerstone of your franchise spent the majority of the 2010 NBA Finals contesting rebounds with one hand and launching fall-away 18-footers.
I saw that Paul Pierce needed Ron Artest's permission to so much as take a... well, you know.
I saw Ray Allen invoke franchise history by matching Dennis Johnson's NBA Finals shooting futility record of 0-13.
I saw Kobe play five feet off Rondo, pretty much daring him to launch a jumper.
In short, the Lakers had the Celtics' number that series, and no delusion of a 7-game series will change the reality that the Celtics have a bevvy of talent but are embarrassingly old going into the 2010-2011 NBA Season. Unless Rondo develops a hitherto-unseen jump shot, and KG somehow gets his knees replaced, I do not see your team making the NBA Finals next year.
A starting five of Rondo, Allen, Pierce, KG/J-O'Neal, and Shaq? If it's 2002 I'm wetting myself. It's 2010 and counting, now. With Perkins, K.G., J. O'Neal and S. O'Neal, that's eight giant ice packs you're going to need for four sets of gammy knees.
The rest of the league saw what many fans didn't see-- that the Celtics are in danger of fading into NBA obscurity. I can hear Jeff Van Gundy already calling Rondo the care-taker at a retirement home when his brother's team plays against you guys in the playoffs.
I don't have any solution right now for your team, all I can say is I dearly hope the Celtics can win one more NBA Championship before I die.
P.S. Please tell Paul Pierce to lay off the Popeyes. I grow frustrated when his lethargic, long-strided drives to the basket look like a future episode of Pros vs. Joes.
Where do I even start with Chicago? Although the rest of the world seems "Bullish" (har har har) about Chicago's chances to contend this year, I really don't know where to put them. Chicago vacillated between the 3 spot and the 6 spot until I finally decided that, yes, it will be the year of the Rose.
Hijacking Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver certainly doesn't hurt the Bulls' chances this year. Korver is a dead-eye three point shooter, and Booze provides a much-needed low post scoring option. There was no way a guy with a last name like Boozer was staying in Utah, anyway.
What does this mean for Rose? If you liken the point guard position to a quarterback in American Football, Rose is a lot like a dual-threat quarterback; he has very good court vision, uncanny ball-handling, and can still take it to the hole for pay dirt.
Adding players like Boozer and Korver only give Rose more options ("weapons" in football parlance), not to mention the defense that Boozer is going to draw down low is only going to spread the floor for Rose even more.
On offense I see this working very, very well, and the Bulls were a scrappy defensive team to begin with. Top 3 in the East? Yep. Making the Conference Finals? Very possible. Making the NBA Finals? Eh. It's going to take a lot, but the Bulls have some pieces in place. Just be glad that most of us aren't bearish after an off-season that saw the Bulls miss out on all three blue chip free agents.
Admit it, most of you are just reading these to see where I rank these teams. I don't think anything needs to be said about Miami except they have a major concern inside the paint that needs to be addressed, and they're not going to do it with Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Joel Anthony, or Dexter Pittman.
Going for Shaq was the single best option they had (and if they managed to sign Haywood I would be writing about baseball right now), but the Heat have just what you think they have: a metric you-know-what-ton of offensive firepower.
Anyone who thinks the Heat have a chance of defensively out-hustling teams the way the Celtics did last year needs to stop drinking Duff Beer. Teams are going to throw the kitchen sink at the Heat this year; the question remains whether or not the Heat are ready for it.
On paper they're a shoo-in for number one. A further look shows that they don't have as complete a team as many Heat fans would like to believe.
Yes, yes, groan. Groan. All you bandwagon Heat fans, and yes, even you oldies that stuck around for God knows how long.
I'm putting the Magic on top because I have a feeling that Dwight Howard will be more aggressive on the offensive end this season. Why? Because if you just watched the NBA Finals, there was an emphasis on the consistency of big men making huge contributions to their respective teams.
What makes me think Dwight will be more aggressive offensively? Well, he's working out with Hakeem Olajuwon, for one. I mean, even if Dwight Howard can learn a reliable drop step, he's already a force to be reckoned with.
If you add a finesse game (so he doesn't get called for so many fouls) and a more reliable bunny-hook, I mean. Seriously. This guy is still the league's biggest X-Factor. He can be the second coming of Shaq, and no, the cement is not set on his career just yet.
If Dwight Howard is consistently strong on the offensive end, and as strong on defense as he always is (without getting into foul trouble and keeping his head screwed on straight), I see the Magic having a more productive regular season than the Heat, who will need to get adjusted to new systems now that three people used to dominating the ball have to get used to sharing the ball in Miami.
Of course, more exciting than the one pick (which is usually just a tussle between already-contenders), is who is going to make the last playoff spot in the East?
Check the next slide for a hotly-contested spot that is sure to spark up discussion.
WHO'S THE MEANEST?
WHO'S THE PRETTIEST?
WHO'S THE BADDEST MO-FO, LOW DOWN, AROUND THIS TOWN?!
WHO AVERAGED A DOUBLE-DOUBLE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HIS CAREER LAST SEASON?
The answer to all of the above questions is Gerald Wallace. He might've just made his first All-Star team and NBA All-Defensive First team last season, but Sho'Nuff, Wallace has been playing this hard his entire career... when he's on the court at least. The past three seasons, Wallace has missed a combined 37 games-- even more if you look further back in his career.
However, Wallace has learned to temper his game, and posted back-to-back 70+ game seasons for the first time in his career while posting a career-high 41 minutes a game. I expect him to come out strong next season, despite missing Team U.S.A.'s roster.
Stephen Jackson is also still a strong scoring option; he's coming off a 21ppg season for Charlotte, who may need some help after shipping Raymond Felton out to New York. D.J. Augustin gets the spot on the depth chart above Shaun Livingston-- the departure of Raymond Felton alone makes me doubt this pick. My logic came down to this: if not the Bobcats, then who else?
Cleveland? Sorry, Cavs fans, but if you're looking for a LeBron vs. Home match, you're going to need to do better than Antawn Jamison, J.J. Hickson, and Mo Williams as your nucleus.
That project's going to take some time, and Andray Blatche isn't nearly the marquee player that his numbers show him to be (remember, most of Andray Blatche's individual efforts came in Wizards' losses).
Even with Gilbert coming back, that team has some serious attitude problems to rebound from (don't make me cite Gilbert's teammates selling him down the river BEFORE the gun incident, or Andray Blatche's shameless me-first stat-whoring, not to mention welching on a gambling debt doesn't exactly help you in the chemistry department).
So the pick, for now, is Charlotte. Who knows, I meet be eating my foot before long. What's your take?