NBA power rankings: How the Eastern Conference Matches up With Miami
We are only 2 1/2 weeks into free agency, but the hierarchy of the Eastern Conference has already taken shape. With the additions of Chris Bosh and Lebron James and the re-signing of the Dewane Wade, the Miami Heat became not only the favorite in the East, but the favorite to win the NBA championship multiple times in the next five years. The question is, how does the rest of the conference match up against the so-called South Beach Superteam?
#15 Indiana Pacers(last season:32-50)
Key additions: F Paul George( 10th overall pick),G Lance Stephenson(second round pick)
The Indiana Pacers are still a work in progress. However, much of that progress still hinges on what happens next summer in free agency. They have a lot of money coming off the books at the end of the season, and are hoping that with a little extra money, they can go out and build around Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough. This year's team might be slightly better than last season if Hansbrough can stay healthy, and Hibbert takes a more active role in the offense. This year's draft was relatively successful as the Pacers nabbed 6 foot 7 forward Paul George who seems like he could be a first round steal. Last season at Fresno State,he averaged 16 points and had a 35% three point percentage. He should be able to contribute by stretching defenses with his shooting ability. They also drafted Lance Stephenson out of Cincinnati.Stephenson is a super athletic guard who needs some more fine polishing to be successful in the NBA. Look for the Pacers to improve their record by five or six games, but not compete for a playoff spot in the East.
#14 Detroit Pistons(last season:27-55)
Key Additions: F/C Greg Monroe (first round, seventh pick overall); G Terrico White (second-round pick).
The Detroit Pistons used to be one of the most feared teams in the NBA. no matter what happened in the game they were always find a way to beat you, and had weapons all over the court. Some of those players were lost over the years, while others have simply become ghosts of their former selves (Ben Wallace). Aside from the drafting of Greg Monroe, the Pistons have almost exactly the same team as they did last year.The addition of Ben Gordon last season didn't do what was expected for the team, as his scoring dropped off significantly.this team is going to have trouble on both ends of the court again this season, they won't be any better than they were last year.
#13 Toronto Raptors(last season:40-42)
Key additions: G Leandro Barbosa (Trade with Phoenix), F Linas Kleiza (Europe),Solomon Alabi (trade with Dallas), Ed Davis(15th overall pick)
There was plenty of talk at the beginning of free agency about a possible sign and trade deal being in the works with Chris Bosh that could have brought much-needed help to a depleted Raptors roster. However, that never materialized, and they let their star player go for nothing. They did however go out and trade Turkolgu to the Phoenix Suns for Leandro Barbosa. His production is way down after four straight years of double digits in scoring. He only averaged just under 10 points per game last season. It is going to be difficult for the Raptors to replace the scoring production of Chris Bosh. Not only is this team going to have trouble winning, but the already dwindling interest in basketball will only get worse. I don't think that this team will be any better than last season,they may even be worse.
#12 New Jersey Nets(12-70)
Key additions: Derrick Favors(third overall pick),Travis Outlaw( five years, $35 million), Jordan Farmar (three years, $12 million), Anthony Morrow (sign and trade).
With all the Lebron James speculation surrounding New Jersey, everyone expected them to not do much if they didn't get Lebron. They may not have made a splash in free agency, but they did go out and improve the team. Derrick Favors will turn out to be a great player, even if it takes a year or two for him to develop. Travis Outlaw is a solid 10 point per game player, and Jordan Farmar is a great perimeter shooter. They are setting themselves up well for next season, and won't be nearly as terrible as they were last year. The biggest difference here is that the Nets now have an owner that has set goals for the organization; NBA finals in five years,as well as a fiery new coach in Avery Johnson. Moving to Brooklyn certainly won't hurt. Look for this team to improve, but not challenge for a playoff spot.
#11 Cleveland Cavaliers(last season:61-21)
It is going to be a sad sad season in Cleveland. Some people may be saying that one player leaving can never turn a first-place team into a team that won't even challenge for a playoff spot. Unfortunately for Cleveland, the team is almost entirely made up of complementary players such as Daniel Gibson, Anderson Varejao, and veterans such as Antoine Jamison. The offensive firepower they got from James will have to be replaced. Unfortunately the current roster will be unable to do that. Don't expect a New Jersey Nets type season from the Cavs, but there is absolutely no way they will be competing for a playoff spot.
#10 Philadelphia 76ers(last season:27-55)
Key additions: Evan Turner (number 2 overall pick), Spencer Hawes and Andres Nocioni (trade from Sacramento),new head coach Doug Collins.
With Alan Iversen out of the picture, the 76ers are officially moving on and starting over. Starting with the hiring of Doug Collins as head coach, the Sixers are looking to the future. Collins is known throughout the league as an expert in turning around underachieving teams, and the Sixers certainly have been underachieving. To go along with the hiring, Philadelphia picked last year's college player of the year, Evan Turner, with their first-round pick. Like Chicago's Derrick Rose, Turner will instantly make the Sixers a much better team with his speed and athleticism as well as his scoring ability. The key for the Sixers will be defense, and turning turnovers into fast breaks and easy scoring opportunities.The speed of Turner, Iguodala,and second year point guard Jrue Holiday will make this possible, therefore making the Sixers that much better. They will however be on the outside looking in, they just don't have enough horses.
#9 Washington Wizards(last season: 26- 56)
Key additions: John Wall( first overall pick),Trevor Booker(draft day trade with Minnesota),Kirk Hinrich(trade with Chicago)
The wizards have had nothing but problems for the past few years, both with the law ( Gilbert Arenas) and on the court. But with a new owner, and a few key off-season moves, the Wizards will be much improved this year. The organization has already embraced Wall as the face of the franchise, sorry Agent 0. They also picked up a shooting guard in Hinrich to go along with a top-flight point guard. Hinrich will add depth to the guard position as well as some outside shooting help. The only way this team will be as bad as last year's is if Arenas and John Wall refuse to coexist. If this does happen however, expect Arenas to be traded. Another key player could end up being F Andray Blatche. After the Wizards shipped off Jamison,Butler, and Haywood,Blatche averaged 22 points per game. If he keeps up the improvement, he could become a major force. I fully expect his team to finish in the top 10 and maybe challenge for the eighth playoff spot.
#8 New York Knicks( last season:29-53)
Key additions: Amare Stoudemire (five years, $100 million),Raymond Felton (two years,$15.8 million),Andy Rautins(second round pick)
This off-season can be looked at as a little bit of a mixed bag for the Knicks. They signed Stoudemire early in the free-agent process, thinking that they could also land Chris Bosh, Lebron James, or Dewayne Wade to come with. That gamble did not pay off. Instead they lost David Lee to free agency along with Chris Duhon. So some of the addition that came with the signing of Stoudemire, was immediately subtracted. However, they did add Raymond Felton to the mix, a solid 10 point per game guy as well as someone who can shoot and average seven assists per game. The offense should be improved slightly,but the defense will still be suspect. The Knicks are still two or three players away from turning this around, but they just might sneak into the playoffs ahead of the Wizards in a best case scenario.
#7 Charlotte Bobcats(last season: 44-38)
Key additions: Erick Dampier (trade with Dallas), Eduardo Najera (trade with Dallas), Matt Carroll (trade with Dallas); Shaun Livingston (two years, $7 million). Dominic McGuire (one year, $885,000).
Charlotte made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last season before losing in the first round against the Magic.with the loss of Tyson Chandler, the bobcats will have to rely on guard play in order to be successful. Shaun Livingston and DJ Augustin will have to step up their games n order to replace Raymond Felton. The retention of Tyrus Thomas, will only add to their defensive prowess. Erick Dampier will provide a solid 10 point per game average, even if it is off the bench. Despite a few major personnel losses, look for the bobcats to challenge for the eighth playoff spot in the East.
#6 Milwaukee Bucks(last season: 46-36)
Key additions: Drew Gooden( five years $32 million), Corey Maggette(trade with Golden State), John Salmons( re-signed six years, $39 million),Larry Sanders(15th overall pick)
Milwaukee had a semi-decent season last year finishing second in the Central Division before being knocked out of the playoffs by the Atlanta Hawks. They managed to trade for guard John Salmons at the trade deadline which gave them the push necessary to finish strong at the end of last season. This season they added much-needed size/defensive ability when they added Drew Gooden and drafted shotblocking F/C Larry Sanders. The offense will be much improved his year and the defense will be even better. I only picked them seventh at this point because some other teams improved, and still others were better than the Bucks last year.
#5 Atlanta Hawks(last season:53-29)
Key additions:new head coach Larry Drew,Josh Powell (one year $1.1 million), Jordan Crawford (draft day trade with New Jersey)
Not much has changed from last year's version of the Atlanta Hawks, and the things that didn't change are only going to help the team win. The Hawks ponied big money to re-sign Joe Johnson.($124 million to be exact) which is good for now, but will spell big trouble during the off-season as they still need to re-sign Josh Smith next year. The addition of big-time scorer Jordan Crawford will be a great complement to Josh Smith off the bench. I would feel a little better about the Hawks if they did not re-sign Joe Johnson and used that money to sign a few more quality role players. They will make the playoffs, and maybe sneak into the conference finals.
#4 Orlando Magic(last season:59-23)
Key additions: Quentin Richardson (three years $7 million),Chris Duhon (4 years, $15 million) and first-round draft pick Daniel Orton
I recently read the NBA.com Summer rankings for this off-season and next season and found the Orlando Magic in the bottom 10 of the rankings. That doesn't make a lot of sense considering that Orlando was one of the best teams in the league for most of the 2009 -2010 season before losing in the playoffs. Any team that has Dwight Howard is going to win a lot of games. They didn't just sit on their hands either as they added 2 quality complementary players in Richardson and Duhon. Expect this team to again compete for a conference championship. I do not think they will get over the hump this time once again.
#3 Boston Celtics(last season:50-32)
Key additions: Jermaine O'Neal (two years, $11.6 million)
Being a Chicago Bulls fan, I have an extreme hatred towards this team for too many reasons to get into right now, but even I can admit that the Celtics have been one of the top five teams in the NBA the last few years. This team is full of talented players (Garnet, Rondo, Allen, Pierce) It's amazing that this team doesn't win every championship. These names speak for themselves. The key is going to be coaching yet again. One of the reasons that the Celtics have been so great over the last few years has been their defense. Losing the number one assistant Tom Thibodeau to the Chicago Bulls leaves assistant coach Lawrence Frank in charge of defense. He will have to corral all of the egos on the team and get them to recommit to the hard-nosed defense that Thibodeau was known for. The Celtics should be the number three seed in the playoffs, in fact they will be.
#2 Chicago Bulls(last season: 41-41)
Key additions: Carlos Boozer (five years, $80 million),Kyle Korver (three years, $50 million), CJ Watson (two years $6.5 million).
The Bulls were one of the serious contenders to land the big three that ended up in South Florida. But when it became apparent that Lebron was not going to choose Chicago, the Bulls stayed aggressive (a welcome change). They cleared salary-cap space with some big trades and made room for Lebron, which was great because they have plenty of money to spend on other players if he didn't come. They signed a premier big man in Carlos Boozer, a huge three-point threat in Kyle Korver, and some great complementary guards such as CJ Watson and Ronnie Brewer. With new head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls defense will improve leaps and bounds. They have set themselves up to have a great high-scoring offense. While the Bulls probably won't make it to the finals, they will be a tough team to beat and will probably end up winning the Central Division.
#1 Miami Heat(last season:47-35)
This subject has been written to death, there is really no need to go into what this team added. They will win a lot of games, maybe a record-breaking amount. Something deep inside is wondering whether or not these three big names will be able to play as an unselfish team. They certainly have enough talent to rack up three or four championships in the next six years, but it is yet to be seen whether or not their egos will clash.