NBA Outlook: Playoff Picture for the East for Next Season
We all seem to be dissecting and analyzing next year's Eastern Conference to no end. So I decided that I might as well take my crack at the Eastern Conference and discuss how I see the playoffs shaping up next year. I recently wrote a piece on the Western Conference and how the playoffs will shape up for them. You can check it out here and how I ranked the eight seeds:
The Eastern Conference, in my opinion, has become the dominant conference in the NBA, especially with how the offseason went about. There are some extremely deadly and dangerous teams out East, and I'm pretty intrigued with a few of the matchups. The Heat, the Bulls, and the Knicks all improved their rosters by leaps and bounds in the offseason, but time will tell if any of these acquisitions will work out. I'm going to attempt to be as completely unbiased in my analysis and would appreciate some feedback.
So without further ado, here we go....
8. New York Knicks
This one was a tough spot for me to fill. It seems like after the top 5 teams, the pickings become pretty slim in the East. Lots of teams have the potential to be in the playoffs, and I believe it will be a fight to the end for the bottom three seeds (much like it was last year). In the end I settled on an up-and-coming team that I think (despite their lack of depth) has the potential to be a low playoff-seed next year: the New York Knicks.
This team has had a fairly decent offseason with the signings of Amar'e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton. They also unloaded fan favorite David Lee for the likes of potential star Anthony Randolph, fantastic hustler Ronny Turiaf, and underrated guard Kelenna Azubuike. Compared to what this team was last year this is a huge improvement.
Projected starting lineup:
PG- Raymond Felton
SG- Kelenna Azubuike
SF- Wilson Chandler
PF- Danillo Gallinari
C- Amar'e Stoudemire
Key reserves: Anthony Randolph, Toney Douglas, Ronny Turiaf, Bill Walker, Landry Fields
That is a fairly decent lineup, which has the potential to improve before the season begins. It seems as if their main weakness comes in the backcourt. Not much depth with the guard positions. While Toney Douglas has shown a little bit, he is still very unproven and I can't really sign off on him as a decent backup to Raymond Felton. I like Felton, but it remains to be seen whether he can run this D'Antoni offense effectively. There has been lots of talk of either Chris Paul or Tony Parker coming to town, and if this does happen, look for this team to jump a few spots in the Eastern Conference.
The main thing I'm interested to see is how Amar'e can perform without the amazing playmaking abilities of Steve Nash to feed off of. Will he be the same player that he was in Phoenix? Obviously, if Paul ends up suiting up in the Big Apple before the season starts, Amar'e will be exactly what he was in Phoenix. Paul is one of the best passing point guards in the NBA.
The Knicks also have a lot of promising young talent on the roster like Bill Walker, Danillo Gallinari (who showed lots of brilliance last year), rookie Landry Fields,Wilson Chandler, and Anthony Randolph. There should be an interesting battle for minutes going down in the frontcourt between Gallinari and Randolph...and we shall see who starts. D'Antoni tends to be pretty sporadic with his lineups, so expect to see a lot of different starting lineups in the beginning of the season.
All-in-all, this Knicks team is fairly talented and should be able to maybe sneak themselves into the lower seeds come playoff time.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers
Hahaha....surprised? I was too. I've been preparing this article for quite some time and had some trouble selecting the bottom two seeds in the Eastern Conference. But in the end I decided that these teams show the most potential. My heart goes out to Cleveland for next season and I would love to see them do well. Despite what Dan Gilbert thinks, although, this team is not headed to a championship any time soon. Once the fires died down from "the Decision", I think even Gilbert realized that.
Minus Lebron, this team still has plenty of potential and will not be horrible next year. I think they can still contend for a playoff spot...if they pick up a few more pieces. It doesn't seem like the front office is even trying these days. They need to stop moping and licking their wounds from King James' departure and get back into the swing of things. While they sit whining and moaning, the rest of the Eastern Conference continues to improve and deepen their rosters with the rest of the pickings left over in the free agency crop. Where is Cleveland in all of this?
Projected starting lineup:
PG- Mo Williams
SG- Anthony Parker
SF- Jamario Moon
PF- Antawn Jamison
C- Anderson Varejao
Key reserves: Ramon Sessions, JJ Hickson, Joey Graham, Daniel Gibson
This is just a projected starting lineup. I'm not even sure how new coach Byron Scott plans on making it all work. But if you look at it you can see that there is a lot of talent on this roster. If they can all pull together and recover, this team can still contend and be decent.
Mo Williams seems to be on the trading block, but even if he remains in Cleveland they are are still pretty deep in the backcourt. Ramon Sessions is a fantastic sixth man and could even start if Mo doesn't start producing better. I love Anthony Parker and feel like he is vastly underrated. The signing of Joey Graham was also a great pickup.
The frontcourt is where it gets interesting. This may be JJ Hickson's year to show us all what he's got. I love this guy and feel like he's a future All-Star in this league. He may take over the starting 4 spot and kick Jamison to more of a sixth man role. Anderson Varejao definitely will be the starting center on this roster. He is a fan favorite in Cleveland and has one of the biggest hearts in the NBA. Varejao brings a lot of heart to the court.
Jamario Moon is also a question mark heading into the season. Are the Cavs planning on him being the King's replacement? Or will Joey Graham start? I was expecting the Cavs to maybe sign someone like Richard Jefferson or Josh Howard, but now those two are off the market. It's interesting to me that this team continues to stand pat. Who knows, maybe they feel like they can contend with the team they have. It's quite possible too. But it wouldn't hurt to pick up a few more players.
Maybe Jerry Stackhouse? Allen Iverson? Shannon Brown?
In the end, Dan Gilbert's team will still be in contention for a lower playoff seeding, but they will not be able to contend with the likes of Orlando, Chicago, and Miami.
6. Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks surprised a lot of people last year with how competitive they ended up being even after losing Andrew Bogut to a gruesome injury. This year, I believe, the same will happen.
Now that the Eastern Conference is so much deeper, the Bucks remain in the lower half of the conference, but they will be in the playoffs. It's a fantastic team and they had a fairly decent offseason and draft.
Projected starting lineup:
PG- Brandon Jennings
SG- John Salmons
SF- Luc Mbah a Moute
PF- Drew Gooden
C- Andrew Bogut
Key reserves: Michael Redd, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Corey Maggette, Larry Sanders, Keyon Dooling, Carlos Delfino, Tiny Gallon
The Deer have a fantastic bench in my opinion. If Michael Redd returns to form after his injury, he and Corey Maggette will provide a huge impact and valuable veteran leadership to a young and upcoming team. John Salmons was a fantastic re-signing. He has seemed to thrive during his time in Milwaukee and could achieve All-Star status next year if he stays consistent.
They also have a few young studs in Larry Sanders, defensive mastermind Luc Mbah a Moute, and Chris Douglas-Roberts. All these guys could see starting time throughout the season. Like I said earlier, there is also a strong veteran presence on this team with Maggette, Redd, Keyon Dooling, and Drew Gooden.
There are a few X factors on this team. Will Andrew Bogut recover from his season-ending injury? He was starting to improve dramatically and show us all that he is one of the best centers in the NBA.
Will Brandon Jennings experience a sophomore slump or will he continue to improve and become the face of this team? Michael Redd is no longer the man here. That honor has officially been bestowed on Jennings. (after a 55-point game as a rookie how could it not be?) The future of this team depends on the continued development of this studly point guard.
I see Jennings returning this next season and leading this team to even more wins than they had last season. He will have better stats and could contend for an All-Star spot (he won't get it). Andrew Bogut will return and he and Jennings will make the phrase "Fear the Deer" a widely used term come playoff time.
5. Atlanta Hawks
Ahhhhh...the Atlanta Hawks. This is a team that I have always liked and have always wanted to see succeed. But it seems like no matter how good they get, they never live up to their expectations. They are like the Dallas Mavericks of the Eastern Conference. This team has so much young talent on their roster and appear to be so deep. Yet, come playoff time they falter and disappear. Much of this could be contributed to star player Joe Johnson and his inability to come through in the postseason, but the blame shouldn't be placed all on one guy. Joe Johnson should not be relied on to carry the team by himself. Not when they have guys like Al Horford, Josh Smith, and Jamal Crawford on the roster as well.
Projected starting lineup:
PG- Mike Bibby
SG- Joe Johnson
SF- Josh Smith
PF- Marvin Williams
C- Al Horford
Key reserves- Jamal Crawford, Zaza Pachulia, Josh Powell, Jordan Crawford, Jeff Teague, Jason Collins, Mo Evans
A fantastic roster, but yet still underachieving. They have two All-Stars in Johnson and Horford. Atlanta has shown that they still have faith in Johnson by resigning him to the biggest contract of the offseason. We have yet to see whether this will work out or not. Mike Bibby's best years are behind him, but he can still carry this team. Next season may be the year that Jeff Teague takes the reins.
Josh Smith could finally make his first All-Star appearance next year. If this team is going to do any damage in the postseason, he needs to step it up big time. He shows a lot every year, but it seems like he could be so much better. Hopefully, he can realize this, throw Atlanta on his shoulders, and RUN. A lot is also riding on Marvin Williams. Atlanta had a lot of faith in this unproven player out of North Carolina, and he has yet to show his true worth. Patience is running thin and he needs to show some obvious improvement next year...or Atlanta will part ways with him.
Jamal Crawford will serve as a valuable mentor to rookie shooter Jordan Crawford (any relation?). Both will provide valuable sparks off the bench, along with pickup Josh Powell and veteran Mo Evans.
Like I said, this team is talented...but is no longer in the top competition of the Eastern Conference. With the improvement of everyone else, this team has dropped to a fifth seed.
4. Chicago Bulls
I wanted to have these guys higher, but I couldn't do it. With recent acquisitions by other teams in mind, this team falls to number 4 sadly. But they could be higher when all is said and done, In my opinion, the top 4 or 5 seeds in the Eastern Conference are going to be a brawl until the end of the season. All 5 teams have incredible talent and potential. It will be intriguing to watch.
The Bulls probably improved the most (outside of Miami) in the offseason. They sacrificed a lot to try to lure Chris Bosh, Wade, or Lebron to the Windy City, but ended up with some of the "best of the rest." Carlos Boozer fills a vital role for this team that they didn't seem to have last year. Kyle Korver is a shooting threat that they have wanted for awhile now. All-in-all, this team looks very threatening on paper.
Projected starting lineup:
PG- Derrick Rose
SG- Ronnie Brewer
SF- Luol Deng
PF- Carlos Boozer
C- Joakim Noah
Key reserves- Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson, CJ Watson, James Johnson, Kurt Thomas
It seems as if the Bulls stole the entire Jazz roster from last season (being a Jazz fan...I noticed). Ronnie Brewer will provide a valuable defensive presence at the two spot and Korver will bring shooting off the bench. It will be interesting to see how Boozer performs without flashy passes from Deron Williams. I'm fairly certain that Boozer and Rose will mesh just fine, and possibly even better than Deron and Booze ever did.
Derrick Rose looks to have another All-Star caliber season. He is hungry and wants to push this team to the next level. He is on the verge of becoming a superstar. Joakim Noah improved a lot last year and will be a double-double threat every night for this team. I love watching this guy play. He plays every game like it's his last and hustles more than any guy I've seen play in a long time.
The Bulls also bring back a couple of rookie studs in Taj Gibson and James Johnson. Gibson's role will diminish a bit from last season now that Boozer is in town. With that said, he will still do the most with the minutes he gets. He was a nice surprise for the Bulls last season.
Look for this team to achieve homecourt advantage in the playoffs and find themselves in the second round before long. After the first round, the second round in the Eastern Conference looks to be mighty entertaining. Any team could take it...
3. Boston Celtics
I originally had these guys down lower, but I just can't doubt them any longer. I have been so impressed by what they've been able to accomplish with so many veteran players on their roster. The original Big Three still have a couple of years left in the tank and should be in top contention for a championship next year.
The Celtics also had a fantastic offseason and picked up some veteran depth for very VERY cheap. I'm excited to see what this team can get done next season.
Projected starting lineup:
PG- Rajon Rondo
SG- Ray Allen
SF- Paul Pierce
PF- Kevin Garnett
C- Jermaine O'Neal (until Kendrick Perkins returns)
Key reserves- Shaquille O'Neal, Glen Davis, Nate Robinson, Marquis Daniels, Von Wafer, Avery Bradley, Luke Harangody
The team returns mostly intact, only losing Tony Allen (surprisingly) and Rasheed Wallace (to retirement). Tony Allen's spot should be filled nicely by rookie Avery Bradley and they more than made up for Rasheed Wallace with the pickups of both O'Neals.
Kendrick Perkins will miss probably half of the season with his injury. I accept Shaq and Jermaine to divide the minutes and both make up for his absence significantly. Shaq accepted a deal that pays him lots less money then he's every made in his career and wants to win a ring for this team.
Ray Allen and Paul Pierce will also return to the fold and join Kevin Garnett to take one more crack at a title in Boston. Rajon Rondo is improving dramatically and will be even better next year. A future superstar (if not already), he is now the leader of this team along with Pierce.
The bench is fun to watch with Shrek (Davis) and Donkey (Robinson) leading the way. This team will be hard to beat, especially in the playoffs.
Look for the Celtics to be in the Eastern Conference Finals next year, and perhaps even in the Finals.
2. Orlando Magic
Easily the second or third best team in the league, the Orlando Magic look to come back from a devastating playoff loss and make it back to the NBA Finals. The team returns mostly intact, only with a few more additions. Orlando is obviously so talented, that it's hard to even find any flaws.
Projected starting lineup
PG- Jameer Nelson
SG- Vince Carter
SF- Michael Pietrus
PF- Rashard Lewis
C- Dwight Howard
Key reserves- JJ Redick, Quentin Richardson, Chris Duhon, Marcin Gortat, Brandon Bass, Jason Williams
Look at that roster! What a fantastic team! They are deep at nearly every position with a mix of talented youngsters and veteran studs. On paper, this team looks like the best team in the Eastern Conference.
Dwight Howard is the best center in the league and dominates in the frontcourt on a nightly basis. Jameer Nelson is a talented point guard with All-Star ability. The bench is deep deep deep with shooters, defenders, and shot blockers galore.
Veterans Carter, Lewis, Richardson, Duhon, and Williams look to win a ring this season and will do everything possible to achieve that. Young guys like Gortat, Redick, and Bass fill pivotal roles for this team as well.
I can't really predict how this team will finish off in the playoffs, but it's highly possible they could glimpse the NBA Finals and possible even be crowned the champions. But everything depends on my next choice...a brick wall that seems to be lying in their path.....
1. Miami Heat
The Miami Heat. The best team in the Eastern Conference and they haven't even played a game together yet. It's hard to throw them under the bus. They have LeBron, Wade, and Bosh. They even managed to assemble a decent supporting cast. There are a lot of weaknesses on this team, but I think in the end it will all be made up for by the superstar play of the Big Three. There is no way this team doesn't make the playoffs next year. It's probable that they end up being the 1st seed.
I'm not even going to try to project the starting lineup....here's most of the key players on their roster:
This team is and will be good. How could they not be? The main weakness ,which seems to be what everyone talks about, is their lack of depth or their lack of a decent center that can measure up with the likes of Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and other top centers in the league. I think in the end that won't matter. This team will still dominate.
LeBron wants a ring. Dwyane Wade wants another. Veterans are lining up to play with them in order to make this happen. Haslem and Big Z took less money to suit up and join the bandwagon.
All we can do is sit back, watch, and witness what becomes of the grand experiment in South Beach. Keep your eyes on Miami. Especially in the Finals, when they contend with the contending champions the Lakers for a world title.
Wild Card Teams
Every year of course we have the wild card teams. These are teams that I thought of putting in the playoff race, but I really don't know how their seasons could pan out. Nobody really knows obviously, and the same could be said for my top eight teams. But it sure is fun to predict....here are my other teams to watch...
1. Washington Wizards- They have number one pick John Wall. How could you not keep your eyes on them? Many things tell me that there is no way this team makes the playoffs. But who knows? Maybe John Wall has a Magic Johnson-like rookie season. Maybe Gilbert Arenas becomes a superstar again...
2. Philadelphia 76ers- Evan Turner anyone? He could be special. This team is talented but not very deep. But even so, they could manage a postseason appearance if their key players step up and if they pull off a decent trade for Elton Brand or Andre Iguodala.
3. Toronto Raptors- This team will be mediocre at best. Amir Johnson is not a decent replacement for Chris Bosh. Ed Davis could be being relied on a bit too much.
4. Charlotte Bobcats- Why didn't they acquire Jose Calderon? Bad idea in my opinion. Instead they lost Raymond Felton and shipped out Tyson Chandler for Erick Dampier. Things aren't looking good in Charlotte. If DJ Augustin can impress, this team may still be in playoff contention.
5. Detroit Pistons- The Pistons have had quite the fall from grace, despite having a talented roster. Where is this team even heading? Can Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva return to form? Is Ben Wallace even a factor anymore? Is Rodney Stuckey the point guard of the future?
I hope you enjoyed the slideshow. As always, these are opinions. I would appreciate any and all feedback!!