NBA Power Rankings: Eastern Conference, (9-15)
Now that we can say this offseason is finally winding down, it's time to turn our focus to the upcoming regular season.
This offseason has been arguably the best and most exciting in NBA history, and many Eastern Conference teams were right in the thick of it.
Many Western Conference stars have changed conferences, which could potentially help the East compete against the traditionally powerful West. The East also had quite a few top 10 picks, including all of the top three.
It will be interesting to watch how the East stacks up against the West this season. I don't know if the East is as good top to bottom, but they will definitely fare better than they did last season.
Let's take a look at the overall strength of the Eastern Conference, and rank them one through 15, by breaking down each teams roster, as well as recapping major signings and trades, and analyzing the other factors. I will be releasing part one (9-15) now and the playoff teams, (1-8) will be released sometime in the the next couple of days.
I realize not everyone agrees when it comes to power rankings, but know that I will be as fair as possible.
15. Toronto Raptors
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Let's be honest, the Raptors were never really that good to begin with, and losing Chris Bosh doesn't help matters. Sorry Raptors fans, I'm not too excited about the rest of the roster either.
Ed Davis is expected to be Bosh's replacement, but he's not even close offensively. Personally, I think Ed Davis would have been better off behind Chris Bosh, coming off the bench to begin his career. He is still extremely raw, and won't be an elite player anytime soon.
I had to do a double take when I saw the contact Amir Johnson signed this summer. The Raptors decided a guy who commits six fouls per 34 minutes was worth five years and 34 million dollars.
Johnson is still only 23, but his numbers really aren’t that impressive. He averaged six points and five rebounds a game last year, and like I said, he is going to have a lot of trouble staying on the floor if he starts.
The only way to describe Jose Calderon’s contract is disastrous. At this point, if they can get someone to give them a 2013 second round pick for him, they might as well take it. Calderon’s contract is limiting their flexibility.
When you are not a good team, you need flexibility. Therefore, Calderon needs to go.
Although the Raptors have several bad contacts, they really dodged a bullet by getting rid of Turk this off-season. Unfortunately they didn’t really get much in return. Leandro Barbosa is on the downside of his career, and was hampered by injuries all of last season. He failed to average double digits in scoring for the first time since 2005.
Barbosa does have a valuable expiring contract, but don’t expect any immediate impact. His numbers were inflated in Phoenix’s up tempo offense, and playing with the Raptors will be a lot different than playing with the Suns.
Ok, I will admit that Andrea Bargnani is a good piece. He averaged 17 points and six rebounds alongside Chris Bosh last season, but I am not convinced he’s ready to be the No. 1 guy on offense. He will probably be the primary scoring option in Toronto next season, and I’m not sure he’s up to the task.
The Raptors do have some young talent. Demar DeRozan looked good in Summer League. He is still very raw, but he will be better this season. Linas Kleiza is kind of a wild card. We don’t really know what to expect from him, but if he picks up where he left off with the Nuggets, he should be in good shape. Sonny Weems also played well in Summer League and could contribute.
The Raptors don’t really have much cap room, and they definitely don’t have the talent necessary to win know, so I don’t really see much going the Raptors way right now. They have a couple of raw players you could classify as “projects" that could be good, but for now, I see the Raptors as a strong contender for the first overall pick in next season's draft.
14. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to go through a long, painful rebuilding process over the next few seasons. They spent their time and money going after veterans who knew how to win, but it’s all backfiring now.
In my opinion, the Cavs are a team with no first or even second scoring options, but two third options. Without LeBron this team will have to create for themselves, and that will be interesting to see.
Mo Williams will likely be taking over more of a true point guard role this season, unless Ramon Sessions steps up to claim the job. Mo had played off the ball over the last few years so LeBron could handle the ball. Now that LeBron is in Miami, Mo will have to take on a significantly larger role.
Antwan Jamison is now 35-years-old. There are rumors he will take a sixth man type role next season, but I don’t see it happening. A guy with a salary like he has, on a team like the Cavs, on the bench? No. I don’t think so. If they are planning on him playing just 27-30 minutes a game, I think they will trade him.
If you look at the matchups between last year’s Nets and this year’s Cavs, I’m sure you will find them to be pretty similar.
Anderson Varejao is a nice role player when you have a guy like LeBron, but I have a hard time seeing him on a rebuilding team. I don’t think he can really be successful on a team with a roster like Cleveland’s, especially in an up tempo offense.
Both J.J. Hickson and Christian Eyenga are nice pieces for the future, but I doubt either of them will emerge as a No. 1, or even a No. 1 option this year, especially Eyenga.
Christian Eyenga is extremely raw. He is very long and athletic, but the offense just isn’t there yet. Hickson is developing a nice jumper and should start this season for the Cavaliers.
Outside of those two guys, I don’t really see any other big time prospects on the roster. It’s just below average role players. They don’t have any stars, or anyone that can hit the big shot late in the game.
The Cavaliers do have a great coach in Byron Scott, but a coach alone doesn’t win games. The Cavaliers and Raptors will battle for the NBA’s worst record this year, but I give Cleveland a slight edge.
13. Detroit Pistons
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The Pistons don't have much be thankful for these days. Their roster is old and depleted, and they are going in the wrong direction. They have little cap space, and minimal flexibility.
The Pistons' rotation consists of multiple injury prone veterans, and players nearing the end of their prime. Ben Gordon, Tayshaun Prince, and Richard Hamilton all missed significant time last season, and if they fail to stay healthy again this season, it's going to be a long one for the Pistons.
Rip Hamilton is 32-years-old. He doesn't have much left in the tank. Last season he averaged 18 points a game in 46 games. He can be a good player, but I doubt he will be effective for much longer.
Ben Gordon has fallen off the map a little bit after having a great season with the Bulls in 2008. Last season, Gordon averaged career lows in points, rebounds, three-point percentage, and shot the second lowest overall field goal percentage of his career.
Although his stats were low across the board, it's his three point percentage that really worries me. His lowest percentage before this season was 40.5 percent, last season he shot just 32.1 percent from behind the arc. It seems that Gordon is no longer the player (shooter) he once was.
This offseason, the Pistons apparently thought Tracy McGrady would be a quality player to bring in for this season. The problem is—he's not. Even if McGrady could stay on the floor—he can't—he, like many of the other players on the Pistons roster, is not the player he once was.
I don't see McGrady having any real impact on the team this season.
Tayshaun Prince is a solid player, but in reality, the Pistons should trade him for a pick or a younger player, or both. Many teams have shown interest in Prince, and they should trade him when his value is still high. He failed to play in all 82 games for the first time since his rookie season in back in 2003.
Last season, after Charlie Villanueva signed with Detroit, he took a huge step back in his production. He averaged four points less per game, as well as two rebounds and one assist less. The Pistons gave him a huge contact, but he has failed to produce thus far.
Rodney Stuckey is not a true point guard. Yes, he is a great young player, but they need to find a true point guard. Detroit's offense is dependent on a good distributor pulling the strings, and Stuckey is not that guy. Spot up shooters like Ben Gordon and Rip Hamilton would play much better with a good point guard.
If the Pistons can clear some cap space while obtaining a decent point guard in the process, that would be a good option. If they could get rid of Gordon, Hamilton, or Tayshaun Prince to make room in the rotation for Stuckey off the ball, getting a point guard might be a good option.
Will Bynum was just signed to a new deal this summer, and should be a sufficient back up at point guard. He is 27, and averaged 10 points, 4.5 assists a game last year. Ben Wallace will be turning 36 next week, and he will probably just come off the bench.
Last season, he averaged almost nine rebounds a game, but he was never much of a scorer.
Jonas Jerebko surprisingly played very well last season, averaging nine points and six rebounds a game. You have to think he is a big part of Detroit's plans going forward. He isn't going to be an All-Star this year, but if he takes the next step he will be good.
Austin Daye looked extremely good in the summer league. He is only 22. He is long, lanky, and athletic, but he is raw. He is at least a year away, however he did prove that he has talent and why the Pistons made him a first round pick a year ago.
This year's draft was a successful one for the Pistons. Greg Monroe will be solid this season, but he likely will not step into the star role, and Terrico White is very talented, but he really isn't ready for the NBA.
The Pistons seem to be either too old, or too raw. There is no distinguished middle ground. Joe Dumars is too reluctant to make the necessary moves, so for now I see the Pistons as a bottom dweller in the East. In a few years, their raw players will have polish, but their veterans will be at their beach houses relaxing on lawn chairs.
It seems that Detroit is in for a tough couple of years. The road to recovery for an old team is long and brutal. Just how bad the Pistons are going to be remains to be seen.
12. Indiana Pacers
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The Pacers have been taking steps in the right direction lately. They have been getting younger and more talented players. Between draft picks, free agents, and trades, the Pacers have really done a nice job this summer.
Darren Collison is their new point guard of the future. He played extremely well in the absence of Chris Paul, and the Pacers got him at a bargain price. The Pacers were going to use talented troublemaker Lance Stephenson at the point, but since then things have gone south for Stephenson.
Last season, Darren Collison averaged 12.4 points, six assists, and 2.5 rebounds a game in just below 28 minutes.
The Pacers point guard situation quickly became a nightmare this off-season, when no one would seem to give them one. Luckily, the solution fell right into their lap.
The star of the Pacers is obviously Danny Granger. He is 27-years-old and, last season, he averaged 24 points, 5.5 rebounds, and three assists per game. Granger knows how to put the ball in the basket to say the least. He is a player you can build a team around, and the Pacers have begun to do just that.
Mike Dunleavy is 30 already, and he's slowing down. He put up his worst numbers almost across the board since his rookie season, and I don't think he is part of the Pacers' long term plans.
T.J. Ford and Jeff Foster both have big expiring contracts, and are valuable assets in the trade market. If not, the Pacers have plenty of cap room in 2011.
In their trade for Collison, the Pacers did have to take on the contract of James Posey, but Posey is a decent player. Taking his contract was worth obtaining a franchise point guard.
Now let's shift our attention to the Pacers' front-court. I'm not going to lie, it's pretty weak. From the way I talked about the team to this point, you would never have guessed I put them 12th, but this is their downfall.
They just traded Troy Murphy, who was probably the team's best front-court player. Last season he averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds a game. Now, the team is stretched thin at both power forward and center.
We don't yet know who will be starting alongside Roy Hibbert in the front-court, but for now, let's assume it will be second year pro Tyler Hansbrough. Last season, Hansbrough averaged 8.5 points and five rebounds a game in 18 minutes. While he is talented, I don't believe he is ready to start in the NBA.
Josh McRoberts will likely be one of the primary backups this season, but last season he averaged just 12.5 minutes a game, and he is definitely not equipped to handle major minutes. If the Pacers can't bring in another big man, McRobberts is going to have a golden opportunity.
This year's draft was a success for the Pacers. With their first round pick they choose Paul George from Fresno State. He is seen as raw, but he is extremely athletic and talented. He can really shoot too.
Lance Stephenson was lined up to be the starting point guard until Darren Collison came to town. Everything was looking good. Now, he is a back up point guard with a developing scandal. There is no doubting Lance Stephenson's talent, but he if he can't clean up his act, his NBA career will be a short one.
Indiana also owns the rights to Magnum Rolle a late second round pick out of Louisiana Tech. He is been invited to camp, and is expected to sign before it starts. Rolle surprisingly played well in Dummer League and has earned a spot on the team.
The Pacers are decent overall, but their front-court is far too weak to compete in the East. They don't have any reliable low post scorers and that will work against them. The Pacers are at least two years away.
11. Philadelphia 76ers
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The Philadelphia 76ers made a couple of key moves this summer that will almost certainly help them have a better year this season than they did last year. After finishing 27-55 last season, the 76ers landed the second pick in the NBA draft.
The 76ers also traded Samuel Dalembert to the Sacramento Kings for Andres Nocioni and Spencer Hawes this summer. Samuel Dalembert is more of a rebounding and defensive specialist, while Hawes has some good low post skills.
Hawes is still only 22-years-old, but Nocioni's career is winding down as he averaged career lows in almost every statistical category last season. Although he is 31, he can still contribute next season. Nocioni is a scrappy player, who always hustles. I would expect him to bounce back this season if he is given sufficient playing time.
The 76ers have done a pretty good job of drafting over the past couple of years. Louis Williams, Jrue Holiday, Marreese Speights, and Thaddeus Young all figure to be big factors in Philadelphia's game plan throughout the season, not to mention Evan Turner.
Last season, Holiday averaged eight points and four assists in 24 minutes per game. Many people believe Holiday is the point guard of the future for the 76ers and I agree. Holiday showed his potential last season, and I expect him to build on that this season. Holiday can score, but he is also a good distributor making him a great dual threat point guard.
Louis Williams has been a pro for quite a while now, yet he is still just 23-years-old. He started 38 games for the 76ers last season and averaged 30 minutes per game.
He had his best season by far and set new career bests in every important statistical category. He should share time with Holiday at the point as well as Evan Turner at the two. Williams averaged 14 points, four assists, and three rebounds per game last season and, if he can get the minutes, I think his numbers will improve.
Next we have NBA sophomore Marreese Speights. He was taken with the 16th overall pick in last year's draft out of Florida and had a solid season for the 76ers. He averaged nine points and four rebounds in just under 17 minutes a game. If you translate his numbers into 32 minutes a game, it would be 18 points and eight rebounds a game. That is with borderline starter's minutes. I expect Speights to see a lot more time on the floor this season, and eventually take over for Elton Brand.
Lastly, we see Thaddeus Young who was the most impressive of them all last season averaging 14 points and five rebounds a game in 32 minutes per game. He needs to work on his outside shot, but he is athletic. Very athletic. Young just turned 22-years-old and is ready to build on his performance over the past two years.
Although the 76ers have quite a bit of young talent, they have two veterans who will make a big impact this season.
First, Andre Iguodala. No one should be surprised at this one as Iguodala is as good as they come. There were trade rumors surrounding him this summer, but he is back with the 76ers and will again be the centerpiece of this young team. He averaged 17 points, six assists, and 6.5 rebounds per game last season and started in all 82 games.
Andre Iguodala will be a force again next season.
Secondly, Elton Brand will likely be a strong factor in the 76ers' lineup this season. Last year, he averaged 13 points and six rebounds per game in 30 minutes. Brand is getting older, but he can still be effective. He is 31 now, but he played in 76 games last season which is a good sign. Brand had an off year last season, and I'm not going to guarantee a turnaround, but either way, he will contribute.
I am reluctant to put the 76ers higher on this list because they are just too young. They don't have the experience to win 40 games, especially with the east beefing up in general this off-season.
Who knows? If the 76ers' young guys can put it together, maybe 40 games is within reach. We'll see.
10. New Jersey Nets
Believe it or not, the Nets actually got a lot better this off-season. Many people thought growth was impossible when the Nets missed out on pretty much every big name free agent, but they actually did a pretty nice job.
Did they overpay for Travis Outlaw? Yes. Was the whole off-season a mess because of that one signing? No.
The Nets signed a lot of young, quality role players to reasonable contracts which really improved the team. They are also helped out significantly by Toronto and Cleveland freefalling to the bottom of the conference. I know putting the Nets at ten might seem like a bit of a stretch, but when you compare the rosters, I believe the Nets stack up quite nicely against the other teams in the East.
Let's start with Travis Outlaw. Outlaw signed a five-year, $35 million dollar deal with the New Jersey Nets this off-season. Many people thought that was was too much for a player who averaged just nine points a game, and it is.
He has averaged double digits in points just twice in his seven-year career. His career high in rebounds is 4.5 per game. I don't know how this merits a $35 million dollar deal, but any way you put it, Outlaw will still contribute. He is solid off the bench and will provide good minutes for the Nets.
The Nets just traded for Troy Murphy who will be a big part of New Jersey's plans in the front-court this season. Last year in 33 minutes per game, he averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds per game, which makes him a huge upgrade over Yi Jianlian, who averaged 12 and seven.
The Nets also drafted Derrick Favors with the third pick in the draft, who will be another valuable big body this season. He won't be a star, but he will be a great back up. He has so much talent, and in a few years he could dominate.
Brook Lopez dominated last season, averaging 19 points and nine rebounds per game. He also showed impressive durability, starting in all 82 games. The next step for Lopez is stardom. He has only been in the league for two years, but he is already the best player on the Nets by far, and he is still developing. He really improved his offensive game from year one to year two, and if he makes a similar jump in year three, he will no doubt be an all-star. He may even get All-NBA honors.
Devin Harris took a step back last season, as his ppg dipped from 21 to 17. He also averaged less per game in steals, rebounds, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and free throw percentage from his All-Star season in 08-09. If he can get back to where he was, the Nets will be much better than if he repeats his performance from last season.
With the Nets' second first round pick in this year's draft they drafted Damion James out of Texas. James is a scrappy player, who plays good defense and can play multiple positions on the floor. James seem to be NBA ready, and I believe he will play anywhere from 18-22 minutes a game.
Next, we have Terrence Williams, a first round pick from last years draft. Terrence Williams is a dynamic player who has unparalleled athletic ability. He is only 23 years old, and he should get a chance to prove himself during his sophomore season.
Last season he averaged 8.5 points 4.5 rebounds and three assists. I would say realistic goals for this season would be 11 points six rebounds and four assists. He played a point forward type role at Louisville, but in his second full season as a shooting guard, I think we will see Williams grasp the position with more confidence and more awareness.
Lastly, we have a pair of new faces in Jordan Farmar and Anthony Morrow. Both made a move east, to play in New Jersey with this young, rebuilding squad, and they each bring something different to the Nets. Farmar brings solid point guard skills and a ring to the table, and Morrow brings scoring, especially three point shooting to the table.
New owner Mikhail Prokhorov should make things interesting, especially with Jay-Z on board. New coach Avery Johnson should be an improvement for next season. The Nets are moving in a new direction, and I like it. The Nets should improve substantially this year. While many teams got worse, the Nets got much better.
9. Washington Wizards
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Most times, people associate the first pick with the worst team, but in this case, it's not true. The Wizard's had the fifth best chance at obtaining the first pick, and finished six games behind the tenth place team in the east.
The Wizards capitalized on this summer's spending spree. They made multiple deals to obtain premium talent for literally nothing. They really improved their team overall this summer without even really trying to sign a big name free agent. The Wizards played it safe, and it worked out really well.
There were plenty of trade rumors surrounding Gilbert Arenas this summer after his arrest, but nothing really materialized. So now the Wizards are stuck with him. Last season, the 28-year-old averaged 23 points and seven assists a game while only playing in 32 games. He still has good years ahead of him as long as he stays out of trouble.
Next we've got the trade for Kirk Hinrich. The Wizards traded the draft rights of Vladimir Veremeenko along with cash to the Bulls for the draft rights to Kevin Seraphin and Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich is a decent scorer and has prooven his ability to play off the ball with a young point guard. Scouts say Seraphin is a year or two away, and although he is a big body, he needs more time to develop.
The Wizards' other two signed picks are Trevor Booker and of course, John Wall. Booker is a high energy player that will contribute off the bench right away. And at this point, I'm sure I don't need to rant about John Wall.
Nick Young is an up and coming player that averaged 17.5 points a game in April, and JaVale McGee has been looking good. McGee dominated the Summer League and looks ready to take on a bigger role in his third year as a pro.
Ok, next we have the Yi Jianlian deal. The deal was fine, especially considering Yi is only 22. Last season he averaged 12 points and seven rebounds. He's worth taking a flier on. He will come off the bench, but he can be a valuable asset.
Next we have three role players on the wing. First, Josh Howard. Howard just signed a new contract with the team this off-season, and although he is now 30 years old, he will be a factor. His minutes will probably decrease this season, but his production will be solid if he can stay healthy.
Second, Al Thornton. Thornton has averaged double digit points in every year he's been in the league and even scored 17 points per game with the Clippers two seasons ago. Washington has a lot of options at the wing this season, and I think Thornton's minutes will suffer as a result.
Lastly, we have Andray Blatche. Blatche's production really took off last season. His points, rebounds, assists, and steals have gone up in each of his five NBA seasons. Last season, he averaged 14 points and six rebounds a game in 28 minutes, but with the wing being more crowded I would expect his numbers to go down for the first time.
In general the Wizards will be a much better team, they have a whole new roster that should get them close to the playoffs. I see the Wizards in the late lottery next season which is good, all things considered.