These are my predictions for the end-of-season standings in the Eastern Conference:
1. Boston Celtics
Finishing with the NBA's best record during the 2008 regular season, and following that up by capturing the NBA title, Boston is still the team to beat.
Despite losing James Posey—who played a key role in the 2008 Finals—Boston's "Big Three" should still get it done, and remain the best team in East. Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins will be more effective this upcoming season.
2. Detroit Pistons
Joe Dumars promised a trade, but the only thing he got done was sign an unproven, former number-one draft pick. I still see them as the second seed in the East, because they have great veterans with lots of playoff experience. Kwame Brown should be very helpful this season, and I expect him to have a solid year.
3. Orlando Magic
With Dwight Howard—the NBA's top center—and a great pure shooter in Rashard Lewis, not to mention last season's Most Improved Player, Hedo Turkoglu, the Orlando Magic should be a very good team in the East. The signing of G/F Mickael Pietrus should give them a great boost off the bench.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
No one expected the Sixers to make the playoffs, and they definitely did not expect the Sixers to give the Pistons a problem in the first-round series. The team is now much better with the addition of All-Star F Elton Brand. I expect the Sixers to make a deep playoff run.
5. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors needed another proven veteran to help out Chris Bosh in the paint—and they got a former All-Star in Jermaine O'Neal. If O'Neal is healthy, they should be the best frontcourt duo in the East.
Jose Calderon is a very good point guard that can pass and shoot the ball. The Raptors also have a deep bench, and it may be enough to get them out of the first round of the playoffs.
6. Cleveland Cavailers
LeBron James is the only reason that this team makes the playoffs. You guys might think this is a little low for them, but I see them finishing sixth because the East is much better then it was last year, and the Cavailers are one of the only teams not to have improved in the offseason.
7. Miami Heat
Dwyane Wade, Michael Beasley, and Shawn Marion are one of the best trios in the East. Dwyane Wade is 100 percent healthy, Beasley is NBA-ready and Shawn Marion is a proven All-Star. This core should be good enough to make it to the playoffs.
They lack a proven point guard and a defensive-minded center, though. Miami is young, but I still expect great things from them.
8. Washington Wizards
Agent Zero, Antawan Jamison, and Caron Butler is another talented trio in the East. The thing that scares me is that the Wizards did better without Gilbert in the lineup last season. But this team is a year older, and have not improved their bench at all. I see an early exit for this team if they make the playoffs.