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2010-11 NBA Predictions: Ranking How the Eastern Conference Will Wrap Up, 1-15

Lance PaukerCorrespondent IOctober 21, 2010

2010-11 NBA Predictions: Ranking How the Eastern Conference Will Wrap Up, 1-15

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    With the NBA regular season set to kick off in less than a week, its high time to look at what's to come. 

    The hype surrounding the 2010-2011 season is arguably the highest it has been in recent memory, which is in large attributed to the realignment of a bevy of NBA stars. With the rise and fall of certain basketball empires, last year's results are not necessarily the most accurate indication of how this season may play out.

    As the tumultuous offseason demonstrated, the fate of an entire franchise can change faster than you can say Jim Gray.

    For the past decade or so, the Eastern Conference has played little brother to the exceedingly dominant Western half of the country. It seems however, that the dominant run of the wild West may slowly be coming to a halt.

    The rise of superpower Miami Heat, a developing Bulls squad, and established contenders Orlando and Boston have boldly declared the Eastern Conference as a force to be reckoned with.

    Combine these elite squads with an array of steadily developing franchises, and you've got yourself quite the compilation of talent, excitement, and entertaining basketball. 

    Let's take a look at one analyst's take on how the Eastern Conference will pan out. If you don't like where you're team was placed, be sure to thank the B/R god's for the creation of the comments section. 

15. Toronto Raptors

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Last Year's Record: 40-42

    Projected Starting Lineup: 

    PG: Jarrett Jack/Jose Calderon

    SG: Demar Derozan

    SF: Sonny Weems

    PF: Amir Johnson

    C: Andrea Bargnani 

     

    Whenever your franchise player leaves your team, chances are you're going to take a turn for the worst. In the case of the Raptors, their fall seems to be imminent. 

    A mediocre team with Bosh, its tough to see them remaining competitive throughout the course of an 82 game schedule. Speedy guard Leandro Barbosa should gel well coming over from Phoenix, but he is hardly a worthy replacement for Bosh or even Hedo Turkoglu. 

    Expect this team's starting lineup to change more often than the Cleveland Browns change quarterbacks, as this rebuilding year should provide an opportunity for Coach Triano to test out several possible winning formulas. An improving Jarrett Jack may end up stealing the starting point guard spot from the established Jose Calderon, while solid play from Barbosa may allow him to usurp Derozan's spot in the rotation.

    The number one pick in the draft not too long ago, Andrea Bargnani will probably be the teams starting center over Solomon Alabi. Last season's improved numbers (17.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg) suggest that he may be ready to emerge as the teams primary go to guy.

    With the absence of a true superstar, he may not end having a choice on the matter. 

    If it is any compensation, playing in the Atlantic Division should help out a little bit 

    Projected Record: 23-59

14. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Last Year's Record: 61-21

    Projected Starting Lineup: 

    PG: Mo Williams

    SG: Ramon Sessions 

    SF: Antawn Jamison

    PF: J.J Hickson

    C: Anderson Varejao

     

    The Cavaliers are suffering from the same syndrome as the Raptors, only Cleveland's symptoms are tremendously more severe. 

    At this point, its silly to harp on the loss of LeBron James. In reality, he wasn't that big a deal. Its not like he was the defending two time NBA MVP, all league first teamer, former scoring champion, and arguably the most dominant player in a generation, or anything. I mean, team owner Dan Gilbert definitely didn't seem too upset by his departure. 

    It's sad to see this franchise plummet after losing LeBron. Unfortunately for the Cleveland faithful, it'd be exceedingly difficult for the franchise to immediately recover from the bombshell and debris left by James' swift departure. Cleveland may not deserve a floundering franchise, so let's hope this team can quicken their loans back to relevance as soon as humanly possible. 

    Byron Scott seems to be the right man for this job, as he should provide clear direction and experience for a franchise in dire need of both. The addition of Ramon Sessions should compliment Cav's mainstay Mo Williams nicely in the backcourt, as they should combine to create a two headed monster at the point position. 

    This team's success may hinge on the performance of former NC State star, J.J Hickson. Before being benched by the human puppet Mike Brown, Hickson showed some flashes of brilliance despite having to cope with inconsistent minutes. If Hickson could develop into a reliable scorer and rebounder, this team may avoid having the worst single season digressions in league history. 

    Projected Record: 27-55

13. Detroit Pistons

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Last Year's Record: 27-55

    Projected Starting Lineup: 

    PG: Rodney Stuckey

    SG: Richard Hamilton

    SF: Tayshaun Prince

    PF: Greg Monroe/Charlie Villanueva

    C: Ben Wallace

     

    A shell of their former mid-2000's selves, expect another rebuilding year up in Detroit. Only problem is, the team doesn't seem to be getting any younger. 

    Hamilton, Prince, and Wallace are al aging, and so is offseason addition Tracy McGrady. It seems as if this team is somewhat trying to replicate the Celtic's model of "we're old, but we can still win," except that the Pistons look to be thoroughly lacking on the winning part. 

    Georgetown's Greg Monroe should prove to be a solid pickup for Detroit. An extremely versatile big man, his ability to finish around the basket is complimented nicely by his unprecedented court vision, as Monroe has been widely regarded as one of the better passing big men in quite sometime. If he can contribute immediately, he would be able to vastly improve the games of Stuckey, Hamilton, and Prince out on the perimeter. 

    The direction of this franchise seems to be ambiguous, and it doesn't seem like they made too many offseason moves to justify a significant improvement over last seasons disappointing campaign. 

    Projected Record: 31-51

12. Washington Wizards

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Last Year's Record: 26-56

    Projected Starting Lineup: 

    PG: John Wall

    SG: Gilbert Arenas 

    SF: Josh Howard

    PF: Andray Blatche

    C: JaVale McGee

     

    If you ask the majority of NBA fan's about why last season's campaign was an utter disappointment in the nation's capital, chances are you'll be treated to a story about the second amendment, the NBA's culture of senseless violence, and the inability for young people to use common sense.

    You may be surprised to know however, that the Wizard's season seemed to be in the tank well before Glibert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton decided to play their little game of Alexander Hamilton vs. Aaron Burr. At the incidence of this now infamous event, the Wiz were already 11-21, floundering under the leadership of new man Flip Saunders. 

    Ask anybody this season, and they'll seem to indicate that there is in fact hope for this previously directionless franchise. Landing the unanimous number one pick John Wall and his band of worshippers should bode tremendously well in terms of ticket sales and marketing, as Wall has been hyped up as perhaps the most talented point guard to enter the league since...John Wall. 

    The decision not to trade Arenas should prove to be a great one, as this combo may come to be the leagues most potent at the point position. If JaVale McGee could get enough people to jump on his bandwagon, this team may be able to make a surprise run and steal a spot in the postseason. 

    Unfortunately for the Wizards, they play in the Southeast division. That means that 16 of their contests will be against Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, and Charlotte, all of whom were playoff contenders last season. And in case you haven't heard, the Heat improved just a bit during the offseason. 

    This team will be good eventually, but they may need a little more time to develop. 

    Projected Record: 34-48

11. Charlotte Bobcats

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    Brian A. Westerholt/Getty Images

    Last Year's Record: 44-38

    Projected Starting Lineup: 

    PG: D.J Augustin 

    SG: Stephen Jackson

    SF: Gerald Wallace

    PF: Boris Diaw

    C: Nazr Mohammad

     

    Don't look now, but the Bobcats may be on the verge of...taking a major step back. 

    The city of Charlotte's second wind achieved a major milestone last season, reaching the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Unfortunately for owner Michael Jordan, the Bobcat's lone playoff appearance may prove to be an exception rather than an emerging trend. 

    The acquisition of Shaun Livingston should bolster the bench, but the losses of Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler may prove to hurt this squad tremendously. A competent floor general, Felton provided the glue to this developing squad. Augustin is generally unproven, and one can't help but think that he is a significant downgrade from the former Tar Heel. 

    The frontcourt isn't too strong, either. Diaw has had trouble with defense, and Mohammad isn't exactly in his prime. Wallace and Jackson are considerable talents, but the team's deficiencies in other facets may prove to be too much to overcome. 

    Projected Record: 35-47

10. New Jersey Nets

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Last Year's Record: 12-70

    Projected Starting Lineup:

    PG: Devin Harris 

    SG: Anthony Morrow

    SF: Derrick Favors/Travis Outlaw

    PF: Troy Murphy

    C: Brook Lopez 

     

    With a new, exciting era enveloping this franchise, many fans and experts have pegged Mikhail Prokhorov as a potential playoff team. 

    Not so fast. 

    Although its hard to imagine that the 2010/2011 Nets won't improve upon last years abysmal showing, the team would need nearly a 30 game improvement just to reach .500. There's no doubt that Avery Johnson will provide some much needed command and stability as the team's new lead man. At the same time however, its no longer 1999. 

    Losing Chris Douglas Roberts doesn't do the team any favors. Speaking of Favors, the team's success may hinge on the rookie out of Georgia Tech. A powerhouse of a player, Favors has more potential than Mark Sanchez starring on a Los Angeles edition of Jersey shore. 

    If Favors could tap in on say, a quarter of his upside, the Nets attack will feature a dangerous three headed monster in Favors, Harris, and Lopez. Harris, a top 10 point guard without anybody else knowing, is an extremely athletic and smart player. His scoring versatility as well as his savvy court vision should only improve under Johnson's tutelage. Lopez, on the other hand, is on the verge of All-Star status. 

    Expect new addition Jordan Farmar to provide solid acquisition off the bench. This team will erase the stench of awfulness in a big way, but it won't be enough to reach the playoffs. 

    Projected Record: 35-47

9. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Last Year's Record: 27-55

    Projected Starting Lineup:

    PG: Jrue Holiday

    SG: Andre Iguodala

    SF: Evan Turner

    PF: Elton Brand

    C: Spencer Hawes

     

    The 76ers are a franchise that hasn't really regained its footing since the departure of Allen Iverson--the first time.

    After a few years of hovering slightly below mediocrity, the acquisition of Ohio State superstar Evan Turner via the NBA draft may indicate that Philadelphia's may slowly be emerging out of their recent state of irrelevance. 

    Jrue Holiday had an impressive rookie season, averaging 8.0 ppg and 3.8 apg in only 24.2 minutes per contest. Look for Holiday to improve his numbers tremendously, as the 20 year old still has a ton of raw skill yet to be fully developed. Combining a rising Holiday with Iguodala should prove to be a rather dynamic duo, and that's not even considering Turner. 

    Elton Brand may have a contract harder to move than Snorlax, but that doesn't mean that he's got nothing left in the tank. Spencer Hawes is an able, young starter and Lou Williams is one of the league's better bench players. 

    Expect an improvement out of this rag-tag bunch, but not enough to nail down a playoff spot. 

    Projected Record: 40-42

8. New York Knicks

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Last Year's Record: 29-53

    Projected Starting Lineup:

    PG: Raymond Felton

    SG: Wilson Chandler 

    SF: Danilo Gallinari

    PF: Anthony Randolph

    C: Amar'e Stoudemire 

     

    Although the offseason whirlwind may not have hit the Knick's exactly how Donnie Walsh envisioned, it did in fact hit them--in a big way. 

    The departure of David Lee may sting a little bit, but the addition of Amar'e Stoudemire was probably the next best thing to acquiring any player not named LeBron James or Dwayne Wade. Having already played in Coach D'Antoni's system down in Phoenix, his transition to New York should be a smooth one. 

    Felton is also a nice fit, as his awareness and ability to break down defenders could bode well for Gallo and Chandler on the wings. Chandler's athleticism on the wing combined with Gallinari's shooting touch provides some versatility on the offense end, which is definitely a positive considering D'Antoni's propensity for "let run up the court and score as fast as we can" offensive schemes. The 21 year old Randolph is still a big question mark, but having Stoudemire as a big brother in the frontcourt certainly can't hurt. 

    The bench is not among the league's best, but the additions of Timofey Mozgof, Kelenna Azibuke, and Ronny Turiaf should all provide some added energy off the pine. There's about a 98% chance Mozgof will emerge as a fan favorite, so expect some rather creative signs in tribute to the Russian littered throughout the worlds most favorite arena. 

    Last but not least, the Knicks are one of the teams most likely to acquire a big name sometime during the season. A deadline acquisition of Chris Paul or Carmelo Anthony (or both) would probably be the greatest thing to happen to the Knicks faithful since...well, they can't even remember the last positive thing that has happened to them.

    Projected Record: 42-40 

7. Indiana Pacers

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Last Year's Record: 32-50

    Projected Starting Lineup:

    PG: Darren Collison 

    SG: Brandon Rush 

    SF: Danny Granger 

    PF: Tyler Hansbrough 

    C: Roy Hibbert 

     

    The last time the Indiana Pacers made the playoffs, there was no platform for players to tweet about what they ate for their pre-game meal. 

    Their last appearance in the postseason (2006) is actually not too long ago, but it seems like forever since the Pacers have been playoff relevant. This year however, the Pacers come in as a new and improved squad, and my darkhorse to be this year's version of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    Danny Granger has been one of the NBA's best scorers for quite sometime now, but he has never had an able cast of characters to surround him. Filling in for an injured Chris Paul is just about as easy as it is for Shaq to shoot 85% from the line, but Darren Collison, only a rookie last season, was able to lessen the blow of losing Paul substantially. The Pacers have had point guard troubles for years, and the acquisition of Collison, a player who should improve drastically in a full time starting role, seems to have solved that problem for years to come.

    Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough aren't the most lethal of big men, but their strong work ethic and competitive fight may provide the extra endurance and strength that the Pacers need to make the next step. Paul George was a great selection with the 10th overall pick in the draft, and could help assuage some of these post-play concerns if he even remotely lives up to his billing. If Lance Stephenson ever manages to get on the court, he could develop into a solid scorer as well.

    This team has a bright future. Don't be surprised if Collison and Granger rack up the accolades in 2010-2011.

    Projected Record: 45-37

6. Atlanta Hawks

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Last Year's Record: 53-29

    Projected Starting Lineup:

    PG: Jeff Teague 

    SG: Joe Johnson 

    SF: Marvin Williams 

    PF: Josh Smith 

    C: Al Horford 

     

    As the fourth seed of last years playoffs, dropping down two spots during any season usually indicates some sort of decline. Oddly enough, however, such is not the case with the Hawks. 

    The Hawks are what I like to consider the last line of the Eastern Conference's "A" list. That is, the teams ahead of them are of the elitist mold, while the Pacers and the team below this judgement line are significantly weaker. Having to play Orlando and Miami four times apiece doesn't do this team any favors, but they have a solid enough foundation to maintain a level of play similar to last season. 

    It seems as if Jeff Teague is finally ready to take the reigns as starting point guard, with an aging Mike Bibby providing some consistency off the bench. With virtually the same squad as last year, this team should gel well together.

    Joe Johnson's contract will most likely prove to be Elton Brand-esque several years down the road, but for now he is the teams more than capable lead man. Horford should only improve, Jamal Crawford is an excellent scorer off the bench, and Jordan Crawford could prove to be a great fit for this bunch.

    A few years ago, they may have been one of the conferences top teams. Unfortunately for Hotlanta, the Eastern Conference is actually kind of good again. Expect a playoff appearance, but they may not make it out of the first round. 

    Projected Record: 50-32

     

5. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    Last Year's Record: 46-36

    Projected Starting Lineup: 

    PG: Brandon Jennings 

    SG: John Salmons

    SF: Corey Maggette 

    PF: Drew Gooden

    C: Andrew Bogut 

     

    Re-signing John Salmons was probably the least talked about move this summer, but it was also one of the smartest. By keeping Salmons, the Bucks were able to hold onto their young, talented core, a core who revived this franchised and leapfrogged them into the exclusive club of Eastern Conference contenders in 2009-2010. 

    Losing that marathon of a series to Atlanta wasn't the best way to end last season, but if they manage to stay healthy, this season could see a marked improvement over last years campaign. Brandon Jennings should only continue to impress, while Bogut and Gooden are both solid starters down low. Bogut, a workhorse in the paint, should wolf down more double doubles than Charles Barkley does nacho's. 

    Larry Sanders, the rookie out of VCU, could be a big wildcard for this squad. If he could log some productive minutes, a season's worth of experience could be a huge asset in postseason play. 

    Expect an improved record, but the superiority of the conference's "Elite Four" may leave them out of a first round home court advantage.

    Projected Record: 51-31

     

4. Chicago Bulls

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Last Year's Record: 41-41

    Projected Starting Lineup: 

    PG: Derrick Rose 

    SG: Ronnie Brewer 

    SF: Luol Deng 

    PF: Carlos Boozer 

    C: Joakim Noah 

     

    Many analysts have this team down as a surefire title contender. With the additions of Boozer, Brewer, and sharpshooter Kyle Korver, the Bulls appear to have the arsenal capable of potentially recapturing the glory days of the 1990's. 

    With that said, are the Bulls really better than the likes of Orlando and Boston, established contenders for the past few seasons? Sure, they are much improved. But last season, these guys were merely a mediocre team, and barely squeaked into the postseason.  

    Playing cops and robbers with Jerry Sloan was definitely a good idea for Chi-Town, as Boozer and Korver both fill much needed roles for Tom Thibodeau's squad. Boozer should team up nicely with the category five hurricane that is Joakim Noah, and Korver likes missing shots just as much as Shaq likes retiring from basketball. Additionally,Taj Gibson could emerge as one of the leagues better bench players. 

    The Bulls have all the tools to make a title run, but they may need a season's worth of fine tuning. They'll take the first step towards their ultimate goal with a Central Division Title. 

    Projected Record: 55-27

3. Orlando Magic

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Last Year's Record: 59-23 

    Projected Starting Lineup:

    PG: Jameer Nelson

    SG: Vince Carter 

    SF: Quentin Richardson 

    PF: Rashard Lewis 

    C: Dwight Howard 

     

    After the Celtics stunned the mighty Cavaliers, it was widely expected that the Magic would cruise into the finals, setting up a rematch with the swagger-happy Los Angeles Lakers.

    However, a combination Vince Carter checking out of hotel "i am useful," Jameer Nelson dribbling the ball around in circles for the first 21 seconds of every possession, and Boston's conscious decision to thoroughly decimate anything standing in the way of them and the finals, Orlando came up a bit short. 

    Losing Matt Barnes to the Lakers is not the worst thing in the world, especially considering the skill set of the newcomer, Quentin Richardson. Richardson adds both shooting range and improved defense over Barnes, and may up being a better fit for the offense. 

    With one of the deepest benches in the entire league, Vinsanity is going to have to completely forget his lackluster playoff performance if he'd like to keep his starting job. With Ryan Anderson and a suddenly good J.J Redick lurking in the shadows, expected these three, along with Richardson, to be rotated rather regularly game in and game out. 

    We all are well aware of Dwight Howards rebounding and shot blocking prowess, but superman NEEDS to develop a better offensive game if the Magic are to consider themselves a true championship contender. As the Celtics demonstrated, his offensive skill set is not nearly strong enough to carry this team when its perimeter game is shut down. 

    A dangerous team, and definitely a worthy candidate to emerge out of the eastern conference. I have feeling that they'll develop quite the rivalry with the Miami "we're just going to assume we're the best team in Florida before actually playing a game" Heat.  

    Projected Record: 58-24


2. Boston Celtics

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Last Year's Record: 50-32

    Projected Starting Lineup: 

    PG: Rajon Rondo 

    SG: Ray Allen  

    SF: Paul Pierce 

    PF: Kevin Garnett

    C: Kendrick Perkins 

     

    If you thought last season's surprising postseason run was this franchise's last gasp, think again. After coming up inches short in the final minutes of game seven, you could bet that Kevin Garnett and his beastly motivational skills will ensure that this team won't go down without a fight. 

    The Celtics may be the most focused team's in the entire NBA. They are well aware that this year probably the last hurrah. As cliche as it may sound, the Celtics will likely "leave it all out on the court" this year. 

    Rajon Rondo needs an outlet to take out his anger from not making the National Team, so expect him to terrorize opponents with a Jason Kidd-like triple double parade throughout the entire season. Ray Allen and Pierce have shown that they are in no hurry to start their respective declines, and the bench, although older, is even stronger this year.

    Shaq, as old as he may be, is still Shaq, and his unique combination of size and skill should pose the same matchup dilemmas that it has been throughout his entire career, just to a lesser extent. Jermaine O'Neal is just salivating to prove he still has a lot left in the tank, which fits well into the overall credo of the franchise. Nate Robinson is a scoring time bomb just raring to explode, and can provide quite the spark off the bench if used correctly. 

    Their experience is unprecedented, and their chemistry is unparalleled. One of the most well rounded teams in the league, expect to see one last push out of Doc River's cast of championship hungry characters. 

    Projected Record: 60-22

1. Miami Heat

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    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Last Year's Record: 47-35

    Projected Starting Lineup: 

    PG: Mario Chalmers 

    SG: Dwayne Wade

    SF: LeBron James 

    PF: Chris Bosh 

    C: Joel Anthony

     

    There's been enough said about this team this offseason, so there's no need to beat a dead horse (or in this case, city of Cleveland). 

    It simply comes down to the fact that over the course of an 82 game season, these guys are too talented not to win a ridiculous amount of games. Ceteris paribus, they are heads and shoulders above the rest of the league in the talent department.  

    The playoff drum may very well march to a different beat, but expect these guys to massacre most of their opponents during the regular season, who will likely be begging for mercy at the extremely large hands of the Chosen One, Flash, and CB4. 

    Mike Miller isn't a bad sixth man, either. 

    Projected Record: 66-16

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