Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol may the best passing PF/C duo in the association
The NBA preseason officially kicks off tonight, as the new look Miami Heat face Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans in an untelevised event. Meaning, the season is creeping up, closer, and closer and closer.
Recently, the Eastern Conference has been somewhat of a joke, outside of the Heat, and arguably, the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers. This summer, however, the other Eastern playoff sides have added some firepower, and, while the Cleveland Cavaliers may be the preseason favorites, along with the Bulls, some of the other sides might just prove to be shocking.
Let's run down the East, and try to predict the seedings. The Western seedings will be posted Monday. 15] Philadelphia 76ers There is no doubt what the 76ers game plan was for the 2014 campaign, and that was to tank. They did so, winning just 19 games all season long, good for second worst in the conference and league. Gifting away Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes, while stockpiling draft selections provided some help. Michael Carter-Williams, however, proved to be a solid piece for the future. Just like the 2013-14 campaign, Philadelphia has made their goals for the 2014-15 campaign clear, which is another year of tanking. The only team to oppose a draft lottery overhaul, reportedly, the 76er fans are in it for another long season, but the future dividends might just pay off.
14] Orlando Magic Orlando, like Philadelphia, doesn't seem to be in a rush to win, after finishing with 23 victories in 2014. The team did spend some money in free agency, with the signings of Channing Frye and Ben Gordon, though, neither of those two are considered to be game changes. Drafting Aaron Gordon with the fourth overall selection, seems to be a stinker of a move, though, Elfrid Payton with the 10th pick was genius. They also gave away Arron Afflalo in exchange for the 56th selection (Marble) and Evan Fournier. Despite being a fan of Fournier, the Magic made their intentions of another losing season clear.
13] Boston Celtics Dealing away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, releasing Coach Doc Rivers from his contract, teamed with an injured Rondo gave Boston very little hope for last season. So allowing the young guys, like Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk to get burn was a solid gameplan. New coach, Brad Turner, also seems to be the perfect man for the rebuild. The 15 campaign was supposed to have a bit more promise, with the return of Rondo, additions of Marcus Smart and Evan Turner, and Avery Bradley being fully healthy. But then, Rondo broke his arm, estimated to miss 6-8 weeks, possibly the first month of the season, hurting the Celtics chances of sneaking into the 7th or 8th seed in a tight, bottom half race.
12] Detroit Pistons I love Andre Drummond's ability to rebound, get inside position, and his defensive skill set. Bringing back Monroe is a good move as well, though, the qualifying offer all but guarantees Detroit loses him without a real successful seasons. With Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings still on the team, I can't see the Pistons doing enough damage to get into the post season, though, I'm awaiting a mid season shake up that may just give the boost needed to get there.
11] Brooklyn Nets Good move by getting rid of Kidd, as I don't view him as a good coach, yet. Great move by bringing in the gritty Lionel Hollins, who should work wonderfully with Kevin Garnett. Joe Johnson was spectacular as well, and should be for another year. But that won't be enough as the Nets are in extra turmoil, and need to figure out what they are doing. Big contracts, lack of youth, no stars. That is a recipe for disaster, and unless Deron Williams gets his head into the game, a year of suffrage is in store for Brooklyn fans.
10] Indiana Pacers Losing Paul George to an injury, so devastating, hurts any chances Indiana has of a continual run as an elite side in the East. Not only that, but they also allowed Evan Turner to sign in Boston, and Lance Stephenson headed over to the Charlotte Bob, erm, Hornets, as well. The replacements at the wings for those three? CJ Miles and Rodney Stuckey. The defending regular season champs are in for a long year, unless Hibbert plays the way he should, and George makes a speedyrecovery.
9] Milwaukee Bucks With Giannis having another year under his belt, Larry Sanders and John Henson being ready, the Bucks are this fans dark horse to crash the Eastern Conference playoffs, though, they will just miss it. I don't like the Kidd hire, in the slightest, but if he can grow with the youth in Wisconsin, this could be the start of a long run of glory.
8] New York Knicks The Zen Master is in Madison Square Garden, but that won't lead to instant victories, nor contention status. Retaining Carmelo Anthony was key for Jackson's first summer, as was dealing away Raymond Felton, though, losing Chandler will hurt. Amare Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Jason Smith, Samuel Dalmebert, Quincy Acy and Cole Aldrich. That isn't a front court that is a recipe for success, though, the play from Anthony should be enough for the Knicks to sneak into the 8th seed. 7] Atlanta Hawks The Hawks will be a very dangerous 7th seed, and can stick with any team in the Eastern Conference. Jeff Teague is a solid floor general, but the engine of the team, is, without a doubt, Al Horford. Horford is one of the entire association's most underrated, and unappreciated centers, as he plays solid defense, teamed with having an offensive repertoire that ranges from jumpers, penetration to posting up and backing you down. A bit more help is needed in Atlanta before the Hawks can into the top half of the East.
6] Charlotte Hornets Adding Stephenson to the mix, of Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson will have impacts that I feel are under looked by many around the league, especially if Stephenson just comes in to play, without bringing any off court drama with him. If continual improvements from Bismack Biyombo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, along with Walker, can be counted on, the Hornets may make it past the first round for the first time in the franchises young history.
5] Miami Heat The new look Heat may not dominate the way they have the past four years, but still have the pieces to make a lot of noise in the East. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will now be leaned on to lead, and with more touches, the opportunities may come big. The additions of Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts to bolster the bench will pay dividends, not to mention Luol Deng to plug in at the three, as a defensive stallworth. Shabazz Napier may be the teams starting point come mid-season.
4] Toronto Raptors It was hard placing Toronto, as they are a team that is being built solidly. Improvements from Demar DeRozan, Terrance Ross and Jonas Valanciunas will be vital, but nothing was more important than keeping Kyle Lowry in a Raptor uniform. Summer acquisitions Louis Williams and James Johnson will be big for the second unit, and the Brazilian rookie duo of Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira can make instant impacts up in Canada, helping the Raps en route to a fourth seed and division title.
3] Washington Wizards I'm officially on the Wizards bandwagon, adopting them as my Eastern Conference team. John Wall is a stud at the point, while Bradley Beal is ever improving right next to him at the two spot. Toss in a starting power forward/center duo of Marcin Gortat and Nene, and you have a team that is built the right way. Losing Trevor Ariza hurt, but plugging in Pierce, despite his age will pay its dividends. Pierce brings in more experience to this young back court combination, and is more of a threat on the offensive side of the ball, as he has never relied on athleticism to get his points. Washington may be poised to be an "upset" conference winner, though, they may be one year away.
2] Chicago Bulls One question will determine the faith of the Bulls in the playoffs. What Derrick Rose shows up? Is it the one that won the Most Valuable Player award in 2010, or will it be one complaining about fatigue and muscle memory? Regardless, the Bulls took a 48 win team from last season, and added some real nice pieces. Doug McDermott will provide some offense that lacked last year, from the small forward slot, while Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol bolster a front court that features Taj Gibson, running for 6th Man of the Year, and Joakim Noah, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. The loss of Carlos Boozer won't be felt here.
1] Cleveland Cavaliers After leaving Cleveland with the Decision, LeBron James returns to the team that drafted him with the first overall selection back in 2003. The Cavs also added Kevin Love to the starting unit, while bolstering the bench with Mike Miller and Shawn Marion. With the East being deeper this year, though, lacking the heaviness at the top, that the West has, the first year Cavs should still look to run the conference and take the top overall seed. Though, playoff match-ups will be exponentially more entertaining than years past.