Over the offseason, the once dominant Eastern Conference was reloaded with talent. Some guys switched conferences, others just switched teams within the conference. But one thing's for sure. This season, the Eastern Conference is going to boast some of the best teams in the NBA.
1. Over the offseason, an organization located in South Beach made some of the biggest free agent signings in the history of the NBA. The Miami Heat crushed the hopes of all other big market teams (especially the one in NYC) by resigning Dwyane Wade and signing two other guys you may have heard of- LeBron James and Chris Bosh. The newest version of the "Big Three" helped the Heat to become an instant favorite in the East. With three guys capable of scoring, passing and rebounding like they can, they create immediate match up nightmares for other teams. The bench is also much improved. Mike Miller, Juwan Howard, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Eddie House and, most recently Jerry Stackhouse, were signed to act as role players to the "Big Three" and help the Heat become true contenders. Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem and James Jones, key pieces to last year's Heat squad, remain with the team and will make big contributions as well. Look out for the Heat this season, they are who we think they will be (no matter how many haters they have).
2. One thing to look forward to this season is the rivalry in Florida. With the Heat revamping their roster, a lot of attention was taken away from other top teams in the East, like the Orlando Magic. The Magic are one of those teams that you can never count out because they have arguably the most dominant big man in the game today in Dwight Howard. The Magic just have an all around very good team. With Dwight downlow, Jameer Nelson at the point and Vince Carter (VC, Vinsanity, etc) on the wing, the Magic are a team not to be messed with. Rashard Lewis is up there in years but still produces good numbers. The team will definitely miss defensive specialist Matt Barnes who fled to LA, but Mickael Pietrus should be solid once again this year. The additions of Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson each will give Orlando good production off the bench. Look for another good year from J.J. Redick (shout out to Jay). Each year, he gets better and better and this season will be no exception. I expect him to be one of the first guys off the bench and possibly a darkhorse for sixth man of the year. (Somewhere, Adam Morrison reads this and cries)
3. The reigning Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics also go into this season with an improved roster. They still have their "Big Three" in Paul "The Truth" Pierce, KG and Ray Allen, along with budding star point guard Rajon Rondo. These four guys start off the year healthy, which is crucial to the team's success. Many believe that if center Kendrick Perkins never went down in last year's Finals, the Celtics would have beaten the Lakers. This may be true, but with the serious injury Perkins sustained, Boston needed to spend the offseason trying to find a replacement for the time being. They didn't do too bad. The Celtics signed two centers who are passed their prime but still can contribute. They signed former All Star, Jermaine O'Neal, as well as the man with the most nicknames in the history of the NBA, future hall of famer, Shaquille O'Neal. With Jermaine and "the Big Leprachaun", Boston poses two BIG bodies in the post. The Celtics also bring back reserves Nate Robinson and Glen "Big Baby" Davis. In addition, they have brought back guard Delonte West who served his past couple of seasons with the Cavs. Finally, they made a solid draft choice in Luke Harangody, whose Notre Dame roots seem to help him fit in well with the Celtics.
4. After years of mediocrity and being on the brink of being referred to as "contenders", the Chicago Bulls finally are that; contenders. In the offseason, the Bulls brought in a top free agent in former Utah Jazz forward, Carlos Boozer. Boozer will greatly help the Bulls who have struggled in finding a low post scorer for some time now. Add him to a front court with ever-improving Joakim Noah along with Luol Deng and it's an automatic improvement. This team is going to be very good with these three guys and Derrick Rose at the point. I'm expecting a big year from Rose who has more scoring options surrounding him then he has in the past few years. The Bulls also brought in sharp shooter Kyle Korver and veteran big man Kurt Thomas. The maturation of second year center, Taj Gibson, will also be watched as Boozer will sit out until early December with a fractured pinkie [on his shooting hand].
5. With a new coach, the Atlanta Hawks are looking to continue their recent success. The Hawks were able to hold onto their star player in Joe Johnson but didn't make any other major moves this offseason. Luckily, Atlanta still has a very good team. Mike Bibby is older, but he can still drain the three and with all of the scoring options around him, he will continue to have success. Highflying Josh Smith is one of those guys who can do everything. His jump shot continues to improve and he is one of the best shot blockers in the league. Al Horford was a first-time All Star a season ago and is quickly becoming one of the best centers in the NBA. Backing up Horford is Zaza Pachulia, who plays a scrappy game and will do whatever it takes to help his team. The Hawks also boast last year's Sixth Man of the Year in Jamal Crawford. If Crawford can continue his success from last year, the Hawks will have a great chance to make a deep playoff run.
6. After a disastrous season a year ago, I believe that the Washington Wizards are once again ready for playoff contention. They lucked out by getting the first pick of last year's draft in which they selected John Wall. This kid is going to be a very good point guard in the league (refer to my first post). Another young Wizard with a ton of potential is forward/center, JaVale McGee. McGee has the length and strength to be a top shot blocker and rebounder in this league. His offensive game is ever improving so look for him to make huge contributions for this team. Also, the return of Gilbert Arenas will be something to watch. A new jersey number for Arenas marks that passing of the torch to Wall. It will be very interesting to see if Arenas can resurrect his career or if his troubles with injuries, guns and bad decisions will get the best of him. Will we ever see the true Agent Zero again?
7. Drum roll please.......Ladies and gentlemen, this is the year that the team I love, the New York Knicks, will return to the postseason. After missing out on the LeBron sweepstakes, the Knicks were still able to sign a superstar in Amar'e Stoudemire. Stoudemire immediately became the face of the team and showed enough leadership qualities to be named co-captain. The Knicks continued the offseason by revamping the majority of the roster. They traded fan favorite, David Lee :'( , to Golden State, but received solid pieces back including Ronnie Turiaf and athletic forward Anthony Randolph. In addition, the Knicks brought in proven point guard, Raymond Felton, to give the Knicks a solid piece at the position. Remaining from last year's team are Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas and Bill Walker. Gallinari is a definite starter for the team and will look to improve off of an impressive season last year while leading the team (or maybe the league) in 3 pointers. Chandler looks to hold on to a starting spot- but it is still up in the air, especially if he doesn't play aggressively. Douglas will see a lot of minutes in order to help the Knicks on the defensive end. Aside from all of this, the Knicks imported Russian center Timofey Mozgov. He is considered by many to be a steal as he has shown a ton of potential thus far. Finally, Landry Fields is turning out to be a second round surprise in the draft. Look for the rookie from Stanford to see increasing minutes and possibly earn a starting position. With a new team and much speculation of a deal for Carmelo Anthony, this is going to be an exciting season for the Knicks. Look for the fans of NY to be rejuvenated and finally see their Knicksbockers back in the playoffs. "Go New York, Go New York, Go!".
8. The Milwaukee Bucks had an impressive first round in last year's playoffs pushing their series with the Hawks to 7 games. A huge part of their run was due to the play of Brandon Jennings. After playing one year in Italy, Jennings burst onto the NBA scene and led the Bucks-who were without their best player in Michael Redd. Unfortunately, it looks as if Redd's knee injury will continue to keep him sidelined throughout this season as well. But, still look for the Bucks to have a very good year. With a healthy Andrew Bogut, a solid guard in John Salmons and the addition of small forward Corey Maggette, Milwaukee seems to have the pieces surprise some teams once again. They also brought in NBA journeyman Drew Gooden to help in the post and Chris Douglas-Roberts to assist in the backcourt. One player to watch this year on the Bucks is Ersan Ilyasova. The Turkish forward had a very solid season a year ago and can only improve. Looks like teams throughout the league are going to once again have to "Fear the Deer" in Brandon Jennings and the rest of the squad.
9. After making the playoffs for the first time as a franchise, the Charlotte Bobcats begin this season with a younger, less proven point guard, but with many key pieces remaining. Gerald Wallace is coming off of his first All Star season and is looking to improve off of that. Tough nosed guard, Stephen Jackson, came to Charlotte last year and immediately made positive contributions towards the team. Boris Diaw is a guy that gives the Bobcats someone who can do a variety of things well. It will be interesting to see the production D.J. Augustine gives the team. He had limited minutes last year backing up Raymond Felton but now with the starting job, he could be in for a breakthrough season. No matter what the Bobcats record is, you can be assured that Larry Brown and majority owner Michael Jordan will have them playing hard.
10. After an abysmal season last year and a failure in attempting to sign a big free agent this summer, the Nets- believe it or not- will be improved. Devin Harris will continue to be a bright spot for the team at the point. I look for him to return to the form he showed 2 seasons ago. Brook Lopez was one of the few positive points last season. His improvement is very noticeable and I expect for him to become an annual All Star starting within the next few years. For this year, I see him being a 20 and 10 guy for the Nets. The signings of sharpshooter Anthony Morrow and guard Jordan Farmar greatly improve the Nets backcourt. The trade that brought in Troy Murphy will also benefit the Nets because he is a veteran who can still put up solid numbers. Rookie forward Derrick Favors is reported to turn out to be a very good player in the league so it will be very interesting watching his maturation. No playoffs for the Nets this year but definite improvement. We'll see if Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov can use some of that extra cash to make a deal.
11. The Indiana Pacers are currently a struggling franchise. They haven't made the playoffs since the 2005-2006 season and once again will miss them. Despite having a top 10 scorer in Danny Granger, the Pacers haven't been able to put the right pieces around him. But, they are improving. By trading for Darren Collison, the Pacers obtained a point guard who showed flashes of stardom last year after Chris Paul went down. As long as he stays healthy, Mike Dunleavy will be able to produce solid numbers for the Pacers as well. Center Roy Hibbert has improved each year in the league and will continue to show progress in his game. Former UNC Tarheel Tyler Hansbrough had a better year than expected last year and with his work ethic, expect for him to improve upon last season's numbers. The Pacers are one of those teams that we don't expect to do well. But after seeing what Collison did last season, don't be surprised if the Pacers are fighting for the last spot in the East towards the end of the season.
12. The Philadelphia 76ers showed a ton of promise two years ago when they played a good series in the first round of the playoffs against the Magic. Since then, they've gone downhill. But new coach Doug Collins is looking to turn this team around. Andre Iguodala had a good summer for team USA in the World Championships and will look to continue the success he had this year with Philadelphia. Jrue Holiday emerged on the scene for the 76ers last season and is more improved this year. He could turn out to become a very good point guard in Philly, which is what they've been missing since the departure of Allen Iverson. Other younger guys such as Thaddeus Young and Marreese Speights will contribute in the post. In addition, it will be interesting to watch the play of last year's Naismath Award winner and second overall draft choice Evan Turner. If Turner can have similar success in the NBA that he did in college, he'll have one heck of a year. A big question for the Sixers that's been a question ever since 2008 is will Elton Brand be able to make contributions necessary to bring this team to the next level. After several injuries over the past few seasons, Brand hasn't been the same All Star caliber player he was with the Clippers. We'll see what happens with Philly. You know, they boo Santa Claus there. Will they have a reason to boo the Sixers?
13. When looking over the roster for the Detroit Pistons, you'd expect them to be able to snag a playoff seed in the East. But, unfortunately for them, the Pistons have not been able to gel together as a team ever since Chauncey Billups was traded. Last season, the Pistons tried to bring back some magic to the Palace by resigning "Big Ben" Wallace. Wallace, who is way passed his prime, did make solid contributions for the Pistons in the post. Rip Hamilton still scores the ball as well as almost anyone in the league and Tayshaun Prince will play a solid game all around. Forward Jonas Jerebko had a solid first season for the Pistons and can only improve. Unfortunately, an achilles injury will keep him sidelined for most of the season. Look for rookie Greg Monroe to step up and have a productive year in place of Jerebko. Monroe has very good moves in the post and is very athletic- he can only help Detroit. Ben Gordon had a very off season a year ago so it will be interesting to see if he can regain his form or if the chemistry in Detroit is too poor for him to perform like he should. Finally, the Pistons signed former superstar Tracy McGrady to give them another option at the shooting guard position. T-Mac is passed his prime but I believe he can still contribute. When he played with the Knicks for the second half of last season, he came back from injury relatively early' his body wasn't ready for the game. If he comes into the season in shape and ready to go, he could surprise a lot of people.
14. I know Cavs fans, you're angry. And I also know that you despise a certain man in Miami right now. But, this is a process. Now that LeBron is gone, the Cavaliers will have to rebuild. This offseason, they got off to a good start. Cleveland still has many key pieces from last year's team including Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, Antawn Jamison, Anthony Parker and J.J. Hickson. Hickson improves every year and will see serious minutes this year. Jamison is thrown back into the position he was in while in Washington as a proven player and leader on a bad team. I see him making big contributions to this team. Mo Williams will drain the 3 and most likely be the first or second scoring option for Cleveland. Off season pick up Ramon Sessions fits in better with this Cavs team than he did with the T-Wolves last year and will see a solid amount of minutes behind Williams. The Cavaliers are in a rebuilding process and it will take time to recover. But, even though they will find themselves at the bottom of the East this year, they're one top draft pick away from fighting for playoff contention.
15. The East bottom dweller this year will be the Toronto Raptors. Congratulations Raptors, this is what you get for not trading Chris Bosh last season when you knew he was leaving. At least then you could have gotten something in return. In all honesty, the Raptors roster is not THAT bad. Jose Calderon and Jarett Jack splitting time at point guard are both very solid options. Highflying DeMar DeRozan brings excitement to the team but his shooting needs to drastically improve in order for him to become the top guy on the Raptors. With Chris Bosh gone, Andrea Bargnani will be the main big man on the team. Being the shooter he is, Bargnani is going to be an option the Raptors can use in order to create mismatches with other big men. He had a career high in PPG last season and with Bosh gone, I expect his numbers to go up. The additions of Leandro Barbosa and Linas Kleiza will also help fill the void Bosh left. Toronto has a lot of solid players, but none that can really take over a game when needed. We'll see what happens in T-dot, but don't expect too much.