FINALLY! Tomorrow night at 8:00 PM eastern time, the most anticipated season in NBA history kicks off as the Boston Celtics host the Miami Heat and their new Big Three and the Lakers get their rings before taking on the Rockets. As BSO’s resident NBA expert, I have waited months for this week, and in honor of the new NBA season I give you a three-part predictions series on what to expect this year. Today I give you the East, tomorrow the West, and on Wednesday my Awards and Playoff Predictions.
Without further ado, I present to you my Eastern Conference predictions:
15.Cleveland Cavaliers (Last season: 61-21) –
Let’s just get this over with for the Cavs fans. Lebron James is gone, and this squad is more likely than not going to be unable to recover. While there is talent on a roster that still has Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams, as well as young power forward JJ Hickson, this is a team filled with role players incapable of leading a team anywhere near the playoffs.
I don’t think this roster stays together as it is for very long. The Cavs need to go into rebuilding mode immediately and will more likely than not start shipping off players and stockpiling draft picks and young players, so the roster you see on opening night could be entirely different than the one the Cavs finish the end of the season with.
14. Indiana Pacers: (Last season: 32-50)
After a disappointing 2009-2010 season, the one area the Pacers knew they had to improve on was the point guard position. So they went out and pulled the trigger on a big trade to bring in Darren Collison from New Orleans as their point guard of the future. Unfortunately for the Pacers, the rest of their roster is filled with question marks and overpaid veterans.
James Posey would normally be a great pick-up, especially defensively, but he’s lost a step over the past couple of seasons. Their lottery pick in Paul George is one of the biggest question marks of the draft, a hit-or-miss prospect who could struggle to adjust his rookie year. The Pacers star, Danny Granger, could possibly have peaked and may be on the decline. All signs point to another lottery-bound season for the boys from the Hoosier state. At least Indiana fans will have Butler to look forward to in college basketball.
13. Detroit Pistons (Last season: 27-55)
The biggest problem with the Pistons last season was they were a guard-heavy roster with aging veterans such as Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton. So how did they improve their roster? By drafting a 6-11 power forward in Greg Monroe who plays more like a combo forward, and signing Tracy McGrady, yet another aging star on the downside of his career.
Unless the Pistons use their over-abundance of guards to make some trades to upgrade their roster, they will more likely end this season the same way they ended last season, at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
12. Philadelphia 76ers (Last season: 27-55)
One of the most disappointing teams of the 2009-2010 season, the Sixers struck lottery gold when they won the second pick in a two-man draft. Philadelphia was able to add Naismith Award Winner Evan Turner to their backcourt to team with Jrue Holiday and give Philly a tandem for the future.
Unfortunately for the Sixers, they still owe Elton Brand $16 million this season and more than any Philly fan wants to remember for the next couple of years, as well as $12.3 million for Andre Iguodala and $7 million for Andres Nocioni. Oh and another $6.9 million for Jason Kapono. Add that all up and the Sixers owe $43 million to three declining veterans and a guy who can do nothing but shoot an open three. Bottom line, this Sixers squad isn’t going anywhere this season.
11. Toronto Raptors (Last season: 40-42)
Alright Raptors fans, you’re turn. Chris Bosh is gone and the next time he comes back he will be playing third-fiddle to his new BFF’s Lebron and D-Wade. Meanwhile, you have a Raptors roster that in the East could still make a push for a playoff spot. Bryan Colangelo is building a squad similar to his Suns teams of a couple years ago, infused with European talent and ready to run at all times.
Leandro Barbosa and Linas Kleiza add shooters to a team already filled with guys like Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan who can score in bunches. While this team will be fun to watch and could score 120 on any given night, they’re lack of defense will ultimately keep them out of the playoffs.
10. Washington Wizards (Last season: 26-56)
The most dysfunctional team in the NBA is back and bringing one of the most exciting young prospects in recent history with them in John Wall. The Rookie of the Year candidate should bring electricity to every Wizards game this season with his amazing speed and scoring ability, but can he help lead Washington back to the playoffs?
For what seems like the 23rd straight season, Gilbert Arenas is the biggest question mark for this team. Will he be back to his old form, or will the somber, quiet Arenas we’ve seen this pre-season also bring a quiet game? This team will definitely be fun to watch regardless of if they are in the playoff hunt or not.
9. New Jersey Nets (Last season: 12-70)
And now we get to the worst team in the NBA last season, and my official pick as the NBA’s surprise team this season. With one of the most interesting new owners in NBA history in Mikhail Prokhorov and a young, exciting roster that is only getting better, a Nets team that suffered through 70 miserable losses last season will make a playoff push this upcoming year.
Derrick Favors will need a couple of seasons to make the impact the Nets expect of him, and Jordan Farmar will show Nets fans exactly why Laker fans couldn’t wait for him to leave. But Brook Lopez could develop into an All-Star big this season, and despite nearly being traded, Devin Harris should have a big season after an off-year as this Nets squad makes a huge leap into playoff contention.
8. New York Knicks (Last season: 29-53)
Knicks fans rejoice! Says here this is the season the Knicks FINALLY get back into the playoffs. Despite missing out on Lebron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh, the Knicks were able to land Amar’e for five years and added some good pieces to an already rising roster. Despite not being courted by many teams, Raymond Felton is a good point guard for the system that Mike D’Antoni wants to run, and with young guys like Danillo Gallinari and Randolph in the mix, the Knicks should only get better from last season.
The big question here is will the Knicks roster stay the same all season? There have been rumors swirling all off-season about the Knicks making a push for Carmelo Anthony, who has let it be known that he wants to play in the Big Apple. Should the Knicks put together a deal for Anthony, this squad could make a huge leap in the standings.
7. Charlotte Bobcats (Last season: 44-38)
Coming off the first post-season birth in franchise history, the Bobcats did absolutely nothing to their roster aside from adding a few non-impact guys and bringing Kwame Brown back to a Michael Jordan managed team just for laughs. The Bobcats lost starting point Felton to the aforementioned Knicks, and have handed over the reigns to the unproven D.J. Augustin.
So why do I have the Bobcats back in the playoffs again this season? Because Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson have something to prove yet again this year. After proving they could finally get the Bobcats to the postseason, Charlotte was unceremoniously knocked out of the playoffs by the Magic. Those two will be playing with a chip on their shoulders all season long and should leave the Bobcats back into the postseason.
6. Atlanta Hawks (Last season: 53-29)
How does a team who finished third in the East last season come back with virtually the same roster and drop three spots in the standings? By settling with a roster they know can’t win a championship. Atlanta comes into this season knowing they overpaid Joe Johnson, who walks away the winner of free agency after making more than any of the Big Three free agents did. They also know that they have a disgruntled Sixth Man of the Year in Jamal Crawford, who also just might be the Hawks best guard, who wants to be paid and won’t be getting an extension from Atlanta.
Add those roster issues with a new coach who is expected to do better with this team than a guy who made a 40-win improvement over the past couple of seasons, and you have the makings of a decline in the wins column and ultimately the standings.
5. Milwaukee Bucks (Last season: 46-36)
One of the busiest teams this off-season was one of the most surprising teams last postseason. After pushing the Hawks to seven games, without big man Andrew Bogut, the Bucks went out to improve an already talented roster in hopes of making a big impact come playoff time. At first look, adding a ball hog in Corey Maggette and a journey man in Drew Gooden might not be the best decisions, especially with a ball-dominant young star in Brandon Jennings. But take a deeper look and you realize that the Bucks are suddenly one of the most talented teams in the NBA offensively, coupled with one of the better defensive bigs in the league in Bogut.
While the Bucks may not make more than a one spot climb in the standings, they will be much more of a threat once the playoffs roll around as a team that could potentially knock off one of the top seeds in the East. A slogan that was fun to say last season will have much more truth to it this year, as teams in the East should definitely “Fear the Deer.”
4. Chicago Bulls (Last season: 41-41)
How does a young team with a superstar in the making point guard in Derrick Rose jump from fringe playoff team to Eastern Conference elite? By going out and getting half of the Utah Jazz rotation apparently. The Bulls were already a squad on everyone’s radar, and despite missing out on the Big Three, were able to make huge additions to their roster. Carlos Boozer adds a physical presence who could do serious damage with Rose in the pick and roll as well as take pressure off of young big man Joakim Noah. Korver and Brewer give Rose more weapons to work with on the wing in addition to Luol Deng, and newly-hired head coach Tom Thibodeau brings a defensive mentality to a young team with plenty of offensive talent.
The player who will decide whether or not the Bulls make some noise and seriously challenge the East’s three elite squads is their third-year leader. Rose is a talented player with no visible ceiling, who has all the physical tools to not only be one of the top point guards, but one of the top players in the NBA, period. If Rose can break through and average something in the neighborhood of a 20-10, the Bulls will be a serious threat to any team they face in the playoffs.
3. Boston Celtics (Last season: 50-32)
In an off-season where a team in South Beach got all the praise, the defending Eastern Conference champs quietly got better. After having a lack of front-court depth exposed in their Game 7 loss to the Lakers (I love saying that), the Celtics went out and signed not one but two 7-footers to bring off the bench in Shaq and JO. While they might be aging guys, they will make the Celtics a better team off the bench.
While Boston’s own Big Three ages, Rajon Rondo gets better and the Celtics keep on doing what they do best, playing defense and showing up for big games. This team might not have the best record in the standings by the end of the regular season but will still be one of the most dangerous squads in all of the league come playoff time.
2. Orlando Magic (Last season: 59-23)
The Orlando Magic are suddenly the most forgotten team in Florida, and any sports fan knows that all a team needs for motivation is to be underestimated. A Magic squad that went to the Finals just two seasons ago is suddenly being overlooked and forgotten in a stacked Eastern Conference. Most pundits are picking either the Heat or the Celtics to represent the East in the Finals, and an Orlando squad lead by the best center in the game Dwight Howard is being put into the second tier.
In my humble opinion, the Magic are a squad built to take on the Heat. Miami’s two biggest weaknesses are the center and point guard positions, and the Magic just happen to have two All-Stars in those positions. There is nobody on the Heat roster who can contain Howard, and Jameer Nelson gives every team issues. The biggest question on this roster is how Howard will play this season. He has always been a defensive monster with great shot-blocking ability, but has never been able to put it together on the offensive end aside from his rim-rattling dunks. After working with Hakeem Olajuwon this off-season, Howard is expected to show improvement in his game in the low post. If he can put it together, the Magic will be the team to beat in the East.
1. Miami Heat (Last season: 47-35)
And now we get to the team you either love or love to hate, the Miami Heat. This Heat squad should finish the regular season with the best record in not only the East, but the NBA. Lebron James lead a group of nobodies to the top seed the past two seasons, so a talented Miami team should be a piece of cake for him. But the biggest questions for this squad will come in the spring, when anything short of an NBA title is a bust.
Lebron will be playing with more pressure than anyone in recent memory, and will have to earn his paycheck in the playoffs. This team will be the most hated in the league, but definitely a site to see night in and night out. It’s very simple, win a ring and everything bad will be forgotten. But should this team come up with anything short of a title, the criticism will be heard far and wide. It will be interesting to see how the Heat can handle the pressure every night of being the team everyone wants to fail.