Ranking the Eastern Conference
By: Jessica Camerato Last Updated: 8/7/08 1:58 PM ET | 9528 times read
Adjust font size:The Boston Celtics returned the NBA Championship to the Eastern Conference and this summer teams are making moves to keep it there. HOOPSWORLD takes a look at the power rankings in the East with its current rosters.
1. Boston Celtics: NBA Championships merit top seeds in preseason rankings. The Celtics are returning their entire starting lineup and even though they have to overcome the departure of James Posey, the Big Three should still be enough to keep near the top of the standings. Not to mention, the young Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins are coming back even tougher and more experienced after winning it all.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers: There is only one thing that makes the Cavaliers the second-best team in the East: LeBron James. Simply put, Bron Bron is one of the top-5 players in the NBA. Put almost any group of players beside him (see their championship run from two years ago) and James' team would succeed. With that being said, it doesn't hurt that the offensive (Delonte West, Wally Sczerbiak) and defensive (Ben Wallace) talent acquired in last season's late trade will have some more time to get acclimated to playing with King James.
3. Detroit Pistons: GM Joe Dumars declared there were "no sacred cows" on the Pistons after they were bounced by the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals and speculation flew of them dismantling their veteran core. It will be up Michael Curry, recently hired as head coach, to get this group of former champions to play up to their potential, but the biggest question is whether these veterans have another title in them.
4. Philadelphia 76ers: Many counted the 76ers out before the start of last season only to find the fiery running team making a legitimate run at the postseason. With Elton Brand in Philadelphia the question is no longer if they will make the playoffs, but what seed they will earn. If the 76ers can bring Andre Iguodala back -- which head coach Mo Cheeks is confident they will do -- this team is poised to make one of the biggest turnarounds in the league next season.
5. Toronto Raptors: The Raptors needed another rebounder and got one of the most proven big men in the league. If he can stay healthy, the duo of Jermaine O'Neal and Chris Bosh could be one of the most dominating frontcourt duos in the East. Jose Calderon also gives the Raptors consistency (and impeccable ball handling) as their only starting point guard. They may not be the most experienced group as a whole, but this tandem of talent should be enough to get the Raptors out of the first round of the playoffs.
6. Orlando Magic: Rashard Lewis was supposed to help Dwight Howard lead the Magic on a deep postseason run. That didn't happen. The Magic fell short in the playoffs and have done little to spark hope for a championship next season. They will need more than Mickael Pietrus off the bench to make up for their thin backcourt, which boasts a mediocre point guard in Jameer Nelson and the rarely-used-but-never-traded J.J. Redick. Howard's shoulders are not big enough to carry this team.
7. Washington Wizards: Who would have thought that the Wizards would have a better record last season without Agent Zero? Arenas will be looking to make up for lost time, but it's questionable whether the Wizards will be better with him in the lineup. Even though Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler are good enough to make any team a contender, the jury is out on Arenas' ability to lead a team to the playoffs and beyond.
8. Indiana Pacers: Watch out for this season's version of the Atlanta Hawks. The Pacers have been discounted from playoff talks since the days of Ron Artest but they finally have the pieces they need to contend. Combine the emerging Danny Granger and recently acquired T.J. Ford with veterans Jeff Foster, Mike Dunleavy Jr., and Troy Murphy, and the Pacers have a lineup that could be good enough to grab the eighth seed in the East.
9. Miami Heat: After the disaster that was last season, the Miami Heat have nowhere to go but up. They acquired Shawn Marion shortly before the trading deadline and used the number two pick in the Draft to select Michael Beasley. Add a healthy Dwyane Wade to the mix and you've got a formidable trio. However, they're not winning a title with Mark Blount as their center, let alone making the playoffs. Ditto for whatever inexperienced player will take the reigns at point guard. The Heat certainly have enough pieces to flight for the postseason, but they need to shore up those two weaknesses before they can recapture their championship-winning ways.
10. Atlanta Hawks: Was last season's playoff run a flash in the pan? While the Hawks are returning their playoff-experienced starting lineup (including Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, and Rookie of the Year candidate Al Horford), they lost their one bench player who could make a legitimate impact in Josh Childress. 37 wins may have been enough before but it's a different story in the East now.
11. Charlotte Bobcats: The Bobcats are one of the more frustrating teams in the East. They have the talent but injuries, inconsistencies, and poor coaching decisions have plummeted them to the bottom of the standings. This season Larry Brown will crack the whip on Jason Richardson, Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor, and Raymond Felton, but can he maximize the potential of a thin bench? Even though the Bobcats will be better, they are not going to replicate Michael Jordan's greatness any time soon.
12. Chicago Bulls: The Bulls are heading into next season the same way they finished last season– in disarray. They still have to sort out what to do with their backcourt, which includes an overpaid/underachieving point guard (Kirk Hinrich), a top pick who disappointed in summer league play (Derrick Rose), and a shooting guard who is in contractual purgatory (Ben Gordon). There are also question marks surrounding the reliability of the oft-injured Larry Hughes and the potential of summer league flop Joakim Noah. Things may not be as Rose-y in Chicago as fans had hoped.
13. Milwaukee Bucks: With the failed Yi Jianlian experiment in the past, the Bucks are hoping to contend with the veteran duo of Richard Jefferson and Michael Redd. Jefferson is an upgrade but that does not answer glaring questions in the roster. What are the Bucks doing with four point guards? Can Charlie Villanueva be a reliable starter (more importantly, are the Bucks going to keep him around next season)? The trade may have helped but it isn't sending them to the playoffs next season.
14. New Jersey Nets: On paper, the Nets used to have one of the most talented trios in the league. But if Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson couldn't get it done, what chance does a less talented trio of Yi, Carter, and Devin Harris have of breaking out of the East? The days of perennial playoff hopes are over in New Jersey.
15. New York Knicks: There is a $20 million contract with Stephon Marbury's name on it looming over the Knicks. Nearly all of the Knicks (and their cap-busting salaries) are returning next season, with little improvement made this summer. Head coach Mike D'Antoni does not have a point guard who can execute his run-and-gun offense and there is no end in sight to the Starbury saga. Next season the Knicks could spend nearly $100 million to miss the playoffs again. Is it 2009 yet?