We're just a little over a quarter of the way through the season and the Eastern Conference is finally starting to look like a formidable foe to the West. With a few powerhouse teams and a ton of burgeoning young squads stacked with promising prospects, this is a conference that's finally starting to look pretty impressive. Like always though, there are some teams that just aren't getting the job done. Today we take a look at each Eastern Conference team's grade at this point in the season.
Atlanta Hawks (15-10) – B
The boys in HOT-lanta seem to have picked things up right where they left off last season. Mike Bibby has been fantastic so far, and the supporting cast doesn't even seem to miss Josh Childress. Their bench looked weak on paper heading into the season, but so far they've been one of the more formidable opponents in the conference.
Boston Celtics (24-2) – A+
At this pace, by the time the C's break the '96 Bulls' record 72 wins, they'll have only 6 losses with four more games to play. Rajon Rondo has emerged as perhaps the Eastern Conference's top point guard, and the defending champs look fantastic.
Charlotte Bobcats (8-18) – D
Larry Brown hasn't made too big a difference so far in Carolina, where the Bobcats currently have the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference and only recently snapped a seven-game losing streak. There are more trades to be made for this group, and hopefully one of them actually helps the team make its first playoffs soon.
Chicago Bulls (12-13) – C+
Derrick Rose is the future of the team, but there's little else going on with this franchise that screams "long-term success." Their record is mediocre, they're coach still doesn't quite seem to have a grasp on things, and two of their most promising young players aren't getting consistent minutes. Until a ton of kinks get worked out, this team is no better than average.
Cleveland Cavaliers (21-4) – A
LeBron James finally has a supporting cast that he can work with, and the Mo Williams trade over the summer really has made all the difference. This team is running on all cylinders and are full of veteran guys that have been to the Finals before. They've got as good a shot as anyone in the East to dethrone the Celtics.
Detroit Pistons (14-9) – B-
The results on the Allen Iverson trade have been so-so thus far, but it has been clear for a while now that Pistons have needed a shakeup. They're still among the best teams in the East, sure, but picking up A.I. hasn't done much to push them into the upper echelon with Boston and Cleveland. They'll be good, but they're still not ready for the Finals.
Indiana Pacers (9-16) – C-
Danny Granger, Danny Granger, Danny Granger. Without him you have to wonder what the Indiana Pacers would look like this year. Clearly this young man has emerged as the new face of the franchise, and T.J. Ford has been a nice addition to complement him. The problem lies with a lot of the young supporting pieces that have yet to learn what it means to contribute consistently. In a few years they'll be better, but the present isn't especially bright for Indy.
Miami HEAT (12-12) – B-
It's hard to decide whether or not the HEAT should be better or worse than .500 just a little bit over a quarter of the way through the season. Dwayne Wade is in MVP form, but Michael Beasley hasn't been scoring at will like some thought he would, and Shawn Marion has been extremely underwhelming. Wade's carrying them, but it's probably best they shop the Matrix and see what pieces he brings back. They still need an everyday center. Brad Miller, anyone?
Milwuakee Bucks (11-16) – C-
It's hard not to feel sorry for Michael Redd, who's stuck a team that somehow manages to be bad every year, no matter what guys they draft, trade for, or bring in to coach. This new mix of players looks better than last year's Bucks on paper, but the wins haven't really looked much different this year. Coach Skiles usually gets his teams to over-perform for him, but that hasn't been the case in Milwaukee so far.
New Jersey Nets (12-12) – B+
Aside from the fact that Devin Harris is pretty easily the league's Most Improved Player so far (and probably an All-Star, too), the Nets have been so much better this year than anybody expected. Vince Carter is still pouring in points and rookie Brook Lopez looks like the real deal at center for them. A few pieces and they'll be legit in a few seasons. Things are definitely on the up-and-up in Jersey.
New York Knicks (11-14) – B-
It's incredibly early, but as it stands the Knicks are only one game out of the playoff picture in the East. That's a testament to new coach Mike D'Antoni and relatively new GM Donnie Walsh. Even as the team retools and suffers some growing pains, they're still playing much better, and the higher-ups are cleaning up the organization's future. Good things are ahead for the Knicks. Finally. Maybe even as early as this season in the form a playoff berth.
Orlando Magic (19-6) – A-
Superman and Co. have been the Eastern Conference's most underappreciated team this season. Everyone looks at what Cleveland and Boston have been doing, and somehow the Magic get overlooked. Rashard Lewis is having an All-Star caliber season and Dwight Howard is the game's most dominant big. This is one group that could surprise some people come postseason time.
Philadelphia 76ers (11-14) – D
Philly was supposed to contend for the NBA Finals after acquiring Elton Brand, but right now they probably aren't even a top-twenty team in the entire league. It's not that the makeup of the team is especially bad, but the group just hasn't come together. Something's amiss in the City of Brotherly Love, but it's hard to put a finger on what that might be. In any event, the Sixers look pretty rough, and it doesn't seem like things are going to get any better in the immediate future with Brand's dislocated shouler.
Toronto Raptors (10-15) – C-
If Chris Bosh weren't playing like the MVP right now, there's no telling how bad the Raptors could be right now. Jose Calderon is a fantastic young point guard prospect, but with Jermaine O'Neal apparently still feeling some aches and pains and the rest of the team just flat-out underperforming, it makes winning games pretty difficult.
Washington Wizards (4-19) – F
It's hard to manage winning only four games with two All-Stars on the roster, but that's what is happening in our nation's capitol right now. Perhaps the trade that brought in Mike James and Javaris Crittenton will help solve their issue at point guard, but even still this is a team that just flat-out can't win games right now.
Some of these teams will improve, some will live up to expectations, and at least one will suffer a devastating injury that will take them out of competition the rest of this season. But all that is left to be discovered as the rest of the season unfolds. Until then, this is how things sit.