Ok, with Rush and Hibbert rising to their potentials and many other players having career seasons (Murphy, Jack, TJ), many people, at least in Indiana, would expect the Pacers to make the playoffs next season. However, here's the question, who's dropping "out" of the playoffs? I don't know much about free agencies of the teams in the East, so I'm just basing my assumptions on this season.
The Cavs, Celtics and Magic are out of the discussion because they will more than likely to be there again next season. Hawks are a young team with lots of talent, and judging by the way they played Miami in the first game, they will still be good for atleast several more years. Heat will remain a decent team as long as DWade and Chalmers at the back court. Sixers have an athletic player in Andre Iguodala, along with young talents Louis Williams and Thaddeus Young. With the deals Chicago made before the trade deadline, they have really turned around the corner. Having Derrick Rose doesn't hurt either. And finally, the Pistons. It might seem that their era has finally ended, but with about 30 million dollars coming off the book next season, who knows who they can get.
It might seem WAY too early to think about this right now as so many things can happen between now and then, but I think the East is getting better in general and it may be more difficult to get into the playoffs than the past few years. Personally, I think the Sixers would be the one to drop if the Pacers are to make it.