1) Boston Celtics– The Celtics are a very talented team with the likes of SF Paul Pierce, SG Ray Allen, and PG Rajon Rondo. But the biggest question in Boston will be the healthy PF Kevin Garnett. Garnett is back from a knee injury that sidelined him for the second part of last season and it is said that he is healthy, but whether or not can he be the same dominant player he was before the injury is yet to be seen. The Celtics are a strong defensive team that has a deep bench and that will lead them to a division title. But if Garnett can be his Hall of Fame self again, they can be title contenders.
2) Philadelphia 76ers– Philadelphia is a team that could vie for a middle round playoff spot in the East. For that to happen, PF Elton Brand will need to stay healthy. Out of a possible 164 games, Brand has played just 37 games the past two seasons and he will need to be out on the court producing for the 76ers to be a threat. SG Andre Iguodala is a very underrated player who has quietly established himself as a great all around talent. The team also has good role players in SF Thaddeus Young and C Samuel Dalembert. Philly won’t be a title contender, but barring injury they will be a playoff team.
3) Toronto Raptors– The Raptors are led by superstar PF Chris Bosh, but this team has other pieces in place to put last year’s dreadful season behind them. PG Jose Calderon is an excellent distributor and while SF Hedo Turkoglu’s numbers dipped last year, he is still a very skilled player who can create his own shot. Meanwhile, Rookie guard DeMar DeRozan is ridiculously athletic but very raw, yet he could benefit from Calderon’s playmaking to get him open lanes and easy dunks. Toronto is a threat to make it to the playoffs, but they probably won’t be heard from if they get there.
4) New York Knicks– Head Coach Mike D’Antoni is going to have the Knicks testing the scoreboard and seeing exactly how high it can go. The former Suns coach enters year two with New York and while his teams are always fun to watch because of all the points they score, defense isn’t exactly a priority. The Knicks were able to resign their best player from a year ago in PF David Lee, but he isn’t exactly a franchise cornerstone. Not to mention that the D’Antoni has decided to bring two of his better players and naturally great fits for his run-n-gun system (PG Nate Robinson and PF/C Al Harrington) off the bench in favor of a guy who hasn’t had a good year since the 04-05 season (SG Larry Hughes) and an overweight center who has yet to justify his lofty draft pick (C Eddy Curry). Knicks fans will be waiting for the season to end so the team can try and sign a big name free agent to rectify the franchise.
5) New Jersey Nets– The Nets are going to bad. It’s really just that simple. New Jersey is an extremely young team with their oldest starter being 26 years old. They are a couple years away from being in the playoff mix as their young talent needs to grow and gain experience at the NBA level. They do have their bright spots in up-and-coming PG Devin Harris and second-year C Brooke Lopez shows a lot of promise as well. But with little depth and no veteran experience, this team will find wins hard to come by and they will be in the basement of the Atlantic Division.
1) Cleveland Cavaliers– LeBron James. Need I say anymore? The Cavs have the league’s best and most dominant player in the reigning NBA MVP. With a talented sharp shooter in PG Mo Williams as James’ main sidekick last year, Cleveland came up short of a championship. So in the offseason they Cleveland went out and added future Hall of Fame C Shaquille O’Neal to try and put them over the top. PF Anderson Varejao can guard the opposing team’s best big man to help diminish O’Neal’s struggles against the pick-and-roll and with veteran C Zydrunas Ilgauskas the team won’t have to play the 37-year-old O’Neal 35 or 40 minutes a game so they can keep him fresh. LeBron and the Cavaliers will coast to a division title and will once again have a shot to be NBA champs.
2) Chicago Bulls– When looking at the Bulls this season, one thing makes me just fall in love with them; PG Derrick Rose. Rose is so explosive and can get to the basket at will and his play-making ability is undeniable. Chicago has fielded a deep team around Rose as well and the Bulls have the ability to go either big or small with their lineup. SG John Salmons had a career year a season ago and he looks to build on that this year while the Bulls are also excited about the return of SF Luol Deng to full strength after he fractured his tibia last year. The Bulls have the talent to be a playoff team, and if Rose takes the next step this year to becoming a superstar, they can make a run in the postseason as well.
3) Detroit Pistons– In past years the Pistons were a lock to not only make the playoffs, but contend for a title once they got there. However, this season Detroit will have to fight its way into the playoffs as they have had a considerable drop in talent. The team shipped out long-time PG Chauncy Billups last season to make way for young PG Rodney Stuckey, but Stuckey was only decent in his expanded role. The team signed a couple of free agents to huge contracts in SG Ben Gordon and PF Charlie Villanueva, but while the two are talented they don’t seem to justify the massive contracts which they received. This team lacks a true star, and that will cost them in the end and keep them out of the playoffs.
4) Indiana Pacers– Indiana has a lone bright spot on their team and that’s SF Danny Granger. Granger averaged almost 26 points last year, shot nearly 88 percent from the FT line, 45 percent from the field, and over 40 percent from 3 point land to go along with over 5 boards and one block and 1.5 steals per game. He’s simply a stud. Unfortunately for Pacers fans, outside of Granger and PF Troy Murphy, Indiana is slim on talent. They have some solid young players, but this team is a couple years away from being even respectable and they will be a total non-factor this year.
5) Milwaukee Bucks– Milwaukee is yet another young team that won’t be very good this season. They do tout a skilled player in SG Michael Redd, but he has yet to prove that he is a franchise player worthy of the money the Bucks are paying him or that he’s capable of leading the team. C Andrew Bogut is a solid player, but Milwaukee has to kicking themselves for taking him #1 overall in the 2005 draft over Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Danny Granger. The Bucks will not just be the worst team in their division this year, but they could be the worst team in the entire league.
1) Orlando Magic– The Magic won the Eastern Conference last season and they will be in a good position to defend their conference championship this year. Orlando has talent everywhere with PG Jameer Nelson, the newly acquired SG Vince Carter, and SF/PF Rashard Lewis. However their beast is in the middle with the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year, C Dwight Howard. The key for the Magic will be the Nelson, who was an All-Star last year but missed significant time after he suffered a shoulder injury in early February. Orlando should win their division regardless, but if Nelson can be the player he was before last year’s injury, the Magic can vie for an NBA crown.
2) Atlanta Hawks– This is a team with a great mix of veteran and young talent. PG Mike Bibby is an established point guard in this league and he knows how to run a team and PF Josh Smith is a freakish athlete with remarkable defensive skills. The team’s top talent is SG Joe Johnson and he has shown to be clutch and can nail the big shot when needed. And while young C Al Horford hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, he is still a great rebounder and a good defensive big man in the middle. The Hawks are very talented and will be in the mix for the 4 or 5 seed in the Eastern Conference come playoff time.
3) Washington Wizards– I had the Wizards a spot higher in this division a couple weeks ago, but with the injury to PF Antawn Jamison I have since eased off. The Wizards leading scorer from a year ago is out 3-5 weeks with a shoulder injury, and when you couple that with star PG Gilbert Arenas’ recent injury problems it’s hard to count on Washington. When healthy, the Big-3 of Jamison, Arenas, and SF Caron Butler can really do some damage. The team is also very deep at the guard position with Randy Foye, Mike Miller, DeShawn Stevenson, and Nick Young. That bodes well for the team should Arenas get hurt as he has in each of the past two seasons. But with Jamison down already, things are already off to a bad start and the Wizards lack depth at the PF position to fill in for Jamison in his absence. The Wizards are very talented and should be in the mix for a middle seed in Eastern Conference come playoff time, but with all the injury concerns you can never be sure.
4) Miami Heat– Miami was a playoff team a year ago despite nothing really around superstar PG/SG Dwyane Wade. That’s how good Wade is. But this year Miami will need to give Wade help as the East has gotten stronger from a year ago. The biggest question mark will be the whole Michael Beasley saga. The Heat need their SF Beasley to put his demons to rest and be the 20 point, 10 rebound side-kick of Wade that they thought he was going to be. So while Miami will certainly be in the playoff hunt, If Beasley doesn’t produce they will be in serious danger of missing the playoffs.
5) Charlotte Bobcats– The Bobcats overall talent is pretty solid, but they lack a star to lead the team. SF Gerald Wallace is the team’s best overall player, but he isn’t someone opposing team’s game plan around. PG’s Raymond Felton and D.J. Augustin are good players and PF Boris Diaw is sound as well, but none of those guys are top of the level players at their position. Charlotte did part ways with C Emeka Okafor and traded him for veteran C Tyson Chandler, but that move didn’t really improve the team. The Bobcats won’t be bad this year, but they will be around .500 and might vie for a playoff spot, but it seems unlikely they get in.