NBA Eastern Conference Preview

The last image of Eastern Conference basketball from the ‘06-07 season was LeBron and Boobie Gibson absolutely destroying the Pistons en route to the NBA Finals. One summer later, and things look pretty damn different in the East. So here’s how I think things will shake out. This is important though: these are my REGULAR-SEASON predictions. My postseason bracket will come later this week (after my Western Conference picks).

15. Philadelphia 76ers
Honestly, I liked what this team did when they realized they had to trade Allen Iverson, but they haven’t done much right since then. I didn’t like their draft, they haven’t done anything to improve their roster, and I’m pretty sure Andre Iguodala is plateauing as a player. I’m an Andre Miller fan, but not enough of one to move this team out of the cellar.

14. Charlotte Bobcats
This team has lots of talented players. But when two of your lottery picks from recent years are already out for the season with injuries, it’s a bad run. In addition to Sean May and Adam Morrison missing the year, the Bobcats will likely have to deal with Emeka Okafor’s latest ailment. Gerald Wallace is awesome, but he’s not Superman.

13. Milwaukee Bucks
I still wish Michael Redd had signed with the Cavs a couple years back. Then he and LeBron would be a great one-two punch, and Redd wouldn’t be stuck with the shitty team he has around him. Andrew Bogut is a stiff, and yet somehow he’s not the biggest stiff on the team (that would be Yi Jianlian, who only looks good when he’s posting up a chair). Maybe Charlie Villanueva and Bobby Simmons can bounce back from their injury-plagued ‘06-07 seasons and give the Bucks a nice up-tempo attack.

12. Indiana Pacers
This franchise has been going downhill ever since the Palace Brawl, and it’s not gonna get better. Last year they swapped Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson for Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy, in the rare trade where one team (in this case Golden State) gets the two best players in the deal. Now they’re eventually going to be forced to trade Jermaine O’Neal for 30 cents on the dollar, and could be looking at a 5 or 6 year stretch without a playoff berth.

11. New York Knicks
Sports Illustrated has them 6th. I’m pretty sure that’s all the evidence I need to get a refund on my subscription. Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry are the same flawed player, Stephon Marbury is still crazy, and Nate Robinson is the shortest 2-guard in NBA history. Plus, Isiah Thomas is still prominently involved, which has never been a good thing for any organization that wasn’t the Detroit Pistons.

10. Orlando Magic
I know they made the playoffs last year AND they went out and got a big piece in the form of Rashard Lewis, but here’s the thing: someone that was in the top 8 in the East last year HAS to fall out (because Boston isn’t missing the playoffs). Orlando, last year’s 8 seed, is the easy choice, because Lewis is a prime candidate for a drop-off year now that he’s gotten paid. Plus, Orlando’s division isn’t exactly a cakewalk.

9. Atlanta Hawks
This may be high for them, but I feel like all their talent has to mesh at some point. Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams are all incredible athletes, and Johnson and Smith can really play the game too. I don’t know if Acie Law IV is the answer at point guard, but he can’t be any worse than the crap they’ve been running out there in recent years.

8. Toronto Raptors
I actually like this team and what they’re doing, but the East is crowded this year and they seem like they might take a step back. Not because they’re not good, but they got career years out of some guys last year, who probably aren’t going to duplicate that. Plus, I think losing Mo-Pete is going to hurt more than they expect. I do like the addition of Jason Kapono, even if he’s making too much, because he does one thing very well, and Toronto’s very underrated coaching staff can take advantage of that.

7. New Jersey Nets
Remember these guys? Kidd, Carter and Jefferson may not be as sexy as Garnett, Allen and Pierce, but they’ve been playing together longer and they have one big piece Boston lacks (a legit point guard). Plus, they should have a healthy Nenad Krstic for the whole season. So why do I have them one spot lower than they were last year? Well, Jefferson never stays healthy, and Carter’s a crap shoot (especially since he got paid again).

6. Detroit Pistons
This has nothing to do with me hating them, I swear. After their second straight collapse in the Eastern Conference Finals, they seem like they’re poised for a collapse. Flip Saunders can’t possibly keep Rasheed Wallace in line for another year, Chauncy “Mr. Big Shot” Billups was already in decline last season, and at some point, Rip Hamilton is just going to fall apart.

5. Miami Heat
Remember, this is a regular-season positioning. I actually am much higher on the Heat’s long-term prospects, but with Dwyane Wade likely to miss the first month of the season, Shaquille O’Neal likely to miss time at some point, and Ricky Davis trying to integrate into the team of the fly, there are going to be some speed bumps. All this team needs to do, though, is get to the postseason.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers
This may seem like a step back for the Cavs, but remember, last year, they were one game away from entering the postseason as a 5 seed instead of a 2 seed. Everything broke exactly right for them in the season’s final days, then again in the playoffs. Plus, they haven’t re-signed Sasha Pavlovic or Anderson Varejao (who were much bigger pieces in the playoffs than the regular season). I don’t think they’ll miss Sasha and Andy as much as some experts, but you can’t lose two of your rotation players and expect to be better. Then again, maybe LeBron will play motivated for the entire season this year, not just February through June.

3. Washington Wizards
Speaking of teams in the East that also have Big Threes (New Jersey, Miami), here are the Wizards. When Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison were healthy, the Wizards were the best team in the East last year. The injuries they suffered last year weren’t recurring-type injuries, so you have to assume a season of health from them. So as long as Agent Zero doesn’t pull a Starbury (that is, go so completely batshit insane that it affects his game), the Wizards should be pretty damn good.

2. Chicago Bulls
I know they’re still young, but Luol Deng is a really good player, Ben Gordon can shoot the lights out and Kirk Hinrich is a legit point guard. Too bad they don’t have a single frontcourt player who can play offense worth a damn. Also, this ranking is pre-Kobe trade. If they trade their entire team for Kobe, I reserve the right to move them way the fuck down. If they get Kobe for Gordon, Thomas and Nocioni, I reserve the right to make them the favorite.

1. Boston Celtics.
Blah, blah, blah, Garnett. Blah, blah, blah Allen. Blah, blah, blah Pierce. Boston is wicked awesome! (Oh, and by the way, they only go seven deep, they’ve got no point guard depth at all, their center could balloon to 400 pounds and if any one of their big three gets hurt, they’re screwed. Then again, they are still the favorite.)