30 Teams in 30 Words: Eastern Conference

I realized the picture on my West preview gave away my top two teams. I didn't make that mistake again. OR DID I? (I didn't)
There’s a bit of risk involved when making preseason projections in any season. One big trade, a significant injury or a team that just decides it doesn’t feel like playing up to its potential can throw off all the work you put into figuring out how the teams will line up at the end of the season.

It’s hard enough trying to account for any of these possibilities during a normal season, but the compressed preseason schedule created by the lockout has made it nearly impossible.

Take the example of the New Jersey Nets. At one point in the last week, it looked like their acquisition of Dwight Howard was imminent. Then it wasn’t. Then Brook Lopez was injured, and is out from somewhere between four weeks and forever, depending on which side of the extremist scale you believe. Then, when it looked like they might be forced to start Johan Petro at center, they went out and got Mehmet Okur from the Jazz, and that may or may not preclude them from eventually trading for Howard.

So, how do you account for all that when projecting the Nets win total in 2011-12? Do you assume they’ll get Howard at some point? And if so, do you assume Lopez will come back healthy for a period before that trade happens? Or do you just assume worst-case scenario (which is obviously Deron Williams demanding a trade tomorrow, followed by the Okur trade being overturned and Kris Humphries reconciling with Kim Kardashian)?

My answer? Well, it was none of the above. I put a number next to the Nets, without accounting for any of that, then realizing I hadn’t accounted for any of it. Oh well, I’m sticking to it.

With that in mind, here are my projected Eastern Conference standings for 2011-12. Click here for the West.


15. Bobcats
As much as I like Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo, it’s pretty clear this team is going to be painfully bad in 2011-12. Like 15 wins bad. But not worse.

14. Raptors
There was part of me that was ready to put the Raptors higher, until I started seeing stuff from Toronto-based people I trust who said they’d be Charlotte-esque this season.
13. Bucks
This is probably too low. I saw them in the preseason, and I like a lot of their pieces. SJax + healthy Bogut + improved Luc is a solid core.

12. Pistons
Man, that run of trips to the conference finals seems like forever ago, doesn’t it. I don’t like anything Detroit has done in recent years, save for the Stuckey re-signing.

11. Cavaliers
Kyrie Irving probably won’t win rookie of the year (check back tomorrow for my pick on that), but I think he’s going to help turn things around in The Q.

10. Wizards
Is there a weirder collection of players in the league than the one in Washington? Point guard John Wall is surrounded by athletic headcases, and Roger Mason Jr. How U.

9. Nets
Remember all those words I wrote at the start of this thing? Refer to that for why the Nets ended up here, instead of, say, sixth. Or fourth with D12.

8. Magic
Speaking of D12, I clearly built a “he’s going to be traded” cushion into my Orlando projection. The question is will they be Denver post-Carmelo Anthony or Detroit post-Chauncey Billups?

7. 76ers
I’m interested to see if Evan Turner takes a step forward this season. With increased PT in April (and the playoffs), he started to put up better numbers last year.

6. Celtics
I know this seems low, and it probably is, but forward Paul Pierce is already ailing and they’ve got no depth behind him (no, Sasha Pavlovic doesn’t count as “depth”).

5. Pacers
If I was a betting man, I’d be taking the over on the Pacers wins, and I might be convinced to take a flyer on them to win the Central.

4. Hawks
I know these are my picks, and I should be convincing you of them, but I honestly can’t justify this. I can’t see how the Hawks avoid a step back.

3. Knicks
I think Chandler’s impact on the team is being overstated, but the impact of having ‘Melo and Amar’e for a full season will be huge (insert Baron Davis fat joke).

2. Bulls
Let me clarify my opinion on Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, using the ancient art of haiku:
Derrick Rose is good.
He is not the best point guard.
I’m not a hater.

1. Heat
Speaking of haters, the Heat had a lot of them last year. And they’ll have a lot this year. But really, nothing they do in the 2011-12 regular season matters.