Hey there, Pounders. Fun fact: The offseason can be pretty boring around here. But have no fear, there's "only" about a month left
kill me now until training camp. Since the Dwightmare is finally over in Orlando, I finally feel like it's time to post my annual conference rankings. We'll start with the Eastern Conference since it's much worse easier to rank than the West. The reigning champs are here, but every other team seems to have big flaws. Keep in mind, these ratings do not reflect playoff success, only how I think these teams will do in the regular season.
So, here's how I think the Eastern Conference stacks up.
The Undisputed Favorite
1. Miami Heat (63-19)
So, let me get this straight... After winning a championship, Miami gained Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, and all the teams that were close to them in the East lost key players? Gee, I wonder who the favorite to win the East could be. Seriously, it's hard to imagine anyone beating this team, especially any of their Eastern competition.
The Need-Some-Luck Teams
All of the following teams are capable of winning 50 or more games, but they're going to need some luck to knock off the champs.
2. Indiana Pacers (55-27)
So, the Heat were given a pretty solid test in the Eastern semifinals by this team and its young core. And while they lost an important member of that young core in Darren Collison, they return every other important piece of that team. Continued improvements from the likes of Paul George and Roy Hibbert, not to mention former Spur George Hill, could have them challenging the Heat again. Danny Granger could be a hell of a trade chip for midseason improvement as well.
3. Boston Celtics (51-31)
So, they lost Ray Allen. Even though they've replaced him with Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, neither of those guys is going to produce at Ray's level from the past few years, and Avery Bradley's going to be seeing a lot of guard minutes, anyhow. Jeff Green might help a little, but both he and the C's new wings are going to have to adjust to the system they find themselves in. This team will likely struggle a bit in the early season, but underestimating them would be a colossal mistake.
4. New York Knicks (50-32)
It's a little difficult to put the Knicks this high, given their inherent dysfunction. But as old and washed up as Jason Kidd is, he commands respect and should fill the gaping leadership void, bringing order to the team. Ronnie Brewer is a quality backup, and a great defensive player that should fit into Mike Woodson's system rather nicely. I feel as if this team will win enough regular season games (especially early in the season, given the roster turnover among most of the other Eastern playoff teams) to give their fans hope before it all comes crashing down again.
5. Chicago Bulls (48-34)
With Derrick Rose out until the All-Star Break or longer, and the loss of some key bench players, the only team that won enough games to tie the Spurs in the standings the last two seasons seems to be on shaky footing. But they've been overachieving for a reason: great coaching. Thibodeau gets the most from his guys in every single contest and deserves all the credit he's received. With that in mind, I see this team staying in playoff position until Rose gets back. Once he gets going, they could create chaos in the playoffs as the lower seed nobody wants to face.
6-T. Brooklyn Nets (46-36)
The NBA's newest big-market science experiment is now officially flying under the radar, due to the Lakers offseason haul. But make no mistake - this is one of the most intriguing teams in the league. Their starting perimeter trio should be among the tops in the league, and advanced stats love these guys. But there's a lot of "ifs". If Brook Lopez can defend at a decent level... If Joe Johnson will defer to Deron... If Crash is enough of an offensive threat... And most of all, if this team develops decent chemistry... then Miami might start "hearing the footsteps" behind them.
6-T. Philadelphia 76ers (46-36)
Well, one thing's for sure... Philly has a new #1 option, and a new defensive anchor. Whether or not they are the same person will go a long way toward deciding their unltimate fate. Allegedly, Andrew Bynum is travelling to Germany to have the same knee procedure his ex-teammate Kobe received last summer, so it's not clear whether he'll be ready to play in time for training camp. But more so than their new center, this team's fortunes will depend largely on Evan Turner. If he starts to reach his potential, then he will be the first option, and this team will be good enough to put a scare into the top contenders. With Turner and Bynum on board, all this team needs is some outside shooting (J-Rich should help) and something resembling last year's defensive efficiency to really get something cooking.
The Bubble Teams
8. Toronto Raptors (41-41)
I know what you're thinking. "The Toronto Raptors in the playoffs? You must be crazy." And who knows, maybe I am crazy... but I think this is actually a playoff team. Last year, their defense turned a corner, thanks in large part to their power forward play. This should only improve with the arrival of Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas. Excellent on both ends of the floor, Valanciunas could be the frontcourt anchor this team has needed for a while. Add a second good point guard in Kyle Lowry, and you've got a recipe for success. Don't be surprised if Andrea Bargnani or Jose Calderon get traded for help at other positions, but this team looks good enough to get a postseason invitation in the weaker of the conferences.
-----------------------non-playoff teams below this line-------------------------
9. Atlanta Hawks (39-43)
Yes, I know this Atlanta squad has constantly finished as the 4th or 5th seed in the East the last several years. But, they're going to miss Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams (stop laughing, I'm serious) more than a lot of folks seem to think. Williams was the kind of guy who's good at a lot of things, but not excellent at any of them - a glue guy, if you will. And Johnson, of course, was the big-money "star" of the team that commanded the respect of every defense they faced. As for the new faces? Devin Harris is washed up, and Lou Williams is a good scorer but can't manage to do much of anything else. I also think Josh Smith gets traded before the deadline. If any of Danny Ferry's draft picks exceed expectations, this group could beat out Toronto for the right to get decimated in the first round of the playoffs. Otherwise, I don't see them making it.
10. Milwaukee Bucks (37-45)
This squad is hard to get a read on. In theory, the Brandon Jennings-Monta Ellis guard combo is impossible to stop, and they have plenty of promising young talent up front (Henson, Udoh, Sanders). However, with Ersan Ilyasova, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Samuel Dalembert coming back, it's hard to imagine them being able to give the young guys the proper minutes to develop. I believe the Bucks will be playing the trade market between now and training camp to try and round out their roster, and it's hard to make a judgment about their potential just yet. As things stand, I see them being good enough to threaten for a playoff spot, but not good enough to actually make it. Just like the last couple of years, Milwaukee's in The Daryl Morey Zone.
The Maybe-Next-Year Teams
11. Detroit Pistons (31-51)
*Shields self from DBB-thrown projectiles* OK, so the Andre Drummond-Greg Monroe frontcourt looks like a match-made-in-basketball-heaven on paper. But, Drummond's biggest criticism has been his desire and work ethic. After falling much further down the draft board than most expected, will he be driven to prove his doubters and the teams that passed on him wrong? Or will the critics be proven right, now that Drummond is guaranteed to receive several million dollars from an NBA team? Even if Drummond is motivated, he and Monroe are both basically one-way players (Drummond w/defense, Monroe w/offense), and they're both centers. On top of that, the depth chart at the 1-3 positions isn't exactly screaming "playoffs". This team may indeed have a bright future, but that future seems to still be at least a year or two away.
12. Cleveland Cavaliers (30-52)
Kyrie Irving is already a great player. Now he just needs some great sidekicks to get something going, but Cleveland's draft selections (other than Kyrie, obviously) the last couple of years have been some real head-scratchers. They seem to pick based on potential, rather than going for players that are proven to produce. And while that strategy might pay off down the road if those guys can reach their potential, right now I can't justify Tristan Thompson over Valanciunas, or Dion Waiters over Harrison Barnes (or Thomas Robinson, even though he and Thompson play the same position).
The Hopeless (For Now)
13. Washington Wizards (26-58)
I want to put these guys in the category up above, I really do. They have a nice brew of talented players at forward and center, plus a very good point guard to tie it all together. On top of that, they drafted a guy who a lot of experts think of as the best wing player in the 2012 draft class (I disagree - see the next team's blurb) in Bradley Beal. So what's wrong? I don't think they mesh, and their coaching staff doesn't exactly scream "quick reversal of fortune". I can't really explain it any better than that, and I hope they prove me wrong, because it's way past time for DC to have a decent team again.
14. Charlotte Bobcats (23-59)
On draft night, a lot of folks were quick to pan the Cats' decision to draft Michael Kidd-Gilchrist over Thomas Robinson and the aforementioned Beal. Given the Michael Jordan's history as a basketball executive, you can hardly blame anyone for questioning the pick. But MJ seems to have given GM Rich Cho real authority over the decision-making process in Charlotte, and I like what they've done this offseason, especially the pick. MKG has a skillset that would remind most everyone here of a guy named Kawhi Leonard, but with a tenacity and ferocity that would make Stephen Jackson proud. In other words, I like the kid. However, it's going to take at least a couple more years of being terrible and making good decisions before this team can truly turn things around.
15. Orlando Magic (20-62)
I can't really say much about the Dwight trade from the Orlando perspective, other than they accomplished what they wanted to: fielding a terrible team. I would compare this to the year after LeBron left Cleveland, only Dwight didn't have as good a supporting cast as LBJ did. This team is going to be very, very bad. Which is what they wanted. This will be the first year of a long rebuild, and I can't see Orlando getting out of the cellar.
So, there you have it. That's my opinion of the 2012-13 Eastern Conference. Feel free to share your
criticisms opinions in the comments section, and I'll rank the West next week.