2013-14 Eastern Conference Projection: The Heat NOT the Top Team, Pistons Are Improving, and the 76ers Are Really Bad

         

Jul 18, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; From left Paul Pierce , Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry during a press conference to introduce the newest members of the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

           Football season may not have started yet, but it’s never too early to start projecting how the NBA season will shake out! Here’s a complete list of how I think the Eastern conference will break down. Enjoy everyone!

1) Brooklyn Nets: Do I dare put a completely retooled team with Jason Kidd as their coach ahead of the two-time defending champion Miami Heat? Of course! This roster is stacked from top to bottom, and even if one of the veterans, such as Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce, goes down, there are more than serviceable guys on the pine (Reggie Evans and Andrei Kirilenko) that can take their place. Their bench, with the acquisitions of Jason Terry, Alan Anderson, Shaun Livingston and Mason Plumlee has also greatly improved, and Reggie Evans being moved to a sixth man spot opens him up to be a high-energy guy off the bench. On paper the team looks superb (I’m aware that doesn’t always mean something), and if Brook Lopez can develop a bit more toughness and rebound a bit better, I believe it will be enough to knock the Heat from the top spot.
2) Miami Heat: Before you guys go bashing me because this for being a bitter Cleveland fan (this is a Cleveland website after all) I actually do have evidence to back up my claims. The bench has not been strengthened at all, and some of the important role players (Ray Allen, Chris Andersen, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem) are getting older and seem to be losing some of their playing ability. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade will still be great, and there should be continued development from Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, but I think decreased bench production will move them down a peg.
3) Chicago Bulls: Never the flashy pick, but the Bulls get results every year. Thibodeau and co. are obviously strengthened by the highly anticipated return of Derrick Rose, but they also made an underrated move to bring in a good scorer in Mike Dunleavy. With still one of the best frontcourts in the game (Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah), this team will be very good. They play great defense, rebound extremely well and are deep but lack the offensive punch needed to break through to the top of the conference.
4) Indiana Pacers: The Pacers continued their quirky drafting habits, using their only pick to take projected second-rounder Solomon Hill at 23. Indiana’s biggest weakness was scoring off the bench, and Hill doesn’t add much punch, but the acquisitions of Luis Scola and Chris Copeland give the team two new weapons off the pine. The starting five is still very good (I expect Lance Stephenson to really explode this year), and if they can get a healthy Danny Granger, they could vault as high as 2nd in the conference.
5) Cleveland Cavaliers: By this point, you’re probably convinced that I’m a biased Cleveland writer. Honestly, I really do take any chance I can get to be critical of this team. Really, I do! Anyway, the Cavs have made a huge splash this offseason, completely revamping their roster through free agency (Earl Clark, Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack) and the draft (Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev). While getting all the pieces enough playing time may be an issue, a huge offseason talent influx should bring the Cavs into the playoffs, and the development of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters could put them into a potential top 4 spot. With that being said, if Irving’s and Bynum’s health problems continue, and if the young pieces don’t pan out, this team could fall out of playoff contention.
6) Detroit Pistons: To me, one of the most intriguing teams in the NBA, the Pistons are just oozing with young talent. Brandon Jennings, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Greg Monroe, Peyton Siva, Tony Mitchell and Andre Drummond are all 23 or younger, and the addition of Chauncey Billups gives them well-needed veteran leadership. Drummond is a developing superstar, adding Jennings and Josh Smith gives the Pistons top-flight players that they have not had in the past years, and having veteran coach Maurice Cheeks at the helm should lead to a huge turnaround for the Pistons, who could be one of the best teams in the league in a few years.
7) New York Knicks: I see a big slide for the Knicks due to an over reliance on Carmelo Anthony and my belief that he can’t replicate the production he had last year. I don’t see Andrea Bargnani or Metta World Peace making a huge impact, and with Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert being inefficient scorers, there are only two consistent scoring threats on the roster (Anthony and J.R. Smith). If Tim Hardaway Jr. adjusts to the NBA game quickly and becomes a legitimate scoring option and if Amare Stoudemire can stay healthy, this team could sneak into the fourth or fifth spot; otherwise, I see them stumbling into the playoffs.
8) Toronto Raptors: Quietly, I believe the Raptors are developing into quite a good team. They made a big move simply by dumping Andrea Bargnani, which should open up developing center Jonas Valanciunas to have a big year. The newly acquired Steve Novak should provide a nice piece to complement Terrence Ross off the bench, and the starting unit should be bolstered by having Rudy Gay for a full season. Kyle Lowry has always been underrated at the point, and I believe that this year he will be an All-Star and lead the Raptors into the playoffs.
9) Atlanta Hawks: Losing Josh Smith really hurts the Hawks, not only because of his scoring ability, but for his ability to do a little of everything else too. Although they picked up Paul Millsap, losing Smith and his 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.2 steals per game will be tough to replace. Al Horford and Millsap will keep them afloat, and the development of young point guard Dennis Schroeder will be intriguing, but just losing Smith may be enough to knock the Hawks out of the playoff picture.
10)Washington Wizards: Another very young team, the Wizards seem to be on the upswing. Despite a lousy summer league performance, Otto Porter should still have a productive rookie season, and gunner Bradley Beal should continue the improvement seen in the second half of his rookie season to develop into a great young shooting guard. The team also saw a big improvement when John Wall played last year; if he can stay healthy for the whole season, the Wizards will be in the playoff picture.
11) Boston Celtics: Another young team that should be fun to watch whether they’re good or bad. Brad Stevens has Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green to build around and a bunch of young talent to work with. How play time will be allocated with so many young players (Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Jordan Crawford, MarShon Brooks, Avery Bradley) in the mix will be interesting, and how Stevens will fare at the NBA level will definitely be worth watching. I believe good play from Rondo and at least one of the young guys developing into a good player will keep Boston from the cellar of the conference. 
12) Orlando Magic: I don’t mean to sound like a broken record but… they have young talent. Nikola Vucevic exploded onto the scene last year and was a real shining light for a lousy team. Andrew Nicholson and Maurice Harkless both showed promise, and Tobias Harris played well down the stretch. Victor Oladipo should develop into a good player in time, and the Magic should be in playoff contention in a couple of years, but they lack enough offensive punch to be competitive in the East currently.
13) Charlotte Bobcats: Man, this team is weird. They seemingly draft Cody Zeller due to his ability to play right away (and perhaps to get first in line for the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes), and then they go out and get Al Jefferson. With the signing of Jefferson, and the continued growth of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker, the Bobcats seem to be slowly improving as a team. They should be more competitive than they have been in prior years, but seeing the Bobcats in the playoffs is still a few years away.
14) Milwaukee Bucks: If the Bucks were a person that underwent a makeover, I would describe their new look as “hideous.” They picked up three guards (Gary Neal, Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo), none of which can pass the ball very well and lost their top two scorers, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. Getting two point guards that don’t pass well won’t help develop their young players (Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Henson, Larry Sanders), and their high volume shooting doesn’t fit in with the rest of the team’s rebuilding effort. Sanders should be a bright spot for the Bucks, but no number of blocks can salvage this mess.
15) Philadelphia 76ers: Yikes. This roster is…spooky. If there was ever a season for Thaddeus Young or Evan Turner to break out, this is it, as there really aren’t any guys that need shots on this team. With a 2014 first-round draft pick in the Nerlens Noel deal, and a probable lottery pick from their record, next year could be big in rebuilding, but until then, it could be ugly. Personally, I am a little interested in how Royce White, Arnett Moultrie and Michael Carter-Williams will perform, as all should see a decent amount of playing time. On one last note, Kwame Brown is also on this team, and he’s making almost three million dollars next year. His presence in the NBA has got to be some kind of inside joke or something, I swear.
          Well that’s it. Feel free to leave comments below! Like the article? Let me know! Hate it? Let me know! Think I’m a biased know-nothing? I’ll gladly listen! No Eastern Conference projection discussion is bad discussion!

Topics: Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat

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