Sunday, October 28, 2007

2007-08 NBA Preview: Eastern Conference




Overview: The Celtics have Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett. That's all you need to know about the East this year.

Atlantic

1. Boston Celtics. Danny Ainge suddenly turned into a genius this summer, nabbing a seven-time All-Star and a Future Hall-of-Fame big man to come play with P To The Second Power. Then, he used the remaining cap space to fill out the roster with proven veteran specialist: Eddie House (the gunner, instant offense off the bench), James Posey (the defender), and Scot Pollard (the scrappy rebounder/hustler). Also, Tony Allen, who was showing signs last year before a knee injury ended his season (11.5 points, 1.5 steals in 33 games) is back and poised to contribute. Maybe Rondo isn't a true point guard, but he has the potential to be a force defensively (1.6 steals in only 23.5 minutes a night as a rookie last season) and seriously, all he has to do is get the ball past half-court; the big boys will take care of the rest. And maybe Kendrick Perkins sucks, but if he can't get 10 points a game on a team where NOBODY is going to paying attention to him, he should be excommunicated. And maybe Bill Simmons is down on Doc, but just remember, seven years ago he coached an Orlando team with Darrell Armstrong, John Amechi, and Chucky Atkins as his big three and somehow managed to get them to a .500 record in winning Coach of the Year; now, he's got one of the very best pure scorers in the league, one of the top three shooters of all-time, and one of the best all-around big men of all-time. 23 combined All-Star selections in 32 combined seasons, all three still at or near their respective primes, all three happy to be playing with the other two and hungry (starving) for a championship. The East will belong to them.

2. New Jersey Nets. Jason Kidd, like Wee-bey, is solid as a rock. They locked up Vince. They added Magloire. Youthful energy (Marcus Williams, Antoine Wright, Sean Williams) a shooter (Nachbar) and a selfless role player coming off the bench (Jason Collins Twin). If Kristic can come back from that torn ACL (he was having a breakout year last year before the injury, 16 and 7 on 53 percent shooting) and Rich Jeff can avoid the injury that's been biting him these past few years (80 games missed over the last three seasons), this is Boston's most serious challenger.

3. Toronto Raptors. Chris Bosh, at 23, may already be a better offensive player than Jermaine O'neal ever was. His next move is to step it up defensively by boosting those paltry block numbers (only 1.3 a game last year, a disgrace for someone with his height, length, and athleticism). Also, Andre Bargnani is the next Dirk Nowitzki; look for a 17-6 from him this year. Brian Collangelo knows what he's doing here. Toronto fans, you're in good hands.

4. New York Knicks. Seriously, do you really need Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph? Isn't that almost like having Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury? And why take minutes away from David Lee? SI has them finishing sixth in the East this year. I don't see it.

5. Philadelphia 76ers. Iggy is the closest thing to Scottie Pippen since Scottie Pippen. Unfortunately, there's no Michael Jordan on this team.

Central

1. Detroit Pistons. The worst thing that ever happened to this team was losing Larry Brown (and vice versa, but that's for another post), because he demanded that they play world-class defense and efficient offense, and he never let up. When he left, the intensity and sense of urgency and, maybe most importantly, the pride went with him. This isn't the same tough, gritty, never-rattle, never-crack defensive oriented team that we all respected, the one that made the Finals two years in a row and almost won consecutive titles. Did you see them get punked by LeBron in Game 5 of the East Finals last year? Would that have happened in 2005? Hell no. Sure, they'll get their 50-plus wins and another division crown, but they're no longer built for the playoffs. The style and mentality ain't the same, and the heart don't beat like it used to.

2. Chicago Bulls. I like Hinrich, I like Madison Square Gordon, and I really, really like Luol Deng, although I question how high his ceiling is since he's not a super-athlete. Ty Thomas has a chance to become K-Mart 2.0, and I think Noah will be a uniquely good big man on this level. But Ben Wallace is their best low-post scorer. Need I say more?

3. Cleveland Cavaliers. I see Danny Gibson having a strong year. I remember SI doing a piece on college basketball's best point guards three years ago, during his freshman year, and projected him as a future All-Star. Then he didn't get any better his sophomore year and fell to the second round of a weak draft. When I realized Cleveland had him, I remember thinking to myself, "What a steal!!!" (okay, I wasn't that excited), and then wondering why Mike Brown wasn't starting him over the likes of Eric Snow. Then, in the playoffs against Detroit, he made a name for himself with his outside shooting against Detroit. And I called it!!! I knew this kid could play!!! I knew he shouldn't have fallen so far in the draft!!! How can you go from future All-Star to second-rounder in a weak draft in the span of the year? Not to go all Simmons on you, but I guess I'm just smarter than the GM's.

Anyways, I don't think he's a future All-Star because I don't know if he's good enough of a distributor. Although if Cleveland ever becomes good enough and starts winning championships, I guess he could, similar to Tony Parker in San Antonio. You know, the coaches feel compelled to give great teams more than one All-Star. Alright, I'm going off on a tangent. The Cavs have two valuable role guys from last years team (Varejao and Pavlovic) that remain unsigned, and threaten to play overseas if their demands aren't met (and seriously, you should see their demands, they're ridiculous, these two must not want to play in the NBA again). Even if LeBron decides, "You know what, I want to win the MVP this year, I'm gonna tear through the league this season," and throws up a 33, 8, and 8, it still won't be enough to get them back to the Finals if Boston stays healthy.

4. Milwaukee Bucks. I'll pass, thank you.

5. Indiana Pacers. Maybe this will convince the legend the Legend to finally trade J.O. and officially begin the rebuilding process. The window for a championship is closed, they put a lock on it, they threw away the key, nobodies been inside since Artest was traded. Time to blow the house to smithereens and start over.

Southeast

1. Washington Wizards. I think if they were to get a true point guard and move Gilbert to the two where he belongs, they'd get most out of his potential as an individual and the most out of the team. I'd just like to see what would happen.

2. Miami Heat. Adding Ricky Davis helped, but even with D-Wade kicking ass 100% by Christmas, it won't be nearly enough. At least they got their championship already.

3. Orlando Magic. Boston took their playoff spot.

4. Charlotte Bobcats. Uh-oh, Money is making up for all the stupid moves he made in Washington. The J-Rich swipe was absolutlely shrewd, that was just what they needed. He could go for 25 a game this year. Still not enough to crack the top 8, but they're getting closer.

5. Atlanta Hawks. You know who still sucks though? The Hawks.

Projected conference finish and record in parentheses:

1. Boston 55-27
2. Detroit 53-29
3. Chicago 51-31
4. Wahington 46-36
5. Cleveland 50-32 (Come on, they have LeBron)
6. New Jersey 49-33
7. Toronto 47-35
8. Miami 45-37
9. Orlando 43-39
10. New York 37-45
11. Charlotte 35-47
12. Milwaukee 32-50
13. Atlanta 30-52
14. Pacers 29-53
15. Philadelphia 28-54

Back with the West preview tomorrow or the next day, I got mid-terms this week comin' up.

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