2014-2015 Eastern Conference Preview

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Boston Celtics

NBA Titles: 17

2013-14 Record: 25-57

Coach: Brad Stevens

Oh, Hello There: Marcus Smart, James Young, Evan Turner (uh-oh), Marcus Thornton.

Well, It’s Been Real: Kris Humphries, Jerryd Bayless, Joel Anthony.

Celtics Fans Should Be Excited About: Bringing in two very exciting rookies. Marcus Smart looks NBA-ready (he’s built like a linebacker!) and should be excellent defensively from the get-go, while James Young was a steal in the late first-round.

Celtics Fans Should Be Worried About: Uh, the other guys on the team. Other than Rajon Rondo the Celtics don’t have any player who comes close to resembling an All-Star. The lack of established talent in the front-court (sorry, Kelly “the next Dirk” Olynyk, you’re not there yet) also means that teams are going to obliterate them in the paint.

Prediction: This will be another long season for Celtics fans as the rebuild—post-Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett—continues. Expect Rondo to be the final piece of the 2008 championship team to depart if Danny Ainge can find the right deal. 4th in the Atlantic, 12th in the East.

 

Brooklyn Nets

NBA Titles: 0

2013-14 Record: 44-38

Coach: Lionel Hollins

Oh, Hello There: Jarrett Jack, Bojan Bogdanovic.

Well, It’s Been Real: Paul Pierce, Marcus Thornton, Shaun Livingston—oh yeah, and Jason Kidd.

Nets Fans Should Be Excited About: A team that remains talented enough to make the playoffs and (possibly) make some noise if they get the right match-up. Lionel Hollins is a very good coach and should instill a disciplined, defensive ethos into the team, and although Jarrett Jack wasn’t good in Cleveland last year (who was?), he remains one of the better backup point guards in the league. He should be good insurance for the up-and-down Deron Williams.

Nets Fans Should Be Worried About: Losing Paul Pierce, who was a key component of their post-January turnaround last year, playing as a small-ball 4. Integrating Brook Lopez back into the lineup might prove a challenge, as will keeping an ageing roster healthy.

Prediction: The Nets should make the playoffs but the shine, acquired when the franchise moved to Brooklyn two seasons ago, has certainly worn off this team. They’re talented but old, and extremely overpaid. The question now seems to be at what point will owner Mikhail Prokhorov decide to cut and run? 2nd in the Atlantic, 7th in the East.

 

New York Knicks

NBA Titles: 2

2013-14 Record: 37-45

Coach: Derek Fisher

Oh, Hello There: Jose Calderon, Quincy Acy, Samuel Dalembert.

Well, It’s Been Real: Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton (don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Ray).

Knicks Fans Should Be Excited About: The Phil Jackson factor. Jackson convinced Carmelo Anthony to stay in the Big Apple this summer (or maybe it was the $129 million, who knows?) and whatever you say about the guy, he’s a born winner. Not just anyone wins 11 NBA titles.

Knicks Fans Should Be Worried About: Other than the fact that they still have Andrea Bargnani on the roster? Ugh, this group is going to be awful defensively, with Bargnani and Amar’e in the frontcourt. There’s also very little scoring talent besides Melo—and don’t try to convince me that J.R. Smith represents scoring talent.

Prediction: Melo might be overpaid, but on his day he’s the most gifted scorer in the league and could push the Knicks to 40 wins all on his own. His supporting cast, however, is just not good enough in a conference that’s improved this year. 3rd in the Atlantic, 10th in East.

 

Philadelphia 76ers

NBA Titles: 2

2013-14 Record: 19-63

Coach: Brett Brown

Oh, Hello There: Joel Embiid, Luc Mbah a Moute

Well, It’s Been Real: Thaddeus Young.

76ers Fans Should Be Excited About: Finally seeing their 2013 first-round pick, Nerlens Noel, in action. There’s also a chance that Joel Embiid might play towards the end of the year. Those two could go on to form one of the best defensive big-men duos in the league in the years to come.

76ers Fans Should Be Worried About: Another soul-destroying, eye-gouge-inducing season where the team loses 65 games and starts players that not even the most engaged NBA fan have ever heard of. Seriously, look at their roster, how many of those names do you recognize?

Prediction: Sam Hinkie and the Sixers’ front office have a long-term plan in place, which is predicated upon the team being god-awful now in order to succeed in the future through the draft. That won’t make them any easier to watch this season, however. 5th in the Atlantic, 15th in the East.

 

Toronto Raptors

NBA Titles: 0

2013-14 Record: 48-34

Coach: Dwane Casey

Oh, Hello There: James Johnson, Lou Williams, Jordan Hamilton, Bruno Caboclo.

Well, It’s Been Real: Steve Novak, John Salmons.

Raptors Fans Should Be Excited About: The most talented and deepest Raptors roster since the Vince Carter days. This team has star talent in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and boatloads of young potential in Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas.

Raptors Fans Should Be Worried About: Amir Johnson’s health. On his day Johnson is the Raptors’ best defender and they need his bone-crunching screens, rebounding and energy to reach their potential, but the fan-favourite has been dealing with ankle injuries for what feels like an age now.

Prediction: The expectations have never been higher north of the 49th parallel, and with good reason too. The Raptors enter the season with all their key pieces re-signed, and in a conference that has undergone many personnel changes during the summer, that continuity is important. They should be very good. 1st in the Atlantic, 3rd in the East.

 

Chicago Bulls

NBA Titles: 6

2013-14 Record: 48-34

Coach: Tom Thibodeau

Oh, Hello There: Pau Gasol, Aaron Brooks, Doug McDermott (McBuckets!), Nikola Mirotic.

Well, It’s Been Real: Carlos Boozer (And-one!!!), D.J. Augustin.

Bulls Fans Should Be Excited About: If all goes as planned, being a legitimate title contender and being the deepest team in the NBA not named the San Antonio Spurs.

Bulls Fans Should Be Worried About: Derrick Rose staying healthy. The Bulls’ championship aspirations depend on the former league MVP staying on the court and rediscovering his old form. During the summer, playing for Team USA, Rose looked very rusty. That’s got to be a concern.

Prediction: The Bulls have been an elite defensive team throughout Tom Thibodeau’s tenure as coach—and that will continue—but they’ve gone some way towards addressing their offensive deficiencies through signing Pau Gasol and drafting Doug McDermott (an NBA-caliber shooter) and Nikola Mirotic. If Rose performs, they’ll be scary. 2nd in the Central, 2nd in the East.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers

NBA Titles: 0

2013-14 Record: 33-49

Coach: David Blatt

Oh, Hello There: LeBron James (!!!!!!) Kevin Love, Shawn Marion, Mike Miller, James Jones.

Well, It’s Been Real: Jarrett Jack, Tyler Zeller, Anthony Bennett.

Cavaliers Fans Should Be Excited About: Do I even need to say it? Just a little over three months ago, this team was going nowhere and coming off another extremely disappointing, lottery-bound season. On the cusp of the 2014-15 NBA season, however, they’re the most talented team in the league. The Cavaliers are making it fun to live in Cleveland again. Well, maybe.

Cavaliers Fans Should Be Worried About: Everyone geling together straight away. It’s important to remember that although the Miami Heat (LeBron’s last “super team”) went on to reach four straight NBA Finals, they didn’t mesh overnight. The Heat started 9-and-8 in the 2010-11 season, so people need to be level headed about what this team is capable of straight out of the gate.

Prediction: It will take a little adjusting for guys like Love and Irving to get comfortable in their new roles—and the Cavs still need a decent rim protector—but once they find their stride, this team will be an offensive juggernaut and a real championship contender. Fun times in Cleveland again! 1st in the Central, 1st in the East.

 

Detroit Pistons

NBA Titles: 3

2013-14 Record: 29-53

Coach: Stan Van Gundy

Oh, Hello There: Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin, Joel Anthony, Aaron Gray.

Well, It’s Been Real: Rodney Stuckey, Chauncey Billups.

Pistons Fans Should Be Excited About: Everyone’s favourite Ron Jeremy lookalike, Stan Van Gundy. The former Magic head coach has taken a few years away from the grind of the NBA, but he remains one of basketball’s most innovative minds and should be able to mould an extremely talented, but extremely frustrating, collection of individuals pieces into a coherent whole.

Pistons Fans Should Be Worried About: Josh Smith sabotaging his coach’s best efforts by insisting on jacking up a myriad of terrible shots—J-Smoove has never met a shot he didn’t like and he was brutal to watch last season playing at small forward.

Prediction: As he did in Orlando, Van Gundy will run his team through a very talented center—in this case, Andre Drummond—and will attempt to surround him with shooters. That may mean that either Smith or Greg Monroe will come off the bench, giving the team better overall balance. The Pistons won’t make the playoffs this year, but they’ll be much improved. 3rd in the Central, 9th in the East.

 

Indiana Pacers

NBA Titles: 0

2013-14 Record: 56-26

Coach: Frank Vogel

Oh, Hello There: Rodney Stuckey.

Well, It’s Been Real: Lance Stephenson.

Pacers Fans Should Be Excited About: A well-coached team overachieving thanks to a continued commitment to defence—centered around what will hopefully be a bounce-back season for Roy Hibbert—and a “nobody believes in us” attitude.

Pacers Fans Should Be Worried About: Possessing the worst offence in the league. The Pacers were awful offensively after the All-Star break last season and they enter this year without Paul George and Lance Stephenson, their two best players at that end of the floor.

Prediction: After making the Eastern Conference Finals two straight years, Pacers fans should brace themselves for a huge letdown this season. George will be out all season after sustaining that horrific injury and their biggest off-the-dribble threat from last season is now playing in Charlotte. 4th in the Central, 11th in the East.

 

Milwaukee Bucks

NBA Titles: 1

2013-14 NBA Record: 15-67

Coach: Jason Kidd

Oh, Hello There: Jabari Parker, Jerryd Bayless, Jared Dudley, Kendall Marshall.

Well, It’s Been Real: Jeff Adrien.

Bucks Fans Should Be Excited About: Jabari Parker and the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo—two very talented young players who should be the cornerstones of this franchise for many seasons to come. Parker is an early favourite to win Rookie of the Year and Antetokounmpo will be fascinating to watch as he learns the point guard position.

Bucks Fans Should Be Worried About: Another losing season in which fans in Milwaukee are subjected to multiple blowouts and a tonne of losses. Also, this could be the last chance saloon for centre Larry Sanders who has proven to be nothing more than a distraction during the last two seasons.

Prediction: The Jason Kidd off-season saga will continue to overshadow the franchise for a while—the Bucks didn’t cover themselves in glory there—but there is hope on the horizon with a lot of young talent on the roster. That talent won’t translate to any meaningful success this season, however. 5th in the Central, 14th in the East.

 

Atlanta Hawks

NBA Titles: 0

2013-14 Record: 38-44

Coach: Mike Budenholzer

Oh, Hello There: Kent Bazemore, Thabo Sefolosha.

Well, It’s Been Real: Gustavo Ayon, Lou Williams.

Hawks Fans Should Be Excited About: The return of one of the league’s most underrated players, Al Horford. The immensely versatile two-way centre missed much of last season due to injury but should be good to go on opening night.

Hawks Fans Should Be Worried About: Danny Ferry—the under-fire Danny Ferry, that is—deciding to fast track the Hawks into a rebuilding process by trading Horford for a pick and starting over. The Hawks are incredibly flexible cap-wise and if they start off slow, the front office may start making moves.

Prediction: The Hawks scraped into the post-season last year without their best player and still took the Pacers to seven games. If everyone stays healthy this season, Atlanta should once again make the playoffs, while doing their best Spurs Lite impersonation. 4th in the Southeast, 8th in the East.

 

Charlotte Hornets

NBA Titles: 0

2013-14 NBA Record: 43-39

Coach: Steve Clifford

Oh, Hello There: Lance Stephenson (brace yourself, Charlotte), Jason Maxiell, Noah Vonleh, Marvin Williams.

Well, It’s Been Real: Josh McRoberts.

Hornets Fans Should Be Excited About: Other than a long overdue rebranding and the return of one of the best court designs of all time (the honeycomb is back!), Hornets fans should be very excited about a team that has built off the surprise success of last season by acquiring the unpredictable, but very talented, Lance Stephenson.

Hornets Fans Should Be Worried About: Lance Stephenson. Lance giveth, but Lance also taketh away. The Pacers didn’t make too much effort to re-sign Born Ready in the off-season with many suggesting that the two-guard was a major locker-room headache. Charlotte built great chemistry last season and it’s important that no one rocks the boat.

Prediction: The Hornets were a solid defensive team last season, but apart from Big Al down low, they lacked some spark offensively. Stephenson looks set to give this team the offensive edge they need to take them to the next step in their development. 3rd in the Southeast, 6th in the East.

 

Miami Heat

NBA Titles: 3

2013-14 Record: 54-28

Coach: Erik Spoelstra

Oh, Hello There: Josh McRoberts, Luol Deng, Danny Granger.

Well, It’s Been Real: LeBron James (at least you tried, Pat Riley), James Jones, Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis.

Heat Fans Should Be Excited About: Living in a city with great beaches, great restaurants, great nightlife, oh, and checking out an NBA game once in a while. In all seriousness, it should be fun to see how the team rebounds from LeBron’s departure and how Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh cope with their expanded roles.

Heat Fans Should Be Worried About: How Wade’s knees hold up. With LeBron’s departure from South Beach, Wade will have to take on a greater role—a role closer to the one he had before the Big 3 came together. Over the last few years Wade hasn’t been able to stay healthy for a full season, but his team desperately needs him to play 82 games now.

Prediction: The Heat won’t be anywhere close to contending for a title this season, and their roster is one or two injuries away from disaster. But at the top end, with Bosh, Wade and Luol Deng (not to mention Spoelstra’s great coaching) there’s still enough talent to challenge for a high playoff seed. 2nd in the Southeast, 5th in the East.

 

Orlando Magic

NBA Titles: 0

2013-14 Record: 23-59

Coach: Jacque Vaughn

Oh, Hello There: Evan Fournier, Ben Gordon (he’s still in the league?), Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, Channing Frye.

Well, It’s Been Real: Arron Afflalo, Jason Maxiell, Jameer Nelson.

Magic Fans Should Be Excited About: What should be a young, athletic and extremely explosive team. Orlando, with Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic, has a exciting front-court and Aaron Gordon, although raw, could be the next Blake Griffin in terms of must-watch YouTube moments.

Magic Fans Should Be Worried About: A lack of veteran leadership and poor coaching. Every young team needs a couple of wise old heads around to provide direction and the Magic are a little rudderless in that regard.

Prediction: The Magic should be a must-watch League Pass favourite, but they’ll struggle to win games as their young plays continue to go through some growing pains. Expect coach Jacque Vaughn to be on the hotseat if they get off to a rocky start. 5th in the Southeast, 13th in the East.

 

Washington Wizards

NBA Titles: 1

2013-14 Record: 44-38

Coach: Randy Wittman

Oh, Hello There: Paul Pierce, DeJuan Blair, Kris Humphries.

Well, It’s Been Real: Al Harrington, Trevor Ariza.

Wizards Fans Should Be Excited About: The fact that there hasn’t been a more talented team in the franchise’s history since the days of Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes—and the team wasn’t even called the Wizards back then. John Wall and company, coming off their upset win over the Bulls in last year’s playoffs, are for real.

Wizards Fans Should Be Worried About: The loss of Bradley Beal. The dynamic shooting guard will be out for a while with a broken wrist, which immensely affects the balance of the team. Beal, with his perimeter shooting, is the perfect complement to John Wall’s slash-and-kick game. They’ll miss him a lot.

Prediction: The loss of Beal will hurt, but the Wizards are talented and balanced enough to ride out his absence. And in Paul Pierce the team has a veteran leader who will be able to take over much of the late-game scoring responsibilities. 1st in the Southeast, 4th in the East. 

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