Eastern Conference Power Rankings: Offseason Edition

Hornets-Offseason
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1. Cleveland

Last Year: 33-49
Prediction: 54-28

I struggled hard with this one. On one hand, the Cavs just added the greatest player in the game at the peak of his prime AND a Top 10 player (Kevin Love) who fits perfectly opposite Lebron at the other forward spot. On the other hand, aside from King James, the Cavs don’t have a single player under thirty who has any Playoff experience. Also, they have an NBA newbie for a head coach and exactly two players who have positive reputations on defense – one of whom misses 30 games every season (Anderson Varejao).
But I’m gonna go with the Cavs as Beasts of the East mainly because:
A. Offense wins in the regular season – Cleveland will be an absolute FORCE at that end AND…
B. Lebron is the league’s best player and he never gets hurt. Unlike…

2. Chicago

Last Year: 48-34
Prediction: 53-29

The Bulls have the league’s best defensive coach and the best three-man big rotation in the league now with Pau Gasol joining Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. If 23-year old Nik Mirotic lives up to the euro-hype, you can make that the league’s best four man big rotation.
The questions start at the wings. Jimmy Butler has developed into Kawhi-East and should only get better – he’s still just 24 – but the Bulls are banking on unproven youngsters Tony Snell and Doug McDermott being ready to play meaningful minutes.
Then there’s the Derrick Rose question. Rose hasn’t played 80 games in a season since Obama’s first term. Amazingly, he’s still just 25 – but the last dynamic young guy to miss this much time was Brandon Roy. Hopefully, Rose can avoid that type of future and come back one hundred percent. If not, Bulls’ fans will be getting a steady diet of Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks.

3. Charlotte

Last Year: 43-39
Prediction: 47-35

This is where the East gets interesting. Washington, Brooklyn and Charlotte finished within a game of each other last season. Two of those teams improved during the offseason, while the Nets took a step back. I have Charlotte over Washington simply because:
A. The Hornets significantly upgraded their weakest position from last season (Shooting Guard). The Wiz’s biggest move was replacing contract-year Trevor Ariza with 36-year old Paul Pierce.
B. The Hornets have a significant amount of 23 and younger players (Cody Zeller, MKG, Lance, Kemba) who should improve to varying degrees. The Wiz duo of Wall and Beal will get better as well but the jury’s still WAY OUT on guys like Otto Porter and Glen Rice, Jr. who’ve never logged a meaningful minute of NBA action.
C. The Hornets have a significant coaching/GM advantage. Steve Clifford’s defensive system will only get more advanced and more precise. Rich Cho is crafty enough to pull off a midseason deal to improve the team for both the long and short term. Wiz fans are and should be afraid that both Randy Whittman and Ernie Grunfeld signed extensions in during the offseason.
D. The Hornets have the best player on either team. Big Al was All-NBA. John Wall is a fantastic young player but isn’t there yet.
E. The newly rebranded Hornets are going to have a tremendous homecourt advantage. Long time Charlotte NBA fans and old-school Hornets holdouts will be rocking the Hive for all 41 games.

4. Washington

Last Year: 44-38
Prediction: 45-37

The middle of the East is going to beat up on each other. Don’t expect nearly as many gimmes as there were last season. In fact, the entire SE Divison should be a bloodbath. The Hawks, Heat, Hornets and Wiz will all likely top .500. I like the Wizards chances as a Top 4 seed. They are built to win now and adding Paul Pierce was the right move for a franchise trying to build a winning culture. In fact, if it weren’t for the coaching imbalance and the relatively thin bench behind the starters, I’d have Washington closer to 50 wins in a tougher conference.

5. Miami

Last Year: 54-28
Prediction: 44-38

Yes they lost the best player in the game and are left with a ton of guys on the down swing of their careers. But they also still have Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Luol Deng on the roster, a fantastic young coach and a ton of super-savvy veteran role players not to mention pride. This team is no lay down Sally. As long as Wade can stay upright, consider the Heat – at minimum – a middle of the pack Eastern Conference contender.

6. Toronto

Last Year: 48-34
Prediction: 43-39

The Raps did a great job of beating up on their weak home division (11-5) and the bottom feeders of the Conference (32-20 overall). They should be able to win their the Atlantic again this season with the Nets regressing, the Knicks standing pat and the Celtics and Sixers rebuilding. But Toronto is gambling that a combination of continuity and internal growth is enough to keep them in the East’s Top Four. With the middle of the Conference getting crowded, that bet may very well backfire.

7. Atlanta

Last Year: 38-44
Prediction: 43-39

The Hawks confuse me. In theory, a Horford/Millsap/Teague combo should be very good. And they have a tremendous amount of outside shooting and a very good coach and general manager. But Atlanta is also an under-the-radar “old” team. Aside from raw German phenom Dennis Schroeder and 23-year old rookie Adrien Payne, the Hawks don’t have much in terms of young guys who could break out. Also, you have to imagine the best coaches in the East like Clifford, Van Gundy, Spoelstra, etc – spent the offseason figuring out how to neutralize the Hawks gimmicky three point barrage. They’ll be good but don’t expect the Hawks to run away with the Conference even if they manage to stay healthy.

8. Brooklyn

Last Year: 44-38
Prediction: 40-42

Getting Lopez back will help as will upgrading from Jason Kidd to Lionel Hollins. But they lost Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston – who were both key starters on last year’s 44 win team. Hell, they might’ve been the Nets BEST starters for much of the season. Kevin Garnett is another year older and can only be counted on for spot minutes. Joe Johnson is a 33-year old wing. The team’s “leader” is Deron Williams and whenever you’re counting on D-Will to lead your team out of adversity, you’re in trouble. Also: 7ft+ guys with foot problems scare me. A lot.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN:

Indiana. This team struggled to score with Lance Stephenson and Paul George on the floor. Now they’ll replace them with Rodney Stuckey and CJ Miles. This is an ’96-’97 Spurs tank year for Indy – the roster is a Hibbert trade away from being garbage.

New York. They’ll threaten .500 but it’s fairly obvious that the Knicks are more concerned about the next season, not the coming one – once Amare’s contract comes off the books, and Fisher/P-Jax figure out what they’re trying to build, the Knicks will likely be back on the road to relevance.

Detroit. SVG was a great coaching hire. Great GM hire? We’ll have to see about that. Some odd personnel moves were made this summer and the Pistons still haven’t resolved either the Josh Smith or Greg Monroe situations.

NOT WORTH TALKING ABOUT (YET):
Boston, Milwaukee, Orlando, Philly.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

Eastern Conference Power Rankings – July 14, 2009

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Rankings as of July 14, 2009

Bobcats Baseline Eastern Conference Power Rankings

THE EASTERN CONFERENCE IS PUMPED!

After a few weeks of trades, free-agent signings and draft selections, we thought we’d unleash the first Bobcats Baseline Eastern Conference Power Rankings in order to see how close (or how far) the Bobcats are from challenging for a spot in the Top 8.

Orlando has to be the undisputed winner thus far as they’ve admirably decided to GO FOR IT as a small-market team.  The Celts, Hawks and Wizards get big points as well for being pro-active thus far in the offseason.  Meanwhile, a quiet Bobcats franchise had better hope Gerald Henderson’s first two summer-league games (0 pts followed by a DNP) were flukes – or they better have a Plan B.

The top half of the Conference looks scary, btw.  The old adage of “if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse” will definitely apply this year.

Let’s see how the teams stack up thus far:

RANK PRVS Notes
1 3 Although the Magic lost both Hedu and Courtney Lee, they quickly reloaded with Vince Carter and Brandon Bass.  Ryan Anderson might not be so bad either. With the Celts health in question and the Cavs having a less than stellar offseason, the Magic look set to repeat as Eastern Conference champs.
2 2 Even if they don’t re-sign Big Baby, Rasheed is a HUGE upgrade. If healthy, the Celtics might make it two championships out of three next June.
3 1 Any team with Lebron is a lock for the top three in the conference. Bringing back Varejao is nice (if a bit expensive) but a team with a slow, lumbering veteran center (Z) adds another (Shaq) in the offseason. How ironic. Lebron, D-Wade and Bosh’s “mini-max” deals are deterring key Free Agents from playing alongside them.
4 4 Under the radar busy this offseason, the Hawks have re-upped Bibby and Pachulia, traded for Jamal Crawford and drafted Wake’s Jeff Teague. They played it smart by settling up with their Unrestricted FAs first and will probably take care of Restricted FA Marvin Williams later this summer. The Hawks are a strong squad.
5 5 D-Wade and company are going to have a tough time finishing this high again next season with a much more competitive Eastern Conference. If the front office keeps standing Pat, the Heat could find themselves out of the playoffs come April.
6 7 The Bulls pushed a depleted Celtics team to seven games. They lost their crunch-time scorer to Detroit but could balance out their roster with a potential trade for Carlos Boozer. If that deal goes through, move the Bulls up a spot or two.
7 15 Not a big fan of Mike Miller, Randy Foye or Flip Saunders individually but as a group, combined with a healthy Agent Zero, Jamison and Caron Butler, the Wiz should out-score every team in the conference and be good for at least 45 wins.
8 8 Adding Ben Gordon, Charlie V. and Austin Daye while subtracting Rasheed, Iverson and McDyess will inject youth while sacrificing experience. Question is, how will championship holdovers Prince and Hamilton react to their fourth coach since the ’04 Title.
9 10 The quietest team this offseason in the Eastern Conference, the Bobcats will add Dookie Gerald Henderson to a squad that went through a dramatic overhaul last season. Perhaps one more year under coach Larry Brown will be enough to sneak into the top eight in the East.
10 9 Looks like they’ll replace the departing Jarrett Jack, Marquis Daniels and Rasho Nestorovic with Dahntay Jones and Tyler Hansbrough. Maybe not enough to repeat their one game lead over the Bobcats last season.
11 6 This could be the team on the decline in the conference. Last year’s massive FA signing of Elton Brand did little but stifle both their cap and their up-tempo attack and now there are rumblings that the Knicks could pry away the team’s glue – Andre Miller. If Miller walks, don’t expect the Sixers back in the post-season.
12 11 For upside fanatics, there’s a lot to like about this team. Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, T-Will and Courtney Lee are quality young guys. Unfortunately, they may have to wait until next year to make any serious noise…possibly with a new SF wearing #23.
13 13 The Raptors essentially replace Shawn Marion, Anthony Parker and half of their bench for Hedo Turkoglu. Then they turn around a drop $50 million on Bargnani in order to save face for making the second worse draft selection in 2006 (yeah, after AMMO). Does anybody out there think that the Raps have more than a 2% chance of re-upping Bosh after the season?
14 14 I’m not really sure I understand what’s going on here. Knicks were pursuing Grant Hill and now may be close to signing 30+ year old PG Andre Miller? All while letting Nate Robinson and David Lee (potentially) walk? Why would Lebron choose to join this mess when he could lead a team of young studs in New Jersey to the promise land for a solid decade?
15 12 This team makes absolutely no sense to me – check that, it’s run by a United States Senator, of course it’s going to be inefficient, bland and confusing. Just like the DMV or the Tax Code. Bogut’s a decent young center, Redd needs to be moved to a team that can win now (Cleveland) and Sessions should try to get out while he still can.

*Previous Rank determined by final ’08-’09 regular season standings.

-ASChin