NBA East: LeBron alone keeps the Heat up

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 9.54.39 PMThe Eastern Conference the past few years has been much like an elephant holding an anvil while desperately clinging to the top of a pool noodle.  It is so extremely top heavy that the first round of the playoffs are nearly a bore.

The Eastern Conference’s top 6 spots are as close to a lock as you can get, with the last two spots, however meaningless, being fought over by the ailing and inept.

This is not to say the East should be taken lightly, as the eventual champion has come from the east coast the past two seasons.  This conference just happens to house some of the best basketball teams in the nation all the while dragging the lottery lovers along as well, with not much in between.  This year will be no exception.

Even though the East still has a high rollover risk when going around sharp turns, it has added more depth to the point that it will provide at least two exciting first round matchups before the heavyweights take to the ring.

For those who read my article last week on the West, you may recall I said there were only 4.5 legitimate contenders in the East, and I would like to rephrase that:  There are 4.5 legitimate non-pretenders.

How do I get half a team?  The 5 seed in the East is not a threat to the others, but isn’t bad enough to be lumped in with the notorious sub-.500 teams that make the playoffs in the East, so it gets half a style point.

Like the Western Conference last week, I will use a tier system to separate the teams in the East.  October is here, so I will use the best (and worst) Halloween candy as representatives for each tier.


Tier 1:  Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.   It doesn’t get much better.


Miami Heat

TSR Projected Conference Seed: 1

TSR Projected Division Rank: 1

Mike Miller is gone.  That’s it.  That’s all that’s left South Beach.

The former champions added Michael Beasley and Greg Oden for depth down low.  They also still have LeBron James.  This is obviously the favorite to hoist the O’Brien trophy and also the team with the target on their backs.

I foresee one problem that appeared toward the end of the playoffs last season:  the Heat are turning into the Miami Cavaliers.  Dwayne Wade’s knees are clearly not what they used to be, and Chris Bosh seemingly disappears from the court at times.  The Big 3 turns to a Big 1.  The saving grace:  Their Big 1 can carry the team to a championship.


Indiana Pacers

TSR Projected Conference Seed: 2

TSR Projected Division Rank: 1

The Pacers posed the biggest challenge to the Heat out of the Eastern Conference last season, where they fell just one game short of meeting the Spurs.

Their problem last year was lack of offense when Paul George and Roy Hibbert left the floor.  It is safe to say that problem has been fixed.  The Pacers have added depth by signing Luis Scola and C.J. Watson to come off the bench.

Former All-Star Danny Granger is also returning to the Pacers’ lineup after being sidelined for most of last season, pushing the lightning rod Lance Stephenson to the bench.

They are looking for revenge in Indiana, and I think this just might be the year they find it.


Brooklyn Nets

TSR Projected Conference Seed: 3

TSR Projected Division Rank: 1

Brooklyn made yet another disappointing first round exit last season when Nate Robinson’s Bulls beat them in seven games.

This offseason they raised Miami’s “Big Three” with their “Big Five” lineup of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Brook Lopez.  Easily one of the best starting lineups in the league, both now and eight years ago.  They also added Jason Terry who came with Pierce and Garnett in the trade with Boston.

The question in Brooklyn will be how quickly they can get these pieces to mesh.  The talent is there, but ask the Philadelphia Eagles if a bunch of talent always lead to wins.  Time is of the essence however, because three-fifths of that lineup will be preparing retirement speeches soon.


Tier 2:  Snicker’s.  Not quite a Reese’s, but close enough.


Chicago Bulls

TSR Projected Conference Seed: 4

TSR Projected Division Rank: 2

One of the most watched events of last season’s playoffs was the highly anticipated return of Derrick Rose.  It had a very anti-climactic ending.

He is back now, though, along with Mike Dunleavy, who hopes to bolster the bench scoring of the Bulls.

Yes, Derrick Rose was the MVP before he left.  Yes, he is a great point guard. Yes, he will make the Bulls better.  BUT, there is not enough talent around him to get out of the Eastern Conference.

Defense will be the Bulls mantra, as it has been under Tom Thibodeau, and that will propel them to home-court in the playoffs, that’s all.


Tier 3: Butterfinger.   A Reese’s knockoff that takes hours to get out of your teeth, but still leaves you wanting more after you eat it.


New York Knicks

TSR Projected Conference Seed: 5

TSR Projected Division Rank: 2

This is my half-a-star-non-pretender team.  After being bounced in the second round by the Pacers, the Knicks traded for Andrea Bargnani, a big man who likes to shoot the three-ball at an awful percentage.  They also signed Metta World Peace, who has claimed to be perfectly content coming off the bench behind Melo.

The Knicks are only going as far as Carmelo Anthony can take them, as they drastically need another offensive option.  If Amare Stoudemire can come back to be even a fraction of the player he once was, the Knicks may have a chance to pose a threat.

But as it stands today, they are porous defensively (Bargnani doesn’t help in this department either) with the exception of Tyson Chandler in the middle and World Peace off the bench.  They have minimal offense other than Melo.   Recipe for bottom half playoff team in the East.


Detroit Pistons

TSR Projected Conference Seed: 6

TSR Projected Division Rank: 3

The Pistons have made some noise this offseason, landing free agent Josh Smith and acquiring the speedster Brandon Jennings.  These players will complement the young Detroit front court of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

There are two potential problems for the Pistons here:

1) They intend to use Josh Smith at small forward.  Smith has had a knack for taking outside jumpers that he is not apt to hit, and not attack the rim, one of his best abilities.  If he is placed on the arc, the Pistons could be compounding the problem.

2) There is an extreme lack of depth at all positions.  You are not in a good place if you’re depending on Charlie Villanueva and Kyle Singler to come off the bench.


Tier 4: Nerds.  An addicting sugary crunch that leaves you with a stomach ache after you eat about nine boxes.


Cleveland Cavaliers

TSR Projected Conference Seed: 7

TSR Projected Division Rank: 4

Cleveland has been awful for a few years now, and thus landed the top pick in this summer’s draft where they shocked the world by taking Anthony Bennett.

They also pilfered Andrew Bynum and his two bum knees along instant offense in Jarrett Jack.  Mike Brown is also back at the helm in Cleveland to see if he can replicate his results from the LeBron years.

The Cavs still have their young talent in the backcourt with Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, and Tristan Thompson.  There are a lot of injury prone players here, surrounded with minimal depth, but if they can stay healthy Cleveland could be a fun team to watch.


Atlanta Hawks

TSR Projected Conference Seed: 8

TSR Projected Division Rank: 2

The Hawks literally blew up the organization as only two players have worn the navy and red for two straight years.

The Hawks picked up the touted power forward Paul Millsap in the offseason to play alongside Al Horford.  Even though, the Hawks have very good bigs, fortified by Elton Brand coming off the bench, they are weak in almost all other positions, especially small forward.

I expect them to sneak into the playoffs, but they are a long way away from winning a series.


Washington Wizards

TSR Projected Conference Seed: 9

TSR Projected Division Rank: 3

The Wizards are much like Minnesota out west.  They have some talent on the roster, arguably enough to make the playoffs, but they have been hindered by nagging injuries that are preventing any true chemistry from developing.

John Wall and Bradley Beal are both budding stars that, when on the court, can carry a team a long way, especially in the weaker Eastern Conference.

The problem for the Wizards will not come this year, but rather further down the road when they must figure out what in the world the general manager Ernie Grunfeld was thinking with these audacious contracts he is shelling out to lesser talent like Martell Webster.


Toronto Raptors

TSR Projected Conference Seed: 10

TSR Projected Division Rank: 3

The Raptors made headlines last year when they acquired star Rudy Gay from Memphis.  Going into this season, Toronto has the exact opposite problem from Atlanta: they have no bigs.

The Raptors have three very good players in their starting lineup in Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay, but then you see Amir Johnson take the floor and can’t help but chuckle.

If the Raptors found a way to add a serious post player, and not be deathly thin off the bench, they could be a playoff team, but until then: HAI-HO ADAM SILVER!


Tier 5: Mounds.   Just throw it to the side and keep digging in your bucket;  there has to be something better in there.


Charlotte Bobcats

TSR Projected Conference Seed: 11

TSR Projected Division Rank: 4

The biggest news out of Charlotte was they only have to be called the Bobcats one more year.  Oh, and they signed Al Jefferson.

The soon-to-be-Hornets now have a scoring threat down low, something that has been severely lacking in years past.  However, Jefferson will not be the problem for Charlotte.  It will all the other young players that surround Jefferson.

Kemba Walker and Kidd-Gilchrist will have to find ways to contribute from outside, another one of the many facets of Charlotte’s game that has been M.I.A.

The Bobcats will be better than in year’s past, primarily due to the presence of Big Al, but I don’t think we will see them in the chase for 8th.


Milwaukee Bucks

TSR Projected Conference Seed: 12

TSR Projected Division Rank: 5

Milwaukee was the last team to burrow its way into the playoffs in the East before being mauled by the Heat in the first round.

Though the Monta Ellis/Brandon Jennings project didn’t work, or never had a chance to prosper, in Milwaukee, fans cannot expect the same results from the O.J. Mayo/ Brandon Knight tandem.  It just isn’t realistic.

Although not all hope is lost, as the Bucks managed to sit on two very good young players in Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova.  So yes, it is bad now, but there is hope. It is bleak and a long way off, but there is hope.


Boston Celtics

TSR Projected Conference Seed: 13

TSR Projected Division Rank: 4

Looking at the squad now, it is hard to imagine that just a year ago the Celtics made it into the playoffs at all, much less won the championship five years ago.  But the roster has since been blown to shreds.

This fall from grace will be more or less disheartening depending on the play of the man left behind from the trade with Brooklyn, Rajon Rondo.  This is his team, and he is essentially by himself. Jeff Green and Brandon Bass will have the occasional contribution, but the C’s are in a world of hurt from here looking forward.


Tier 6: Wooden Pencils.  It’s not even candy.


Orlando Magic

TSR Projected Conference Seed: 14

TSR Projected Division Rank: 5

Orlando picked up Victor Oladipo with the 2nd overall pick in the draft this offseason.  The Magic are terrible;  however, they do have some good young players like Maurice Harkless that could develop into something.

The Magic are big players in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes, and this is a great year to develop this young core to complement whoever they are able to pick up in the upcoming draft.  Orlando has the potential to be relevant within a few years.


Philadelphia 76ers

TSR Projected Conference Seed: 15

TSR Projected Division Rank: 5

Bad is an understatement.  Deplorable still might not capture the level of basketball that will emanate from Philadelphia this year.  The funny part of the whole situation: They know they are bad.

Philadelphia has positioned itself for the future by acquiring many draft picks as well as placing itself in the best position to have the most ping-pong balls with its logo on them.  I don’t think the Sixers will be down here for long;   it will just be a very long 2013-14 season.

One thought on “NBA East: LeBron alone keeps the Heat up

  • October 9, 2013 at 4:22 am

    I agree with most of your team rankings but find fault in Reese’s cups as top tier. This spot should clearly have gone to milky way midnight.


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