Eastern Conference Power Rankings

Over the next few days we will put up Eastern and Western Conference power rankings. I decided to split the conferences up instead of coming up with one long list because I firmly believe that comparison between other teams in the conference is more important because it doesn't matter what the other conference is doing if you can't beat your own conference teams. The purpose of rankings is to predict which teams will come out on top in their conference to represent the conference in the NBA Finals. Here are my quick thoughts on which teams are in the upper and lower echelon of the Eastern Conference. Enjoy.

#1 Celtics: Clearly no one is going to pick against the defending champs. The only critical piece they lost was Posey, but it seems like they are deep and talented enough to work around that. They played inspired last season and virtually did not lose that momentum the entire season. The one downside for the Celtic faithful is their inconsistent play in the playoffs. Going to 7 with Atlanta? 7 with the Cavs? There is no doubt that they overlooked that competition and played down to their competition. One thing to watch for might be the play of Darius Miles, and Cassell's role on the team. There was talk about Cassell using the last year of his contract to become an assistant coach, but that is not in the cards for this up coming season. I expect Rondo to continue his improvement this season as well as Tony Allen and Leon Powe to be consistent solid contributors off the bench. It also does not hurt that they have KG, Piece, and Allen as a core either. They are my pick to come out of the East, again.

#2 Pistons: It seems like every year since 2004 they have been at the top of every power ranking, but never able to live up to potential. The Pistons will continue to be competitive in the East every year for a few reasons. They have one of the best backcourts in the NBA in Billups and Hamilton. They also have a strong front court in Prince and Rasheed. They are a solid team defensively which will always give them a chance to compete. The Pistons also have young guards waiting to take on a bigger role in Rodney Stuckey and Aaron Afflalo which should help the legs of Hamilton and Billups, and will undoubtedly pay dividends in the playoffs. The declining McDyess seems to be the glaring problem right now. The 5 position needs to be addressed in a better way than Kwame Brown. I do agree that Kwame is a legitimate backup Center in the NBA, but if you have a declining Center as a starter, throwing Kwame in there and hoping he picks it up is a little unrealistic. The Pistons have been using Amir Johnson, a player who is built to be a 3 or 4, as a Center. They have also put Jason Maxiell into the Center role which is not his natural position. That was Flip Saunders' way of putting a bandaid on the Center problem, but it does not get that much attention. Rasheed usually takes most of the Piston criticism, but looking at their team, it goes beyond Rasheed. Sheed will have a big season this year as he is playing for a contract, and maybe rookie coach Michael Curry will help the Pistons out more on the whole. As always, the Pistons are in the upper echelon, but may not have enough to get over the hurdle, and by hurdle I mean the Celtics.

#3 76ers: That's right. This may surprise some of you, maybe even anger you. I was even contemplating putting the old school sixers logo up because the Sixers will finally have success like they used to. After the World Series buzz fades out of Philly, the Sixers will be the center of attention. Unless of course, the Eagles climb out of last place in the NFC East, but probably not. The Sixers are a revitalized franchise. They have waited for Andre Iguodala to get into his prime, and he is there. They put a solid point guard next to him in Andre Miller. The one thing they were missing was a credible power foward who could give them a solid post presence to free up Miller and Iguodala on the perimeter, and to give them another scoring option. They have finally acquired that player in Elton Brand, and with his addition, Eastern Conference championship hopes are reborn in Philly. They also have several young prospects that are due for a breakout season this year in Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young. Barring any major injuries, the Conference championship is a real possibility this year. They gave the Pistons a tough series in last season's playoffs which was a good starting point. They got the help they need in Elton Brand. It will help them this season and in the years to come. The Sixers will be at the top of this list for many years to come.

#4 Cavs: This is where the Eastern Conference gets murky. The Cavs always have a chance with Lebron James. The addition of Mo Williams gives them a strong point guard who can shoot and pass. He is the clear cut second option on a team that previously did not have one. They have a deep bench at the point guard position which will help them. They have talent in every position, but the problem is that outside of Lebron, they don't excel in any one area. Without Lebron, the Cavs are headed to the lottery. With him, they have a chance to compete for a conference championship. It is clear that Lebron can single handedly carry a team on his back. Mo Williams might be the help that Lebron needs, but it is not the piece that will fire them into championship contention. The top team sin the West will have a player better than the Cavs in every position except the small forward position. Don't believe me? Think Lakers, Houston, San Antonio, Utah, New Orleans, and you can make a strong case for Dallas and Phoenix. Look at every team above them in this power ranking, and even 1 or 2 teams below them on this list. Do the Cavs have someone clearly better in the 1,2,4, and 5 spots? Probably not, that is why they will always hang around at the top, but never get there until they get some upgrades in those places.

#5 Magic: The Magic might have one of the most underrated front courts in the NBA. Of course, Dwight Howard gets all of the press, but people don't talk about Hedo Turkoglu or Rashard Lewis nearly as much as they deserve. Hedo had a break out season as he finished second in points, assists, and rebounds as well as averaging .9 steals which was third behind Jameer Nelson's .91 steals. The major problem with the Magic is clearly the weak backcourt. Nelson is a solid point guard, but has virtually no help at the 2. They let the defensive specialist Maurice Evans go and watched him sign with conference rivals, the Hawks. Keyon Dooling also could not find minutes in the backcourt with the Magic and has moved on which means that Jameer Nelson will see an increase in minutes and production. Mickael Pietrus is going to fill in the #2 spot this year for the Magic and their success will largely depend on his success. When he was not on Don Nelson's bench in Golden State he was pretty effective. He averaged 7.2 ppg while playing only a modest 19.2 minutes. JJ Reddick is backing Pietrus up, and we all know that JJ has not been the most popular player in Orlando. Expect Pietrus to log a lot of minutes and be one of the key players to the Magic's success.

#6 Toronto Raptors: One of the forgotten teams in the Eastern Conference. They are the Eastern Conference sleeper team, and have a legitimate case to be #4 or #5 on this list. With the Jermaine O'Neal acquisition this offseason the Raptors are legitimate contenders. The Eastern Conference is continuing to close the gap between the once unquestioned superior Western Conference. If O'Neal can stay healthy and Calderon can continue to be a solid 11ppg and 8 asst per game point guard they are going to be a force. Chris Bosh showed what he can do this summer in Beijing and I'm gonna predict he is gonna drop 25ppg and 10rebs this season. A lot of people are hesistant to say anything more about the Raptors because of how unpredictable Jermaine O'Neal is. He is a little soft around the basket, and has been reluctant to make hustle plays his entire career. Hopefully he will play an inspired season and amount to everything we have expected of him. The other soft spot for the Raptors is at the Center position. Andrea Bargnani is one of the most underperforming Centers in the league. He is 7'0 and averages 10.2 ppg and 3.7 rebs. The point production is not a concern, but the rebounds is. It shows Bargnani's reluctance to muscle down low and his complacency. There are times on the court where you forget he is even out there. The Raptors will need a lot more out of him if they want to get anywhere in the playoffs. Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon have been pleasant surprises for the Raptors. Expect both to play a big role this season in the Raptors' success. Jermaine O'Neal coming in will probably mean one of them is losing their starting job, but both Parker and Moon are a capable sixth man and, will definitely be major consistent contributors for the Raptors.

#7 Wizards: With Gilbert Arenas out until January it will be up to Antwan Jamison and Caron Butler to carry the load. They have proven they can be a solid team without Gilbert, but never good enough to be at the top of the East. Unfortunately, with the Big 3 in Washington taking up so much cap room, they won't have enough to spend to get that final piece. It is going to be tough for Washington to compete with the top teams in the East without a dominant big man down low. The Wizards are built very similar to the Run N' Gun Suns of the past few years. They don't play good enough defense to contain the top teams in the conference either as they allowed 99.2 ppg last year while scoring 98.8 ppg last season. If the Wizards are going to make an impact this year, they are going to have to wait until Gilbert comes back and see how he fits back into the team. The chemistry on the team is good, but I truly believe they still need one more impact player away from being in the top tier of the Eastern Conference at either the Center of SG position.

#8 Hawks: They almost took out the Celtics last season in a very entertaining series. They haven't really changed much with the exception of Josh Childress. Despite what some people may think, losing Childress is a devastating blow to the Atlanta bench. The bright spot for Atlanta is their young talent. They will be able to compete for a playoff spot every year because of players like Al Horford, Josh Smith, and Joe Johnson. Marvin Williams is also an important player to keep in mind for the Hawks. He suffers from 'The Kwame Brown Effect' which is when a player is judged based on where he was drafted. Despite how high his expectations and draft position was, he plays a big role on this Hawks team at the 3 spot and have put the solid Maurice Evans behind him. The Hawks were lucky to keep Josh Smith after all of the speculation of him leaving for Philadelphia, but with Josh Smith staying in ATL for a while longer, the chemistry that almost pulled one of the biggest upsets in sports history off is still in tact. It is pretty obvious that this team has some great young talent and a veteran point guard in Mike Bibby to help guide them, but they won't be a force in the East, unless of course, they come out of nowhere to upset the defending champs from Boston.

#9 Heat: Well, the bright side is that they won't finish dead last again, but they won't finish in the playoffs this year. They have an athletic team, but they are still hurting at the point guard position. They got the upgrade they needed at the power forward position with Beasley and he will have a solid season. Mario Chalmers is also a good guard, but is not NBA ready yet. Having Dwyane Wade will always allow them to compete and having an athletic hustle player like Shawn Marion will always be a plus. The other huge hole the Heat have is at the center position. It is no secret that the Heat will be in a rebuilding process for the next couple of seaons, and their success depends on how fast Michael Beasley can develop. 2006 was great, wasn't it?

#10 Bucks: This team is not as bad as people think. Like the Raptors, they are often overlooked. The acquisition of Richard Jefferson was huge for this team. Jefferson is a solid all around player that can do virtually anything asked of him. They drafted the true sleeper of the draft in Joe Alexander. He may not be NBA ready right now, but that might change very quickly during the season as he might have to take on a greater role than he is ready for which will accelerate his development. Andrew Bogut just got a big extension which is indicative of him being in the Bucks long term plans. He gives them an inside presence and can score and rebound well enough, but can improve it a bit. Another positive is Michael Redd. We all saw his skill on the world stage and his deadly jump shot. He was injured a lot last season, but if he stays healthy, this Bucks club could surprise a lot of people. They also have a battle for the point guard spot. It is Luke Ridnour and Ramon Sessions fighting for the starting job, and Tyronn Lue is the backup. Sessions seems like he is going to win the starting spot right now, but having Lue and Ridnous as backups provides for a pretty deep bench at the 1 spot. A lot of people don't know about Ramon Sessions, but he was called up from the D-league last year and could have a truly breakout season. He only played 10 games last season and averaged over 38 minutes a game while scoring 8.1 ppg and dishing 7.5 assists. Not bad for a call up, right? Well, he is just one of the surprises that the Bucks might throw at us this season. Look for them to make some noise. If not this season, very soon.

#11 Bulls: They got their point guard in Derrick Rose, but is that going to solve their problems? My guess is that they will be getting rid of Kirk Hinrich before the trade deadline. Ben Gordon has insisted that he wants to play somewhere else, and they are still with the ball and chain that is Larry Hughes and his $12.8 million contract. The Bulls have a rookie coach in Vinny Del Negro. They lost a solid bench contibutor in Chris Duhon, and this season does not look too promising for the Bulls. Tyrus Thomas is also a constant question mark with his inconsistent play. If Thomas can be a consistent presence this season things will look up for Chicago. Also, Chicago fans have expectations to the sky for Rose, but remember that guards have a hard time with the transition to the pros. Rose has looked amazing in the preseason, but it will be a couple of years until we really see how good he can be. Of course, Luol Deng will be the focus of the offense if he can stay healthy, and Derrick Rose's development will facilitate that. Nevertheless, Chicago does not have the pieces to compete with the playoff ready teams, but the good news is that they have taken a step forward with Rose, and if they can trade Hinrich, they will be in an even better position.

#12 Bobcats: Charlotte fans shouldn't lose hope. Expansion teams take a while to get on their feet. With Michael Jordan in the front office and Larry Brown on the sideline, the Bobcats have some good people working for them. As far as players go, they still need a few upgrades. I love their D.J Augustin acquisition in the draft, and I believe it will pay huge dividends in a few years. What has really hurt the Bobcats is the mediocre play of Emeka Okafur, and him never living up to his potential. He grabs a bit over 10 boards a game and averages a shade under 14 ppg. Pretty low for a guy who was compared to Patrick Ewing. We know what Gerald Wallace can do. He brings athleticism and hustle to the floor and averages 19.4 ppg and 6 rebs. We know what Jason Richardson can do. He is a 3 point machine that is the Bobcats go-to guy who can put points on the board in a hurry. Raymond Felton is also showing he can run the show in the back court. If Felton has reached his potential, there is no way the Bobcats are going to be able to compete with the other solid backcourts at the top of the East. One storyline that will be interesting to watch play out will be Adam Morrison. He isn't only playing for a contract, he is playing for his NBA career. He is coming back from injury this season, and could make a significant impact or fade into the background. The Bobcats need a personel upgrade in a lot of positions for them to even think about being competitive.

#13 Pacers: Not much on this roster. Granger and Dunleavy had big seasons, but with an unhappy management and unhappy Jamal Tinsley, this team isn't going very far. The team has addressed the Tinsley problem for now by bringing in T.J Ford, but don't expect Ford to make a huge impact immediately. It will take him a while to get adjusted. The Pacers are in the rebuilding process right now, but don't expect that to last for long. This might be a team that gets better really quickly with Larry Bird behind it. They were a 36 win team last season, and I am astonished that they even managed to win that many games. I expect a sub-30 season from this team. They traded away Shawne Williams and Jermaine O'Neal, and got a retired Eddie Jones, T.J Ford and some cash. They also drafted Roy Hibbert who is a raw talent right now, but if he amounts to his potential he could be the cornerstone of the franchise. Not much for rebuilding in the short term. We all might just be ignorant to Larry Bird's bigger plan, but as of now, Pacer fans can reminisce about the old days in Conseco Field House with Reggie Miller and Rik Smits in the golden days.

#14 Nets: There is no defined leader on this team. Is it Devin Harris or Vince Carter? Yi is a superstar back home, but not in the States. Too many years on Carter's contract probably means that GM's will inquire, but probably not make a move. There just simply aren't enough pieces on this team to make anything work. I have liked Ryan Anderson for a while, but it is yet to be seen if he will make the team. Brooke Lopez will give them a defensive presences, but won't be that meaningful. Chris Douglas-Roberts is also a good prospect, and he is also fighting for a roster spot. Bottom line is that the Nets won't be able to make an impact this season, and probably won't be able to until they are in Brooklyn. That's ok with management though because they know they are eyeing Lebron in 2010.

#15 Knicks: Sorry Knicks fans. Not about to happen. They have a long way to go to make this team effective. This team definitely complements Mike D'Antoni's famous up-tempo style, but they don't have the players to do it. If people are not shocked by how big Eddy Curry showed up to training camp they better take a look at him. Zach Randolph has underperformed, and they still have the worst contract in sports in Stephon Marbury. One thing that people have not been talking a lot abot is Quentin Richardson and D'Antoni. How will they work together? Will D'Antoni take him off the bench and restore him back to the 14.9 points, 6.1 rebs, 1.2 steals, and 2.9 3pters a game? That could be something that is overlooked on this Knicks team. Of course, any Knicks fan will point to the promise of David Lee as a bright spot as well as their recent Danilo Gallinari pick. Jamal Crawford and Chris Duhon making up the backcourt isn't going to get anyone excited. However, finally bringing Nate Robinson off the bench will get people excited. All-in-all, there will be another bleak season for the Knicks, and they will continue to drop their tickets into the Lebron lottery.

The Eastern Conference is actually a lot deeper than people think. I used to be a big proponent of redoing conferences much like the NFL has split up their divisions. The recent acquisitions that the Eastern Conference has made has balanced out the power in the two divisions and has closed the gap a bit more. There is no doubt that we will be treated, finally, to a competitive Eastern Conference.

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