I know, it’s very early to bring out pre-season rankings, I know. Hear me out though; it’s right around eight weeks until the season begins, and in the following eight weeks yours truly will be bringing you such memorable blogs as:
– Ranking the West
– 25 pre-season predictions
– 10 players to watch out for in 2010
– Sophomore’s set to avoid the slump
– MVP Race
– 10 potential funny in-season story-lines
There’ll be a mailbag thrown in I hope, and a few general observations no doubt, so now is definitely the perfect time to rank the Eastern conference – because let’s be honest, if I don’t do it now I won’t ever get the time with my hectic blogging schedule and could you really live without your pre-season Eastern conference rankings from me? I’m just looking out for you guys. So without further ado…
(note: These don’t necessarily represent who I think will end up in the playoffs, it’s how I see teams shaping up to start the season)
1) Miami Heat, final wins prediction – 60 plus. Facing potential backlash and running the risk of being completely ignored by all six of my readers and generally hated in Cleveland (not to mention by Brendan) I have no other choice but to put them in pole position. It sickens me, but let’s face facts. They may not have the greatest overall roster in the league, but it’s starting to take shape and they may not be done adding pieces. Mike Miller and Eddie House are the marksmen they needed, Big Z and Juwan Howard were the pieces needed in order for Bosh to not have to rebound defensively. I still feel that in comparison to the three other elite teams in the East they are significantly weaker at the point guard and center spots, but basketball at the end of the day is about five guys on the court at one time. If three of your five guys are Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron “I tried to re-enact the Hangover in Vegas but got caught so told ESPN not to report it” James then you are in pretty good shape. There will be nights this year where they annihilate teams by forty, but in contrast I can also nights where teams frustrate them and they lose by ten to Washington. I just shudder to think of the former scenario becoming the norm. They’re still not my favourites to win the East outright however…
2) Orlando Magic, final wins prediction – no less than 55, no more than 62. These guys are. Where the Heat struggle these guys thrive, and that could be the X Factor in any potential seven game series. Matt Barnes will be missed, but Mickael Pietrus is as good a wing defender in the organisation and does a good job on LeBron. If Jameer Nelson stays healthy this year expect another All Star caliber season, the understanding him and Howard possess is key to what they do. Speaking of Dwight Howard, he must be salivating at the thought of matching up with the Heat’s bigmen, well at least he should be. He could be the guy to carry them through a series with Miami but needs to be more assertive and demand more of the ball. Watching Dwight Howard develop a lot slower than he should be always begs the question, “Does he actually want it?” I don’t know if he’s just content on being the best center in the NBA now – and not wanting to be remembered as the best defensive big man since Russell – but we should find out a whole lot more this season. If anybody finds Vince Carter in the upcoming weeks, tell him he’s due to start at shooting guard for a contender, and if he wouldn’t mind putting it in a little more this year.
3) Boston Celtics, final wins prediction – no more than 55, no less than 50. Don’t underestimate them losing Tony Allen and having Perkins miss the start of the season; those guys were central to the Celtics last season. Allen was the defensive specialist off the bench who could score in bunches; Perkins is the nastiest dude in the NBA and possibly the entire East Coast. Jermaine O’Neal is an expensive stopgap, and how healthy is he going to be? What’s his ceiling on games played before his first injury, 20? Von Wafer and Nate Robinson are two instant offense guys off the bench, but also incite instant defensive liability. They drafted a guy I’m very high on in Avery Bradley; I’m hoping he sees minutes alongside Rondo, or simply covers when he rests. Doc Rivers returning was key to their off season, he’s a damn good coach and there aren’t many of them around. The team will rely on Pierce, Garnett and Allen – but Rondo’s the key. His play last season propelled them to the Finals against LA, and this year Rondo’s main goals should be to keep Boston relevant, establish himself as the league’s best point guard and get a jump shot. Or people will stand six feet off him once again.
4) Chicago Bulls, final wins prediction – will be pushing hard for fifty. Keys to winning a championship – somebody almost certainly gave a book with that title to the Bulls front office this summer and ordered them to treat it as gospel. They’ve now assembled the team that book says you need to succeed – steady point guard, reliable shooters, competent bigmen, role players and a decent coach. Derrick Rose is a superstar, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah might be the leagues best rebounding tandem and new coach Tom Thibodeau should cast his defensive wand over the bunch to make them near complete. Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson and James Johnson are the role players, Kyle Korver will shoot the lights out and if Luol Deng ever finds from again they could be real good. These guys could be potential dark horses in the East and if they arrive into the playoffs on the back of any kind of good form, watch out.
5) Atlanta Hawks, final wins prediction – late forties at best. Does it matter what these guys do in the regular season anymore? Not like they’re ever going to cause problems in the playoffs now are they? All you need to know is they’ll be good for 82 then stink for one series, two if they’re extremely lucky. Joe Johnson won the free agency sweepstakes – he’ll now make more money over the next six years than any non-superstar should. On the bright side, Al Horford is a stud and Josh Smith showed considerable improvement last season. If Mike Bibby sucks early on this year, I’d look to trade him in and promote Jeff Teague as my starter, why not? Jordan Crawford will be extremely fun to watch, if he gets minutes that is…
6) Charlotte Bobcats, final wins prediction – late forties at best. For whatever reason, we couldn’t topple these guys last season, they just had our number. It’s easy to see why; they have an extremely capable squad coupled with a great coach. Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace and Tyrus Thomas are three guys who ooze athleticism and can hurt team on any given night, and with Erick Dampier’s contract they have the pieces available to make s splash mid-season to boost the team for the home stretch. If Shaun Livingston gets anywhere near his former self, he’ll be the pick up of the off-season.
7) New York Knicks, final wins prediction – mid to late forties. Major losers in free agency some people say, and perhaps rightfully so, but I personally feel like they had one hell of a summer by any normal standards. Stoudemire, Felton and Randolph will be fun to watch play. Toney Douglas showed glimpses last season of what he can do, and we know Gallinari is a lights out shooter when he gets going. While they may not stop many teams from scoring, I can certainly see them out-scoring just as many. Mike D’Antoni now has a team capable of getting out and running, and he may be the main reason I have them here in the 7th spot.
8) Cleveland Cavaliers, final wins prediction – early forties. Call me bias, but I see us not being the doormat people have claimed we will be. We still have a very able team – albeit short on one particular phenom – that will be ready to go come start of the season. Coach Scott has a plan in mind and will get it through to our guys, he has faith in us and we need to repay that faith in him. Mo Williams will be a 20ppg scorer this year, and JJ Hickson should turn into a premier power forward with the minutes he’ll see. Jamison and Varejao will once again be key pieces to what we do, and integrating all our guys together in training camp will do us a world of good. Ramon Sessions is a nice addition, he’ll allow Mo to play more off the ball and use his scoring ability rather than relying on him to run the team. Potential X Factor for us this season – the huge trade exception we have at our disposal come the trade deadline. Biggest season in years for us Cavaliers, we need to show the world that just because he’s gone doesn’t mean we are too.
Rounding off the East:
9) Milwaukee – people know what they’re about now
10) Philadelphia – Evan Turner won’t be enough for post-season action
11) Washington – John Wall is going to really, really good
12) New Jersey – Avery Johnson will get these guys out from the basement at least
13) Detroit – erm…
14) Toronto – erm…
One question worth answering outside the mailbag:
Do you think LeBron will do a Boozer on it and stay out of the Miami-Cleveland game this season, or will he play? – Cole Larson
Three reasons he plays in this game:
1. His image can’t do with another national bashing
2. He’ll alienate Heat fans because nobody will buy an “ I’m injured” story
3. His teamates won’t be able to trust him if he does
If he doesn’t play, prepare for media backlash from all angles. Brendan and Myself alone will have a field day ripping him apart if he doesn’t – could you imagine what the other websites will say? Sure, ESPN will print something criticising him, but they’ll then retract it. Adrian Wojnarowski, a serial LeBron basher, would love nothing more than for him to sit this game out. That would be an article I’d contemplate framing and putting on my wall if it were to happen, but it won’t. He’ll play, he has to. He can’t afford another debacle like The Decision, which would pale in comparison to him not playing in Cleveland. I also think he wants to play in Cleveland, just to spite Dan Gilbert over his letter. He’ll also want to show the Cavs what they’re missing out on, like we need reminding…
Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org the Stepien Rules mailbag, Twitter @DOL17 or Facebook under username David O’Leary.