By: Rossy Pasternak
With the new NBA season on the horizon comes new rosters, new jerseys, and new expectations. One thing that has not changed however is the favourite to come out of the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Lebron and company are looking to be just as good or better this season, already having a championship run together under their belts, the chemistry is there. It’s a toss-up for the rest of the conference, as almost anyone other than the 76ers, Nets, Pistons, and maybe the Magic have a chance to make the playoffs. Here are my predictions for the East this year:
- Cleveland Cavaliers – 2014/15 record: 53-29
Cleveland returns with pretty much the same team, just bringing in interesting Russian centre Sasha Kaun, veteran small-forward Richard Jefferson, as well as signing ex-Cav Mo Williams back from the T’Wolves. Other than those moves, and a critically acclaimed 5-year, $82 Million extension for Tristan Thompson, the Cavs had a generally quiet offseason considering what they went through last year. Second year coach David Blatt looks to improve this season, and silence his critics from last year. Remember, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra had to deal with the same type of thing after struggling in his first year coaching Lebron, and he is now considered one of the better coaches in the NBA. The Cavs look like a great team in a conference filled with many improved teams, and will have little to no problem finishing in the #1 spot this year.
- Miami Heat – 2014/15 record: 37-45
Pat Riley might have assembled the most interesting team the league has seen in a long time. They are long and athletic, young and old, and feature a starting lineup that includes Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh, and ex-Developmental League standout, Hassan Whiteside, who in his short NBA career, has become something to fear. Miami has the depth to compete with any team this season, with contributors such as rookie Justise Winslow, ex-Big 3 wannabe Mario Chalmers, and the newly acquired Amar’e Stoudemire, among others. This team will be able to space the floor, as they have the shooters necessary to play a great drive and kick game, with Wade and Winslow driving, as well as an inside out game with the emerging Whiteside. This team, with Coach Spo’s creativity and intelligence, and the versatility of the players, is the Cavaliers biggest threat in getting out of the East with the top spot this year.
- Washington Wizards – 2014/15 record: 46-36
The Wizards bring one of the best backcourt duos to the table, with superstar PG John Wall, and emerging star Bradley Beal poised to continue on breakout seasons last year. When that duo is on their game, the drive and kick game is almost impossible to stop. Coach Randy Wittman seems to have woken up and adapted to the emerging trends in basketball, and moved to a 3-point centred offense, after seeing it work wonders in last year’s playoffs. Kris Humphries is starting over Nene this year at the stretch 4, which will allow for not only more spacing with the starting lineup, but also a go-to option off the bench. Otto Porter’s emergence against the Raptors in last years playoffs seems to have been real, as he looks to fill the role that Paul Pierce played last year, as the starting small forward. This team has depth, talent, and recently, great coaching. If everything goes as planned for the Wizards this year, they could end up with two all-stars in Beal and Wall, and a deep playoff run.
- Chicago Bulls – 2014/15 record: 50-32
This season for the Bulls will be fun to watch, but maybe a little stressful as they try to work a frontcourt rotation with Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, Taj Gibson, and exciting rookie Bobby Portis, none of who play well together. On top of that, Fred Hoiberg has replaced Tom Thibodeau, the defensive genius who could only make the Bulls a league-average defensive team last year. Hoiberg is a good coach in his own right, but if he cannot keep this defense-first approach, the Bulls will have problems keeping opponents from running the score up. However, if Derrick Rose stays healthy (I know, not likely), he and Jimmy Butler should be amazing together offensively. Mix those two in with Mirotic, Gasol, and even Noah, and that is an offence that has both passing and shot-making abilities. If Rose goes down though, the point guard duties will fall to either Kirk Hinrich, or E’Twaun Moore, a scary possibility. If the Bulls stay healthy and figure out their frontcourt, this team may just be okay.
- Atlanta Hawks – 2014/15 record: 60-22
Make no mistake; the loss of DeMarre Carroll is huge for this team. Although it enabled them to resign Paul Milsap, the Hawks lost their best perimeter defender, and best 3-point shooter not named Kyle Korver. Speaking of Korver, he, Milsap, and Al Horford form Atlanta’s own “big 3”. They also got Tim Hardaway Jr via trade this offseason, an under-the-radar move no doubt. The combination of shooting and good ball movement has turned these three, and Jeff Teague, into the Spurs 2.0. Coach Mike Budenholzer, a Gregg Popovich disciple, has taken the Spurs ideas and strategies and applied it with great success with his team. If the Hawks keep up their level of play last year, they could be hard to stop offensively, but the real challenge for Atlanta is on defense. If Thabo Sefolosha can recover from his leg injury and play well defensively, and if the offense can keep pouring on the points, the Hawks will be a major threat come playoff time.
- Indiana Pacers – 2014/15 record: 38-44
This projection is purely based on if Paul George can play MVP-caliber basketball at the 4 this year. Other than Monta Ellis and George Hill, the supporting cast on this team is young, unproven, or one-dimensional. Guard Rodney Stuckey will be relied upon to score off the bench, but will struggle defensively. Rookie Centre Myles Turner is being asked to replace Roy Hibbert, a tough task, but one he is ready for. So far, judging from summer league and preseason, Turner is one of the steals of this year’s draft, falling to the Pacers at #11. He will make his fair share of rookie mistakes, but look for him to be an integral part of this team in the near future. Coach Frank Vogel has been criticized in the past for using an isolation-heavy offence, something that got former OKC coach Scott Brooks canned after last season. Vogel will likely start this season on the hot seat, and is a candidate to be fired if the Pacers start off slow.
- Boston Celtics – 2014/15 record: 40-42
This was an eventful offseason for Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens and the Celtics. They brought in Amir Johnson and David Lee at the power forward position, two great rebounders and team players, but also two limited offensive players. Lee mixes in some floaters with his post-moves, but cannot stretch the floor, and Johnson is limited to pick and rolls and putbacks on offence. It will be interesting to see how these two fit with the incumbent big men, Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller, and Kelly Olynyk. The guard play on this team is exceptional defensively, with Marcus Smart, Evan Turner, and Avery Bradley locking down opposing guards consistently. Scoring may be a challenge for these Celtics, as they don’t have a lot of outside shooting, but look for Isaiah Thomas to light up the scoreboard as the 6th man. Sophomore James Young, and rookie Terry Rozier are interesting pieces, and it will be fun to see how Stevens incorporates them into the rotation. Look for the Celtics to play some good, fast basketball, and compete hard every game this year.
- Toronto Raptors – 2014/15 record: 49-43
This is a do or die season for Dwayne Casey and this raptors core. After a first round sweep by the Wizards, many in the 6ix were debating whether or not to blow up the team, but instead, GM Masai Ujiri chose to build around Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan once again. The additions of Demarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Bismack Biyambo and Luis Scola can’t hurt, but it is yet to be seen how much they can help. Lowry has slimmed down, and has looked great in preseason, which is an encouraging sign. I’m curious to see how Casey handles his frontcourt rotation, with Anthony Bennett, James Johnson, Patrick Patterson, Scola, and Jonas Valanciunas. JV’s usage in late-game situations will be something to track, as Casey has been reluctant to play him in the 4th quarter. Rookies Norman Powell and Delon Wright are looking like exceptional draft picks and potential steals. The Raps will be fun to watch this year, with an interesting core, cool new jerseys, and a passionate fanbase, but it still isn’t clear just how good (or bad) this team can be. If the Raptors struggle in the beginning of the year, Coach Casey could (and should) be gone.
- Milwaukee Bucks – 2014/15 record: 41-41
The Bucks will just miss out on a playoff birth, as good coaching is not enough to make up for the horrible spacing that the Bucks possess. There is just no way a team that long can be productive on offence as their shooting isn’t great. They’ll make it close, but will not make the playoffs this season.
- Charlotte Hornets – 2014/15 record: 33-49
Michael Jordan’s squad is going to miss the playoffs once again, as Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson are too one-dimensional, and the team will struggle on defence, especially without MKG for the first half of the season.
- Orlando Magic – 2014/15 record: 25-57
Mario Hezonja adds spacing to this team, and this team is going to be one of the most fun teams to watch, but that doesn’t mean they are good enough to make the playoffs The future in Orlando is bright, they just have to develop first.
- New York Knicks – 2014/15 record: 17-65
Kristaps Porzingis, Carmelo Anthony, and crew just aren’t good enough at this point to make the playoffs. Bold prediction: ‘Melo is traded by the end of the season.
- Detroit Pistons – 2014/15 record: 32-50
The loss of Greg Monroe is bigger than many think, and Andre Drummond can’t do it alone in the frontcourt. Brandon Jennings and Reggie Jackson running this offence is going to be interesting to watch, but will not work out as hoped for Stan Van Gundy. Jennings and Jackson both need minutes and both have egos. Should be fun…
- Brooklyn Nets – 2014/15 record: 38-44
This aging core is going to struggle this season, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, as a result of the Danny Ainge’s fleecing of Nets GM Billy King.
- Philadelphia 76ers – 2014/15 record: 18 – 64
Jahlil Okafor is going to be solid, but remember, this team’s GM is Sam Hinkie. The 76ers will once again be in contention for the #1 pick this year.
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