The Association Preview: Part 1, The East

Good to see you again, NBA.

A completely new NBA, that is. Especially in the East.

The consensus is that the East has gotten better, and it surely needs to, to an extent. From top to bottom it still is nowhere close to the West, but with plenty of the splashes in free-agency coming from the East, the power has shifted drastically from Miami to Cleveland by the move of LeBron.

Still, even though Cleveland grabbed all the attention by putting together quite a ‘Big Three’ and quite possibly the second best summer of free-agency (2010 Heat have this title til further notice) as we saw in Miami, it is going to take time for the Cavs to really come together, very young and inexperienced when it comes to the postseason other than LeBron and Varejao.

This opens up a few doors, mainly in Chicago. Highly advise you to mark down the dates: Oct. 31st, Jan. 19th, Feb. 12th and April 5th. Cleveland and Chicago have the potential to be a fascinating rivalry once again, as I have donned this rivalry as “The Hometown Race” between Rose and James, and who can bring a ring to their home town first.

Yet by no means is this a two team race as many may think. Here is the complete preview of the wide-open East:

15. Philadelphia 76ers

No matter which way you look at this team, they can’t win. Literally and figuratively. Last season tying Cleveland’s 2010 26-game losing streak the 76ers were ultimately labeled for tanking. What’s wrong with building through the draft?

Take note: The Sixers have some of the best young talent in the league.
Take note: The Sixers have some of the best young talent in the league.

GM Sam Hinkie is constructing this team with a real 4 to 5 year plan in mind, trading Jrue Holiday a year ago in order to pick Kentucky Center Nerlens Noel who was considered the #1 overall prospect despite never playing in 2013. He also drafted ROY Michael Carter Williams, a triple-double waiting to happen and in the 2014 draft, grabbed the guy with the highest ceiling in Kansas center Joel Embiid. They may have a deadly young front court, but don’t be shocked if they are as bad as a year ago.

14. Orlando Magic

What the Magic lack in scoring depth, they make up for in athletic defensive and rebounding specialists. SG Victor Oladipo, C Nikola Vucevic are joined by Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, a high flyer that is an above-average rebounder for his position and a lockdown defender. But, who’s going to score for a team that ranked 25th in ppg. (96.5) and their leading scorer a year ago was someone on a different team? By drafting a high risk, high reward PG in Eflrid Payton out of Louisiana-Lafayette who could be the steal of the loaded 2014 draft.

13. Milwaukee Bucks

It will be the Jabari Parker show in Milwaukee this coming season, a guy who can contribute right from the opening night tip and throughout the season. By his side, he has one of the most unique players in the NBA in Giannis Antentokounmpo, or the “Greek Freak” as many call him, has a skill set that can potentially dominate in every fashion of the game. But he’s still 19, and learning English.

After the young guns, the Bucks are made up of middle of the road guys about to enter their prime like OJ Mayo, John Henson and Larry Sanders. Keep an eye on the young backcourt of Kendall Marshall and Brandon Knight, who are still developing, both 22. The only thing really slowing down the Bucks? They are young. As in one guy over the age of 30, Zaza Pachulia (30).

12. Detroit Pistons

New coach Stan Van Gundy knows how to coach teams with talented front courts. He coached Miami when they traded for Shaq in ’04, and most notably coached Dwight Howard for 5 years. Now in Detroit, he is there to figure out how to play/rotate/keep happy Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith. They obviously can’t play together, a minus-7.1 points per 100 possessions according to NBA.com. Smith still thinks he can be a reliable 3 point shooter, he averaged 23.5% a season ago. Monroe and Drummond styles are too similar to play together in the low post.

So who goes? Who stays? All questions that must be answered by Van Gundy if he wants to turn around an organization that has been failing to rebuild. But Stan is no joke, the man can coach, he’s got plenty of talent (and egos) in front of him to work with.

11. Boston Celtics

The C’s 2014-2015 campaign didn’t start off on the right foot when Rajon Rondo has reportedly broken his hand and will be out for around a month. No one has been in more trade rumors than Rondo has, this might be the year the Celtics trade him as he enters the peak of his career. The Celtics are rebuilding through the draft while keeping their eye on free-agency, as they have been rumored to be after Memphis Center Marc Gasol.

In his second season, Stevens continues to make his presence felt in Boston.
In his second season, Stevens continues to make his presence felt in Boston.

Marcus Smart could be a stud in Boston, at 6’4″ 220 and an all-around skill set could ultimately replace Rondo at Point Guard. Solid players like Brandon Bass, Evan Turner, Jeff Green and Avery Bradley will keep this team respectable, but they aren’t playoff worthy yet under second year coach Brad Stevens.

10. New York Knicks

The Knicks resigning Carmelo Anthony to a Mega $124 million dollar contract over the next 5 years made people think the Knicks won free agency because they were able to keep their stars from going elsewhere. While this is partly true, don’t think they necessarily improved either. Phil Jackson came into New York knowing he won’t be able to do much until the summer of 2016, when the salary cap is expected to explode exponentially and Kevin Durant hits the market as a free-agent.

He took the cash instead of going elsewhere, but does Melo truly think he can win a ring in the Garden?
He took the cash instead of going elsewhere, but does Melo truly think he can win a ring in the Garden?

By then, Melo will be a tender 32 years-old, J.R. Smith will be 31 and Amr’e Stoudemire will hopefully be retired. That isn’t very appealing to any free agent. As for this season, it doesn’t matter how much Carmelo is worth, he won’t be able to carry a team that is getting older at every position and will rely on Phil’s new version of the triangle offense under new coach Derek Fisher. This isn’t a playoff team, yet Melo alone could still make them one.

9. Brooklyn Nets

The NBA is a game of windows. One closes, another opens. When the Nets acquired Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to salvage what they could of their Hall of Fame careers, the Nets window was exactly one season. That season is over now. Pierce has skipped town for a more talented DC squad that wanted him more and KG is a shell of what he was in Boston and certainly Minnesota at 38. Their three best scorers in Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Jarret Jack are all above the age of 30, and while Brook Lopez is still only 26, his multiple foot injuries are a death sentence for any NBA player over 7 foot.

I wouldn’t call either NYC team a playoff team, but due to the lack of depth in the East, they still could grab the 8th seed.

8. Indiana Pacers

Dear Indiana, I feel your pain, I really do. But then again, your pain stings a little bit more, at least Derrick Rose was giving service to his team in meaningful games when he went down with an ACL and Meniscus tear. Unfortunately, Paul George suffered a horrific injury in an otherwise meaningless Team USA scrimmage. And while PG-13 is progressing from his broken leg, the Pacers will be in a similar limbo of seasons as the Bulls were the past two seasons.

Losing Lance Stephenson hurts as well, the once deep on the wings Pacers are now relying on 2nd year man Solomon Hill and Rookie CJ Fair to step up in their place. The front court depth will keep this team dominant in the paint on both ends with Hibbert, David West and Luis Scola, but Indiana won’t be contending for at least this year.

7. Atlanta Hawks

Getting Al Horford back from injury makes the Hawks a lot better than people think. The front court of Paul Millsap who led Atlanta in points, rebounding, steals, and blocks and Horford will be a tough match up for anyone. Under second year man Mike Budenholzer, the Hawks are becoming a similar version of the Spurs of the East (No coincidence Budenholzer learned under Pop in San Antonio) using ball movement (2nd in the league in assists with just over 24 a game as a team) to find open shooters like Kyle Korver and letting Jeff Teague drive and dish at his own will. Solid overall team, but contender? No quite.

6. Charlotte Hornets

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Outside the Bulls, this is going to be my favorite team to watch in the East. I love the new name, uniforms and most of all team. Last season alone, the then Bobcats ranked 4th in the league in points allowed at 97.1 ppg. The addition of Lance Stephenson on the wing and Rookie Noah Vonleh out of Indiana will make them even better defensively and on the glass especially. In addition to the scoring of Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, and defensive stopper Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, all of a sudden the ceiling for the young Hornets under Steve Cliford just got a lot higher.

5. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors didn’t get as much credit as they should have a season ago. After trading Rudy Gay away to Sacramento, considering them a serious playoff contender at the time was an afterthought. Yet behind one of the best rising backcourts in Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan  the Raptors made some noise, nearly taking out a superior Brooklyn, losing in 7 games. The Raps proved that they won’t be an easy out anymore, evident that DeMar DeRozan has continued to grow into a legit two-guard in the league.

4. Miami Heat

Even with LeBron gone, this team might meet either the Bulls or the Cavs in the East Semi’s. Both scenario’s would create an awkward yet intriguing matchup. Miami and LeBron of course, and Chicago and newly acquired Luol Deng. I loved Deng for the decade he spent in Chicago, he played hard every night, defended the best wing player for years, led the league in minutes for two years and was the workhorse of every Bulls team he was on. Now, after hating the Heat for the past four years, one of the most likable figures in Chicago heads to…South Beach.

Life after James? Very similar to life before it.
Life after James? Very similar to life before him.

It’s difficult to say the Heat will be fine without LeBron, but I’ll say it anyway, they will be. Deng adds a veteran defensive presence that can get 15-18 without truly demanding the ball. They may have the deepest PG depth in the league, Chalmers, Cole, Douglas and 1st round-pick Shabazz Napier. Bosh will be asked to do much more on the offensive end, much like his time in Toronto. Danny Granger, Shannon Brown and Josh McRoberts were underrated bench additions as well. But it all starts with Flash. As in Dwayne Wade, who will be the man once again in South Beach. How high of a seed they get come playoff time will be largely dependent on how much he plays in the regular season. Don’t count out the man just yet, he is still one of the best in the league and will be asked to do what he did before LeBron came, everything.

3. Washington Wizards

Part of me says this team still isn’t ready to be anointed the next contender in the East,  and the other half says “Why did we never see this coming?” John Wall can be a Top 3 Point Guard in the NBA, the talent is certainly there, the want too is as well. But lapses in concentration, inconsistent shooting and crucial turnovers derail him from the title. Yet this could be the year to prove otherwise, Paul Pierce brings a gritty veteran attitude to a young team who is hungry for success.

Washington Wizards v Golden State Warriors

The X-Factors will be the health of Gortat and Nene throughout the year and Bradley Beal development into a top player that he flashed last postseason averaging 19 ppg. shooting 42% from the field. The question remains, are they good enough to hang with the next two teams?

2. Chicago Bulls

I think the Bulls could be the #1 seed if Thibs doesn’t change his stance on resting guys throughout the season, but I think he feels the need to this year. For full coverage of the Bulls preview, follow the link: https://goatsportstalk.com/2014/10/08/everything-seems-pretty-new-2014-15-chicago-bulls-preview/

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

It will take some time to really figure out how the team will mesh together. But they have potentially the best starting five in the league, adding the best player in the league does that for you. Yet the depth is certainly a concern, especially at Center and Point Guard. Coach David Blatt will most likely have one of the three of Love, James and Irving on the floor at all times, a luxury no other team in the league has. LeBron certainly can’t rebound and play defense all by himself, but then again he showed he could do that for a team all the way to the Finals with Miami a season ago.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers-Media Day

Do the Cavs have a lot to work on? Absolutely. Do they have glaring flaws beyond the Love, James and Irving? Sure. But so did Miami, and they went to four straight Finals. Give Cleveland one title, you’re hero, give them two, you’re the greatest sports icon in Cleveland history (if not already) 3? Well, that’s exactly why LeBron came home.

-Goat

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