Go to SPORTZ' HOOPS LAND for my full review of each team. I have lineups, coaching takes, best player, biggest additions, biggest subtractions and all the garbage an NBA fan needs for the upcoming season.
SOUTHEAST DIVISION: 1-MIAMI HEAT
OVERVIEW: The Heat lost Game 7 of the Eastern Finals at home. Since that moment, theyâ€™ve added Williams, Walker, Payton, Posey and Simien. That makes this team so much more talented....but not as disciplined. Williams and Walker have wore out their welcomes everywhere theyâ€™ve gone. Payton isnâ€™t exactly as great as he once was. But, despite all of that...it will be Shaq and Wade. Shaq needs to stay healthy...something it looked as if he was finally doing until the final parts of the season when he wore down. They canâ€™t lose Wade for any stretch...or the team just cannot function correctly.
OUTLOOK: In reality, the Heat lost two games in the Eastern Finals with Shaq and Wade sidelined with injuries. So, the feeling is that health equals wealth. Not quite. This is a totally different team and it still isnâ€™t certain how well they can grind out the playoff game. However, I see them as the best team in the East and, most likely, the Eastâ€™s representative in the Finals. EASTERN RANK: 1
OVERVIEW: The team lost Larry Hughes, who had a breakout season. They also lost Kwame Brown, the #1 overall pick in the 2001 draft. This team lost a lot of their role players from last year as well. They key will be how the new ones come in. Arenas and Jamison will still get theirs...as they figured out how to play alongside each other. The frontcourt is primarily made up of shot blockers...so keeping the paint clean is a necessity for the Wiz as well. Doing that also feeds their ability to run.
OUTLOOK: The loss of Hughes hurts them...as it will force Arenas to expend more energy. But, Arenas has improved greatly thus far that he may just add that to his listand be fine. With the turnover, I see the Wiz getting into the playoffs then bowing out to a championship caliber team.
EASTERN RANK: 7
OVERVIEW: This team goes as Francis goes. When they win, he plays well. When he doesnâ€™t play well...they lose. I know that sounds simple...but it says a lot to what this team needs to do. Nelson will try to man the point, which will free up Francis and enable him to both conserve energy and not be tempted to take such awful shots at times. Where would this team have been last year if Grant Hill didnâ€™t have such a comeback season? While Orlando cannot rely on it....they do hope to get much of that magic back. Then there is Howard, the #1 overall pick last year. He got better as the season went along...and could start to show signs of dominance.
OUTLOOK: The defense will be bad. They had one of the worst defenses last year and the team is turnover prone, which leads to points on the other end. The key is to lock that up...but it will be hard to if they cannot figure out a half court game. The key will be Howardâ€™s improvement...and he had a pretty good rookie season. I see them improving some...but still not a playoff team.
EASTERN RANK: 11
OVERVIEW: The word on this team is young...for a team that won only 13 games last year. Their two best prospects, Williams and Smith, aren’t starters yet...play the same position...and are the same age . Getting Johnson was a great, if not an overpaying, move. Johnson gives the Hawks someone who commands attention and will allow the others to mix in...instead of all these guys trying to become "the man". They lack size and defense...but they have speed and athleticism. The key will be to corral that into solid NBA players.
OUTLOOK: Youth brings hope and mistakes. What the Hawks need to look at is improvement in their young guys. This isn’t a playoff team by any stretch, but they can start acting like one and building for one. They saw the Bulls model of building with draft picks....getting them experience...then watching them blossom together. I feel the Hawks, with a little patience, can copy this in a few years.
EASTERN RANK: 13
OVERVIEW: Charlotte has done nicely in expansion. The first year you try to polish off those diamonds in the rough [Brezec, Wallace], lean on a veteran to steady your ship [Knight], develop your draft pick [Okafor] and search for those guys who just want to play [Carroll, Rush]. Now they have a workable nucleus...and they’ll try to further that team along, while adding new parts Felton and May. Getting May and Felton NBA experience will be one key...as well as fine tuning Okafor's inside game and Wallace's outside game.
OUTLOOK: The Bobcats are an expansion team, still, so improvement is the key. Their future is Felton, Wallace, Okafor and May...so those guys will get more minutes than everyone else. A reasonable goal would be to finish ahead of the Hawks....something they did last year.
EASTERN RANK: 15
CENTRAL DIVISION: 1-INDIANA PACERS
OVERVIEW: The Pacers played their desired starting lineup ZERO times last year. Injuries and suspensions killed a team that had so much promise heading into last year. With all that which happened last season, they still were in the playoffs and were a dangerous team. If anything, this team is closer together since they went thru so much together. Their bench guys were forced into starting roles, which will help them this year.
OUTLOOK: Carlisle has always been a good regular season coach, winning 3 division titles. But he’s yetto smell the Finals. If the focus is there, the Pacers could climb above the rival Pistons and make it to that mountain.
EASTERN RANK: 2
OVERVIEW: This team was so close to repeating as NBA champions....arguably just a Robert Horry shot away from doing so. Now Larry Brown is gone...but the team is essentially intact. Brown had a way of keeping this team focused...something Saunders will have to keep alive. He will also have to keep alive their defensive intensity, which is a large reason why they won two consecutive Eastern titles.
OUTLOOK: Again, this is pretty much the same team as last year...so they can get to the Finals. However, this year..the Pacers will be united again and the Heat made huge upgrades. Plus, the overall talent of the East has gotten better. I think the Pistons will fall short of their Finals dreams.
EASTERN RANK: 3
OVERVIEW: The NBA is there for LeBron’s taking...but he can’t have it until he at least gets to the next stage. The Playoffs. He has a lot more talent around him now...and it will help him considerably. Hughes brings a second scorer to the mix. Jones brings ballhandling and an ability to hit the jumper. Marshall brings length inside. And if Z-Iggy stays healthy [not a given] then the Cavs could matter again.
OUTLOOK: Remember, this team tanked last year. They were a legit team until the second half where fatigue set in. Now the team has more talent and a deeper bench to help alleviate LeBron. This team was the fourth best team for the first half of last year...I feel they will be for the entirety of this season.
EASTERN RANK: 4
OVERVIEW: The Baby Bulls went from one of the worst teams in the NBA to home court advantage in the firstround of the playoffs. How? Potential finally started to show. Hinrich, Chandler and Gordon lead this rather balanced offensive team. Duhon gives the Bulls a smart pointman who will make sound decisions. Everyone else will come at you hard, give it their best, then rotate for a breather.
OUTLOOK: This team won’t repeat last year’s success, only because of Curry’s absence and the fact that the Pacers, Cavs, Bucks and Nets are that much more improved. However, the Bulls may be a better team for it in the long run. They still are a playoff team.
EASTERN RANK: 6
OVERVIEW: When a team gets the #1 overall pick in the draft, it is automatically assumed that the team stunk really bad. Not in this case. The Bucks were a playoff team in 2004 and a 30-win team in 2005. So while there is room for improvement, it isn’t like they are completely rebuilding. They brought in Bogut with the top pick...added Simmons in free agency....and get Ford back from injury. All three will greatly help Redd and Mason offensively. Also, Mo Williams was such a pleasant surprise that he can come in and spell Ford for longer stretches. With Bogut in the middle, the Bucks offense will have a lot of ball movement, slashing and athleticism.
OUTLOOK: This could be a playoff team...but I think there are too many questions. Can Ford make a comeback? Will Bogut be effective? Will Redd be satisfied? Was Simmons a one-hit wonder? The season will provide those answers...but it will end sooner than they hope. But the Bucks are a franchise on a rise.
EASTERN RANK: 10