With all the flux in the Eastern Conference this off-season, it may be difficult for fans to spot clear-cut favorites out of that murky conference. All things considered, I believe the the top 5 will look something like this:
1. Cleveland Cavaliers- It might take some time to get the chemistry together, but this team has more talent than any team in the East and should have no trouble securing a top 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
2. Chicago Bulls- Chicago might have one of the most dangerous front-courts in the NBA. Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah are going to handfuls for any teams. Add those two with Derrick Rose and a roster who is used to winning with or without a superstar, the Bulls will be very dangerous and will likely challenge the Cavs for the top spot.
3. Charlotte Hornets- Charlotte is going to make a huge jump this year. They finally have their Hornets back, which may spark on of the most dangerous home courts in the league. But aside from that, the product on the court will be dangerous. Lance Stephenson led the league in triple doubles, and can defend anyone in the league. Al Jefferson claimed all NBA Third Team last year and is unstoppable as an anchor in the paint. Also, the barrage of young talent like Kemba Walker, Cody Zeller, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will help a young, energetic Hornets team make strides in the Eastern Conference.
4. Washington Wizards- The Wizards are similar to the Hornets, which is why I believe the race for third seed will be a very tight one. Washington has an established team, bringing almost every one back from last year (except Trevor Ariza). They also added future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce to help mentor and lead the back-court. The Wizards were one of the most surprising teams last year, nearly shocking the Pacers in the second round of the playoffs, and don’t expect them to take a step back.
5. Miami Heat- Miami will not crumble after the LeBron James breakup. Pat Riley knows how to compete and win. This is evident by the signing of Luol Deng, who I expect will plug right into LeBron’s role. This creates solid big three of All-Stars, and although they are not as good as last year’s team, I do not expect them to fall far.
Who was left out and why:
Brooklyn Nets- Brooklyn was a very dangerous team last year loaded with past and present superstars. However, Pierce has left, Garnett is a year older, and no major moves were made in the off season. This team will go has Deron Williams and Joe Johnson goes, which will likely be the bottom half of the East.
New York Knicks- The Knicks are going to be a serious player in a few years. The key words being “in a few years.” They have two excellent building blocks in Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony. This team is a year away from being a top 5 team, the key word being “a year.”
Toronto Raptors- Toronto was the surprise team in the East last year. Additionally, they returned everyone, even Kyle Lowry, which was a huge signing. However, the Raptors did not improve, and all the teams mentioned in the top 5 made some kind of improvement. Thus, the Raptors will likely be a playoff team but not have home court.