The NBA Draft has come and gone, so how did the landscape in the Eastern Conference change? Of course, the buzz is about the Brooklyn-Boston deal with the Nets picking up what might be the best starting five on paper. Can that group avoid injuries over an 82-game season, as the Nets will now be very limited in putting a bench behind that five? Before free agency might change the landscape again, here are my power rankings in the East for the 2013-2014 season:
1. Miami Heat. The Heat are the back-to-back champs, and I’m going to put them at one until someone knocks them off. Roster wise, they has been a lot of buzz post-championship about Chris Bosh, but it is unlikely that the Heat will find a suitor willing to take that contract. The Miami had two unrestricted free agents that logged major playoff minutes in Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers, but Allen has a player option and Chalmers has a team option. I foresee both coming back.
With the trade of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn, I think the Nets are right now the 2nd best team in the East.
2. Brooklyn Nets. The Nets wanted to make a splash, and they did just that landing Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry from Boston. That gives them a formidable six man rotation adding to Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Joe Johnson, but the Nets are going to be thin after that. Still, it’ll be enough to win the Atlantic, probably going away, as Boston and Philadelphia have taken huge steps back.
3. Indiana Pacers. For the Pacers, the key to the offseason will be retaining David West. If the Pacers retain West and get back a healthy Danny Granger, they become a more improved team than the team that was one win away from the NBA Finals last season. The Pacers have taken a lot of criticism for their only draft pick, Solomon Hill out of Arizona, who won’t add much offensive punch to a bench that was outscored in every playoff game last season.
4. Chicago Bulls. With Derrick Rose coming back, this team is adding a lot of offensive punch to the defensive grittiness they showed getting past the Nets in seven last season. The big question remains to see if Rose will regain his MVP form of the past. The Bulls have two unrestricted free agents who made major contributions last season: Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson.
5. New York Knicks. The Knicks are coming off their best season in years, but they were exposed in the playoffs losing to the Pacers in six in the semis. J.R. Smith, sixth man of the year, has already declined his player option and will become an unrestricted free agent. New York is hoping if they are unable to retain Smith, that Tim Hardaway Jr. from Michigan, their first round pick, can pick up some of that slack.
6. Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks are put here with a giant asterisk. Why? In two weeks, this could be a completely different roster. They are making a push to land both prize free agents in this pool: Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. Obviously, they’d be better than sixth with that dynamic duo. However, the Hawks have several unrestricted free agents including Josh Smith, Devin Harris, Kyle Korver, and Zaza Pachulia. Depending on free agency, the Hawks could sink into the lottery.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers. Yes, I think the Cavs have already done enough to put themselves back into the playoffs. The key issue here is keeping Kyrie Irving healthy. He needs to play 82 games to help Cleveland take the next step. Cleveland boosted their bench with a fantastic mid-season trade with Memphis landing Wayne Ellington and Marreese Speights, and they took the possible best player in a down draft in Anthony Bennett. Keep Irving healthy and they should be skipping the lottery.
Cavs in the playoffs? If Kyrie Irving can stay healthy, I think the Cavs will breakthrough in 2013-14.
8. Washington Wizards. Like the Cavs, the Wizards need to keep John Wall healthy. The Wizards, also like the Cavs, had a great draft haul taking advantage of their high position to take Otto Porter, possibly the most NBA ready prospect, and Glen Rice Jr. in the second round. With Bradley Beal coming back from a leg injury along with a solid front line including Nene, the Wizards could return to the playoffs.
9. Detroit Pistons. Okay, Pistons fans are mad Detroit passed on Trey Burke in Thursday’s draft. However, the Pistons decided to stay with Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey in the backcourt, and they brought in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to improve their offense and 3 spot. Along with the young front line of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, the Pistons will likely contend for a playoff spot in 2013-14 under new coach Maurice Cheeks.
10. Toronto Raptors. In a down draft, the Raptors had no picks so their roster hasn’t changed that way. Toronto, which improved in wins 11 games last season, will now see if a full season of Rudy Gay is enough to launch them back into the playoffs. DeMar DeRozan is the biggest free agent, but he is restricted and I expect Toronto would match an offer.
11. Boston Celtics. Before we throw dirt on the Celtics coffin, this team may not be as bad as people think. With Rajon Rondo coming back and Jeff Green, the Celtics have a couple of nice pieces to build around. Gerald Wallace would have to bounce back from a down 2012-13 where he averaged 7.7 points, but there are far worst rosters in the East.
12. Orlando Magic. The Magic had the worst record in the NBA last season, but they have enough young pieces to start moving forward. The Victor Oladipo has received high praise for his skills and locker room presence. Orlando picked up Tobias Harris from Milwaukee for J.J. Reddick’s expiring contract, and the Magic may end up with the best parts from the Howard deal in Arron Afflalo and Maurice Harkless if Howard leaves the Lakers and Iguodala leaves Denver.
13. Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks went all-in to make the playoffs last season, overpaying for J.J. Reddick. Now, they are dealing with the aftermath, and they probably won’t have Reddick or Monta Ellis, who is opting out of his deal to become a free agent. Milwaukee also has to make a decision on Brandon Jennings, who is a restricted free agent. The Bucks rolled the dice on draft day with Giannis Antetokounmpo, an overseas player who is undersized at 6’9”, 210 lbs.
14. Philadelphia 76ers. I don’t think Philadelphia is the worst team in the East, but it’s close. The 76ers decided it was time to rebuild and shipped All-Star PG Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for Nerlens Noel. Of course, Noel won’t be ready at the start of the season, but 76ers fans hope to see more of him than they did Andrew Bynum. Michael Carter-Williams from Syracuse will take over the PG duties, and Philadelphia now has two possible lottery selections in next year’s much deep draft.
Cody Zeller was not a bad pick by the Charlotte Bobcats, but it’ll take more than Zeller to avoid being a bad team in 2013-14.
15. Charlotte Bobcats. First off, I don’t dislike the Cody Zeller pick. Maybe Ben McLemore, who went later, will be the better pro, but the Bobcats needed help on the frontline and Zeller is healthier than Len and Noel. They hope a change at coach will improve their fortunes, but this roster needs more than a new captain to make headway in the East.