(1)(2) Boston Celtics – Arguably the League’s best all-around squad, the title of East’s best team remains with the Celtics until it is taken. Injury concerns remain the biggest issue surrounding this team, but offseason additions have made them more durable and they sport the East’s deepest bench, both of which should work to lighten the load placed on the Big Three. Bottom line; if healthy, Boston has a great shot at hanging another banner.
(2)(3) Miami Heat – Stacked for the foreseeable future, this Miami Heat team has the opportunity to be something special. With the offseason finally over, Miami’s highly-touted trio can finally get down to business. Injuries have already proven to be an issue, as marksman Mike Miller will miss significant time, and Dwyane Wade continues to heal his hamstring. Lack of interior intimidation is also an issue, as Miami’s paltry frontcourt may have some difficulty matching up with big-bodied teams like Boston or L.A. The expectations are there, but all the talk in the world doesn’t win titles, so it is up to Miami’s new trio to live up to the hype and handle their business on the court.
(3)(5) Orlando Magic – One of the League’s most solid all-around squads, the Magic remain largely unchanged from the team that fell short in the Conference Finals last year. Quentin Richardson will fit in nicely, as he provides another kick-out option for the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard. Sticking with the same system as recent seasons will generate success, but as other teams improved this offseason, Orlando is still a piece or two away from the team’s first title.
(4)(8) Atlanta Hawks – It seemed evident last postseason that the Hawks had plateaued, but rather than improving in the offseason they instead overpaid Joe Johnson. Johnson is certainly a stud, but one can’t help but wonder if in a few years Atlanta won’t wish they instead spread that money around this summer. With the team remaining largely the same, expect the same results as last season.
(5)(10) Chicago Bulls – The Bulls missed out on landing one of the bigger name free agents, but the addition of Boozer, and being able to keep Joakim Noah might prove to be just as impactful. The development of Derrick Rose will continue this season, as he is budding into a bona fide star. His abilities, combined with the addition of Ronnie Brewer and the presence of a potent frontcourt, have the Bulls on the fast track to be mentioned among the East’s elite.
(6)(12) Milwaukee Bucks – The Bucks were one of the pleasant surprises of the League last season, as the emergence of Andrew Bogut and the explosion of Brandon Jennings caught many off guard. That won’t be the case this season. Although Jennings and Bogut will still be relied on to produce a large percentage of the offense, the addition of Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden should help alleviate their load. Overall the Bucks are a solid squad whose continuing development this season should show that last season’s success was just the start.
(7)( 16) Detroit Pistons – An Eastern Conference power not too long ago, the Pistons slipped out of the playoffs last year, leading to a lot of doubt in D-Town. Expect this team, which is surprisingly deep, to bounce back this season. The team is especially stacked at shooting guard where Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon, and newly acquired Tracy McGrady provide them with an array of scoring options. These options, along with the improvement of Rodney Stuckey should put the Pistons back in the playoffs.
(8)(18) Philadelphia 76ers – Despite sporting some new parts, this season’s incarnation of the Sixers, is largely similar to that seen in recent seasons. The offense will be spearheaded by second year stud, Jrue Holiday, whose continuing development provides promise for the future of the franchise, but does not guarantee success this season. Thus, the offense will rely heavily on Andre Igoudala and highly-touted rookie Evan Turner, a potentially dominant duo. Turner’s development, however, will take time, and Iguodala has already demonstrated that he cannot carry the offensive load alone, leading to a lack of a legitimate go-to guy. Their lack of a legitimate post presence is cause for further concern, unless Elton Brand can come back from the dead and post stats similar to those posted during his all-star seasons with the Clippers. Overall, the team has enough talent to compete on any given night, but not enough to truly contend.
(9)(21) New York Knicks – Although they didn’t land The King this summer, the Knicks did find the new face of their franchise in Amare Stoudemire, whose ferociousness on the offensive end should be well-received by Knicks faithful. The parts around him, however, are pedestrian, evidenced by Danilio Gallinari serving as the team’s second scoring option. It will take some more pieces, and a team-wide commitment to defense, to get the Knicks back to where they want to be.
(10)(23) Charlotte Bobcats – Charlotte played well down the stretch last season and earned a spot in the playoffs, where they were embarrassed and easily eliminated by Orlando. The team did not do much to improve, and the onus will again be on Steven Jackson and Gerald Wallace to guide an otherwise underwhelming Bobcats squad.
(11)(24) Washington Wizards – This season is all about John Wall. If he is as good as advertised, the Wizards will be sitting well for seasons to come. Expect some growing pains in his first season though. Javale McGee appears poised for a breakout year, and his improvement could have an enormous impact on the outcome of the Wizards’ season. All of this plus the re-addition of Gilbert Arenas spells an exciting season for Washington; even though that excitement might not translate to wins.
(12)(25) Indiana Pacers – A lack of offensive options should limit the Pacers, who will again depend on Danny Granger for a great deal of the team’s productivity. The offseason acquisition of Darren Collison was nice, but won’t be enough to keep the Pacers competitive
(13)(26) New Jersey Nets – A new owner means new aspirations for the New Jersey Nets, who fell short in their bid to land a big name in the offseason. They did however draft promising prospect, Derrick Favors, who should greatly held the franchise in the future if not immediately. Other offseason additions include Jordan Farmar and Anthony Marrow, who both add depth to the backcourt. While the Nets are moving in the right direction, they’re not there yet.
(14)(27) Cleveland Cavaliers – Talk about night and day. The expectations surrounding this year’s Cavaliers squad are almost the exact opposite of those of a year ago, when there was hope that the Cavs would put an end to Cleveland’s championship draught. There are no such expectations this year, as the Cavs are still trying to get over the loss of the biggest sports superstar the city has ever known. LeBron’s departure leaves a gigantic hole in the heart of the Cavaliers organization that will take several seasons to heal.
(15)(30) Toronto Raptors – Without Bosh the Raptors lack a box-office draw and a legitimate go-to guy, and the first season in the post-Bosh era will prove to be a struggle. DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani will be largely responsible for picking up the slack and an otherwise underwhelming cast should keep the Raptors rooted at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standing.