ESPN has posted its NBA Summer Forecast, predicting the final rankings in the Eastern Conference and placing the Nets 5th, ahead of the 7th place Knicks and behind the Heat, Celtics, Pacers, and the Derrick Rose-less Bulls. ESPN.com projects the Nets to finish with a 46-36 record, recording 24 more wins than they did last season when they went 22-44 in a shortened season. The Bulls (4th) and 76ers (6th) are projected to finish tied with the Nets. The Hawks are projected to beat out the Bucks and win the 8th and final playoff seed. Frustrated Nets fans would be happy with the Magic’s projected record: 21-61, good for second to last place.
I agree with most of ESPN’s rankings. I think the Heat should easily claim first place, as ESPN predicts. I also agree that the conference will be very closely bunched and as few as five wins could separate the 2nd and 7th best teams in the conference. However, I do not see how the Bulls without Derrick Rose for much of the season can finish with just as many wins as the Nets. Also, I don’t think the Celtics will finish in 2nd place. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are getting old and they will probably play very limited minutes as the season wears on to keep themselves fresh for the playoffs. However, I agree that the Nets will finish 5th. I think that they will finish ahead of the Knicks and Bulls, but behind the Heat, Pacers, 76ers, and Celtics (in that order). Please beware that I have a poor track record making bold predictions.
As Jonah wrote here, a lot of the Nets’ success next season depends on Coach Avery Johnson, figuring out how to get the most out of his team.