1. Indiana Pacers (3rd in east)
Projected starters: George Hill, Paul George, Danny Granger, David West, Roy Hibbert.
This is a very weak division and I believe that Indiana should be able to win it easily because of their depth. The Pacers already had one of the deeper teams, but they added to that in the offseason with the additions of D.J. Augustin as a backup point guard and former Net Gerald Green as a scoring option off the bench. However, they lost their starting point guard from last season, Darren Collison. George Hill will have to take over the starting pg role now, and there is a lot of pressure on him because of the contract he received from Indiana in the offseason. Speaking of big contracts, Roy Hibbert received a max deal and the Pacers are expecting big things from him as well. Indiana has a balanced front line of Hibbert, David West, and Danny Granger, with Tyler Hansbrough bringing energy off the bench. Also, I think that Paul George may have a breakout season this year and score as much as 18 ppg. Indiana proved to be a tough playoff team when they took a 2-1 series lead against Miami last season, and they won’t be any easier to deal with this year.
2. Chicago Bulls (6th in east)
Projected starters: Kirk Hinrich, Richard Hamilton, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah.
If not for the fact that Chicago finished with the best record in the eastern conference last season, I don’t think I would even consider them a playoff team. Unlike Indiana, Chicago has no depth at all. On top of that, their former MVP Derrick Rose will be out for most of the season and the rest of the roster is pretty old. My question for the Bulls is who will be the leader here? Richard Hamilton is old and very injury prone. Luol Deng cannot carry a team. Carlos Boozer is very overrated. Joakim Noah is really not that much more than a good energy player. And their best bench player is Taj Gibson, who averaged under 8 ppg last season. I still think Chicago will make the playoffs, especially if Rose can come back on schedule and healthy, but it will be a struggle for this team as it is composed now.
3. Milwaukee Bucks (8th in east)
Projected starters: Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Luc Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova, Samuel Dalembert.
If Milwaukee can’t make the playoffs this season, I believe the whole team should be gutted and the Bucks should start over. However, I think they will just be able to slide in this year even though it seems like every year they finish 9th or 10th in the east. The Bucks have one of the best offensive backcourts in the NBA with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. They have a pretty strong rebounding frontline of Ersan Ilyasova, Samuel Dalembert, and Drew Gooden. Although they can use a better starting small forward than Luc Mbah a Moute, this team doesn’t really have any gaping holes. I just don’t think that any team is afraid of them and I don’t think they will be able to compete with the better teams in the eastern conference. Expect Milwaukee to beat up on the Detroits and Charlottes of the NBA, but lose to the Miamis and San Antonios.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (11th in east)
Projected starters: Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, C.J. Miles, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao.
Aside from Kyrie Irving, I think the Cavs have really screwed up their drafts the past two seasons. They had the #4 pick each season and did not take a top-5 quality player either year. Last year they selected Tristan Thompson, who was a disappointment, and this year they selected Dion Waiters, who I believe will be a draft bust. In addition, some of the other moves the Cavs have made don’t make too much sense. Why are Anderon Varejao and Daniel Gibson still on the team??? Those guys are role players that can help out contenders. They shouldn’t be stuck playing on bad Cleveland teams who don’t need them. C.J. Miles is another one of those role players who the Cavs signed to start at small forward this season. Why not instead develop someone like Omri Casspi, who has not yet reached his potential. If the Cavs had drafted right and made good free agency moves, they could be a tough team by as soon as next season. Instead, I don’t see them moving in any direction and if I’m Kyrie Irving, I am definitely considering pulling a Lebron James and ditching the Cavs once my contract is up.
5. Detroit Pistons (13th in east)
Projected starters: Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell, Greg Monroe.
The Pistons are another team that is going nowhere. Since their glory days in the mid 2000’s, the Pistons have been one of the worst run organizations. It all began by trading Chauncey Billups to Denver for Allen Iverson, and bad moves are continuing to be made today. The Pistons’ drafts of the past 5 or so seasons have not resulted in any franchise player despite being in the lottery every year. Greg Monroe has been good during his time in Detroit, but Brandon Knight is looking like he could be a draft bust. In free agency, the Pistons have made bad decisions too. I have no idea why Tayshaun Prince and Jason Maxiell are still on the roster. They both could hold some value in a trade, so why doesn’t Detroit do that? Also, they recently traded for Corey Maggette, a proven loser, to backup Prince. The Pistons will be lucky to win 30 games this year.