1. Miami Heat (1st in east)
Projected starters: Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Lebron James, Chris Bosh, Joel Anthony.
The defending NBA champions only improved in the offseason when they acquired Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, who should both fit in very well with their system. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole should both be better this year after another year of experience, and the Big 3 are still three of the best players in the NBA, with Lebron James being the best player in the world. This is a team which should easily finish with the best record in the eastern conference and they are the favorite to repeat as NBA champions again.
2. Atlanta Hawks (9th in east)
Projected starters: Jeff Teague, Lou Williams, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia.
Even though the Hawks traded Joe Johnson and acquired some of the worst New Jersey Nets from last year’s team, they still should be in the running for a playoff spot. Despite losing Johnson, they acquired Devin Harris and Lou Williams, who are both pretty good players. Additionally, they still have Jeff Teague, who might have a breakout year, Josh Smith, one of the most athletic forwards in the game, and Al Horford, a top 10 NBA center when healthy. Expect this team to compete with Milwaukee for the last playoff spot in the east, with the team who suffers less injuries clinching that spot.
3. Washington Wizards (10th in east)
Projected starters: John Wall, Jordan Crawford, Trevor Ariza, Jan Vesely, Nene.
It is now or never for Wizards point guard John Wall, who has disappointed in his first two seasons in Washington. He should have a better team this season with the additions of #3 pick Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, and Emeka Okafor. Although I don’t think that the Wizards are a playoff team just yet, I think they will be more competitive than they have been in years. On offense, this team should be very good, but the problem will be defense. Both Jordan Crawford and Bradley Beal are undersized shooting guards and their only good defensive player in the front court is Emeka Okafor. If the Wizards can make some upgrades on defense next offseason, they may become a playoff team, but until then this team will still be in the bottom half of the eastern conference.
4. Charlotte Bobcats (14th in east)
Projected starters: Ramon Sessions, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Byron Mullens, Bismack Biyombo.
After a historically bad season last year, the Bobcats have nowhere to go but up. And I do think that they will be significantly better than they were last year. In the offseason they signed Ramon Sessions, who was the starting point guard for the Lakers last season. He will never be a great player, but he is serviceable. They also traded for Ben Gordon and picked up Brendon Haywood. Although I am not a big fan of either of these players, they will make the Bobcats more competitive than they were last season and they are upgrades. In more good news, because Orlando is in the same division as Charlotte, these teams will meet 4 times next season, and the Bobcats should win the majority of those games. I expect the Bobcats to more than triple their win total of last season, which means that they will win 21+ games.
5. Orlando Magic (15th in east)
Projected starters: Jameer Nelson, Aaron Afflalo, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, Gustavo Ayon.
Boy are the Magic in trouble. They had one of the worst offseasons in NBA history, and it wasn’t only because of the Dwight Howard disaster. Besides that, they re-signed veteran point guard Jameer Nelson to a 3 year contract, which made no sense. They also lost their breakout star Ryan Anderson to free agency. Now, the team is composed of washed up veterans and players not good enough to fill their roles. If Orlando had acquired some young players and better draft picks in the Howard trade, they would have a few bad years but then turn it around. Now, they are in a big hole and may not make the playoffs for another five seasons, which is a long time in the NBA. The Magic better hope to get lucky in the lottery this year or else they will be in big trouble beyond this season.