Matt posted his Eastern Conference picks earlier today, so I figured I would chip in with some of my own. These are sure to be wrong, although I'm sadly confident the top two will be right. And remember, this is not projected seeding, this is simply based on record.
1. Miami Heat
The Heat are the clear-cut favorite on top. LeBron James has finally gotten over that championship hump and is now focused on building his legacy. There's no reason to think he won't have another season like last year, and he'll probably be even better. The addition of Ray Allen is a bonus, while although he's old, he can pretty much just chill on the perimeter and bomb wide open threes. Dwyane Wade's health could determine whether they win it all again, but LeBron himself may be good enough to get them through the East.
Hard not to admire what the Celtics did this offseason when it seemed like they had little flexibility to do much. They replaced Allen with Jason Terry, who will add a bit more shot creation in addition to being a solid three-point shooter. I'm sure Boston is hoping Jet can do to the Heat what he did to them in the 2011 Finals. They also somehow landed Courtney Lee, a guy many Bulls fans talked about possibly acquiring. In addition to this, the Celtics drafted two young big men in Fab Melo and Jared Sullinger to provide some depth behind Kevin Garnett (Melo is a bit of a project at this point). I couldn't talk about the Celtics without mentioning our friend Rajon Rondo, who may be expected to pick up a little bit more of the scoring load. Rondo showed he could do it at times in the playoffs last year, but we've never seen him do it consistently. And I find it ludicrous that several writers at Sports Illustrated have picked Rondo to be the best point guard in the league by year's end. Seriously, fuck that guy.
Despite their splashy offseason, I had no intention of putting the Nets here. I was leaning toward putting the Pacers at three, but then I saw that Danny Granger was out indefinitely with a knee injury. Huge red flag. I couldn't justify picking the Bulls quite this high, and I sure as hell wouldn't put the Knicks here. So by default, it was the Nets. Anyway, Deron Williams should have a bit of a bounce back season, and Joe Johnson, overpaid as he is, should flourish playing with an elite point guard. Brook Lopez is a damn good center when healthy, and Gerald Wallace does a lot of the little things. Throw in what should be a solid bench, and the Nets will win a lot of games.
I hated this offseason. Hated, hated, hated it. And yet, I still think the Bulls are going to have a nice season, even with Derrick Rose missing much of it. There's still a solid core in place, and while I worry about Carlos Boozer declining, I don't think it will be to the extent that Matt fears. Joakim Noah is set to have a big year, and Taj Gibson (given he's still around) should have a good year as well. Hinrich should be okay, as long as he can actually stay on the court. The bench doesn't look promising, but I'm hoping they can come together as the season goes on and become a respectable unit. Most importantly, Tom Thibodeau will have this team playing hard every night, which in this league, leads to plenty of wins as long as there's some talent around. If Rose comes back relatively healthy, I envision at least one playoff series win. However, I can also see this thing going off the rails if there's another serious injury or two. Crossing my fingers for good health.
I considered dropping them even further due to Granger's injury, but I decided to stick them at five. Besides Granger, they have solid young talent in Roy Hibbert and Paul George. David West is a steady veteran if he stays healthy. And although George Hill has been hurt, he can play a solid point guard. Frank Vogel is also an excellent coach, even I though think he's kind of a jag. If the Granger injury is serious, the Pacers may be in real trouble. But if not, I think they can stay afloat without him and then put it together when he returns.
There's no doubt the Knicks will be fascinating this year. Amar'e Stoudemire is already out for up to two months, which means Mike Woodson SHOULD use Carmelo Anthony a lot at the 4. I know Melo's not really into that, but he should be if the Knicks want to be as good as they can be. I really don't think much of Raymond Felton or Jason Kidd at point guard, as one is fat/bad and one is old/bad. Woodson did have this team playing good defense at the end of last season (thanks Tyson Chandler), and if they can do that again, perhaps they'll be better than expected. But the Knicks are old and already hurt, so I'm expecting another disappointing year in the Big Apple.
It's pretty remarkable that the Hawks were able to get out from under that abominable Joe Johnson deal. Major kudos to Danny Ferry for pulling that off. The Hawks may be a bit worse in the short run because of it, but they have much more flexibility going forward. Josh Smith will be an intriguing guy to watch, as he's in a contract year. Perhaps the Hawks look to move him at some point, but I'm thinking he stays put for now. Al Horford is back and healthy, which makes for an excellent frontcourt. There are plenty of shooters in Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow and John Jenkins around those two bigs, which could make the Hawks a dangerous team.
The Andrew Bynum things really scares me. A healthy Bynum probably puts the Sixers at least a spot or two higher, but who knows how many games he actually plays this year. If Bynum does miss a lot of time, a lot of of the burden will be put on Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner, and I'm not really sure they can handle it. Both guys are solid players, but I wouldn't consider them top guys on a good team. Lou Williams will be missed, although he was replaced by a somewhat similar player in Nick Young. And as Matt mentioned in his predictions, we'll see how the Doug Collins thing goes in Year 3. This is usually about the time it falls apart.
Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis will be a fun backcourt. It will also be a backcourt that gets torched repeatedly on defense. Still, they should put up a lot of points, which will win them a decent amount of games. But it won't be enough to get them in the playoffs. It will also to be fun to see how Scott Skiles deals with a full season of those two jacking shots up.
10. Toronto Raptors
I totally forgot that Kyle Lowry is now on the Raptors, and he should be a huge boost. There's a lot of solid young talent on this roster, although they lack that go-to guy. DeMar DeRozan could potentially be close to that, but I'm not sure he has it in him. Jonas Valanciunas is intriguing. And JL3!!!
11. Detroit Pistons
Greg Monroe is a beast and Andre Drummond could be a beast, although he was sort of a bum at Connecticut. Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey form what could be a nice backcourt, although it will likely be a rather inefficient one.
Kyrie Irving is awesome. And that may be one of the only saving graces of this group. Two straight years of "meh" No. 4 picks will likely come back to haunt them. Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters may turn out to be decent NBA ballers, but they were both major reaches at No. 4.
I was kind of excited about the Wizards heading into this year (as excited as a Bulls fan can be about the Wizards). John Wall is a major talent at point guard, although he struggled at times last year. Nene is a darn good center when he's on the court. And Bradley Beal should be the real deal at shooting guard. Of course, Wall is out for a while and Nene is hurt too. So...this team won't be very good without them.
I can't believe I'm not picking the Bobcats last, but the Magic look to be just so, so horrible this year. Ben Gordon and Kemba Walker will splash some threes while Tyrus Thomas will provide some LOLZ. No. 2 pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be one to watch as well.
15. Orlando Magic
Would you like to trade us Arron Afflalo?