[latrell spreewel breaks down the Eastern Conference power rankings style considering the offseason moves to date as teams continue to wheel and deal. -TL]
Always love the NBA power rankings in the regular season, and I know that there are still some mid level free agents still out there, such as Courtney Lee, O.J. Mayo and some others. But for the most part, we have a pretty good sense of where teams will be at the start of training camp come October. Obviously trades can still go down especially with the Dwight Howard situation but here is a very premature projected ranking of the Eastern Conference and how the Indiana Pacers match up.
1) Heat: the NBA champions' main acquistion has been Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Their salary structure won't allow them too much wiggle room to bring in any mid level players, so for the most part the team they have now will likely be the team we see at the start of the season. Without question, the Heat will be the biggest obstacle of any team in the East trying to make it out of the East as long as Lebron James remains healthy. Although Dwayne Wade had knee surgery to repair whatever wear and tear he has, Lebron James and a improved Heat's bench alone will carry the Heat to a first place finish in the regular season regardless of Wade, especially consider
ing the Bulls will be missing a lot of key players from last season. The conference top seed is the Heat's to lose.
2) Pacers: I think the philosophy of defense, depth and team basketball will carry this team to a second place finish in the regular season, much like what the Bulls did last year. The main question will be the Playoffs, can the Pacers beat teams with gritty veterans like the Celtics or teams with superstars like the Nets and the Knicks. Fundamental teams do very well in the regular season (look at the spurs), I am confident of this position for the Pacers
3) Nets: this was a hard choice between the Celtics and the Nets. I chose the Nets simply because of their star studded starting five. They could be higher or lower, depending on their team defense and rebounding. personally I don't think this team is a championship contender, other than Brooks, their bench is not great, and this is the first year this team is together, no to mention two of the starting five have health issues in their track record and the team was awful last season. But, this is obviously a very interesting team, and I would love to hear what others think about them.
4) Celtics: They are doing a superb job rebuilding on the fly. Sullinger and Melo are nice pickups for them to inject youth into their rotation. This team could possibly win the championship next season, especially if they pick up Courtney Lee. This team has both experience and depth even without Lee. This team could very well beat out both the Pacers and Nets if everything goes according to plan. However, with that said, I place them fourth because of one thing, and that is the Health of Kevin Garnett. KG, not Rondo, not Pierce is the single most important player on that team even now. Last year in the playoffs, KG show us that he is the heart and soul of the Celtic's defense, although he isn't as athletic as he was in his prime, KG still is an awesome help defender, on ball defender, post defender, rebounder, rim protector. The only drawback is that he is 36, health will be a factor. The regular season doesn't matter to these guys as they've shown this past year, so they could very well coast into the playoffs and let Garnett rest, so I think fourth place makes sense for the regular season.
5) Bulls: There is no way they will be nearly as good as they were last season. They are letting Brewer, Watson, Asik, and Korver go this off season. They won't have Rose for half the season. I know Tom Thibodeau is a excellent coach, and their defense alone will gauranteed a respectable playoff spot, but I think with the way Jerry Reinsdorff is being a cheap SOB, it looks like they have already given up on the 2013 season before it even begun. The Central division is the Pacer's to lose.
6) Knicks: the Atlantic is going to be strong this year. The Knicks got Kidd, Felton and Camby. Lost Lin. Shumpert won't be back until mid season. The Knicks have been hovering around this spot for the last 2 years, Carmelo will always be Carmelo, elite scorer, but makes his teammates worst as his style of play only makes his numbers look nice. I could be very wrong, maybe this is the year, they finally live up to their potential, but again even if they do, the Atlantic is jam pack next season, between the Nets, Celtics and Knicks, they will be killing each other for playoff positioning.
7) Hawks: Letting Johnson go will hurt them this season, but it finally opens up their salary structure in order to be flexible. Don't forget, the Hawks lost Joe Johnson for a month and a half last year and they didn't seem to be affected in the win columns very much. Hordford and Smith are still there, they've added Lou williams and Devin Harris, and unless they decide to completely blow up their roster, they will still be in the middle of the playoff picture.
8) Sixers: they just sign Kwame Brown, and reportedly are going to slide Spencer Hawes over to the power forward spot so Kwame can start. They amnestied Elton Brand, and lost Lou Williams, but signed Nick Young. They have some nice young players in Evan Turner, Jrue Holliday, Nick Vucevic and the two players they just drafted. They are seemingly rebuilding on the fly, however their defense alone should allow them to make the playoffs unless the players have a mutiny against Doug Collins or if they decided to salary dump Iggy.
9) Wizards: this team has a lot of good players albeit over paid, they are like the poor man version of the New Jersey Nets. They could beat out the Sixers or the Hawks for the last two spots. John Wall will make the playoffs someday, maybe that day will be in 2013? we'll see.
10) Milwaukee: They nearly made the playoffs last season with basically the same team they will be going into this season. I don't expect much, I doubt Jennings and Ellis works out, neither are true point guards and neither are super stars, the East is even deeper than years past, they won't make it by the lack of improvement over the off season.
11) Caveliers: the Cavs are interesting young team. everything will depend on how Kyrie Erving handles the team. Zeller will come in and contribute right away. Dion Waiters is a nice player, looks like the next Eric Gordon type. The cavs could make a push for the last playoff spot soon, but again the East is stronger than seasons past, I could see them making it in 2014 if everyone improves. Man, they got a lot of draft picks over the last two years.
13) Magics: Dwight Howard will be gone at some point and this team will be awful, I just don't see how they make it to training camp with him still on the roster.
14) raptors: complete failure so far in everything they've tried to do this offseason. Calderon wants out. They will be competing with the Bobcats for last place.
15) Bobcats: they won't make history history again, but will still lose a fair share of their game this season. I am interested in watching how Micheal Kidd-Gilchrist play, I have my doubts about his offensive capabilities, to be honest, I think he is very comparable to Kawhi Leonard.
again, this is absolutely premature since the offseason is still far from over, but I do want to know what y'all think where the Pacers rank among the powers of the East, and by all means, please let me know where you disagree.