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NBA: Eastern Conference Preview – LeBron and Rose back where they belong and battling for NBA supremacy…….

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Derrick Rose and Lebron James are back where they belong. That’s a good thing for the cities of Chicago and Cleveland. But it’s probably not a good thing for the rest of the Eastern Conference or the NBA.

Even though, Rose never left Chicago, his injuries have kept him away from the court. Lebron, did leave to successfully pursue an NBA title. But, he’s back now and wants to deliver a title to his home state of Ohio. Both teams have made other big additions besides their superstars. Question is; are those additions enough to hold off teams like Charlotte who made some moves of their own, including changing their nickname back to the Hornets. Washington, who made the playoffs with their young roster last season, or also Miami who still have veterans Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to ball with. Should be one interesting season. Let’s take a look and preview the Eastern Conference for 2014-15 starting with the Preseason All-Conference team….

Preseason Eastern All-Conference Team:

1st Team                                                                                   2nd Team

C   Joakim Noah  –  Chicago Bulls                       C  Al Jefferson  –  Charlotte Hornets

F    Carmelo Anthony  –  New York Knicks    F  Kevin Love  –  Cleveland Cavaliers

F    Lebron James  –  Cleveland Cavaliers        F   DeMar Derozan  –  Toronto Raptors

G    Derrick Rose  –  Chicago Bulls                      G   Bradley Beal  –  Washington Wizards

G    John Wall  –  Washington Wizards           G  Kyrie Irving  –  Cleveland Cavaliers

 

Rookie of the Year  –  Jabari Parker   F   Milwaukee Bucks

 

Predicted order of Finish:

SOUTHEAST DIVISION –  This division could be one that’s not decided until the final day of the season. Three teams (Charlotte, Miami, and Washington) are really evenly matched. I give the Hornets a slight edge over the Heat and Wizards due to their youth and the fact head coach Steve Clifford seemed to get his team to play hard. Night in, night out. The addition of Lance Stephenson doesn’t hurt either. But, also watch out for Atlanta.

1. CHARLOTTE HORNETS –  It’s good to see the Charlotte Hornets back, with the uniforms and all. They should also be back in the playoffs, and should make some noise when they get there. The Hornets may not be the most talented team, but they’re inside/outside combination is great. If Stephenson gives them the scoring punch they’ve lacked. Look out. Because, there are few better defensively.

Key Addition:  Lance Stephenson   Key Loss:  Josh McRoberts  (Miami Heat)

2.  WASHINGTON WIZARDS –  Another young team that made the playoffs last season. There’s plenty of talent on this team. However, veteran leadership was a problem. Paul Pierce should help with that. He can also help mentor Otto Porter. It’s very conceivable the Wizards could win the division and make a long run in the playoffs with one of the best back court’s in the game. Re-signing Marcin Gortat was also huge!

Key Addition:  Pierce, DeJuan Blair    Key Loss:  Trevor Ariza  (Houston)

3.  MIAMI HEAT  –  The Heat had the biggest loss in free agency. But, they were able to keep everything else in tact. Chris Bosh shunned the Houston Rockets and decided to stay. Dwyane Wade hasn’t gone anywhere, and there’s the addition of Luol Deng. If Bosh can regain some of his game he left in Toronto and be more of a traditional power forward and less of a stretch 4, the Heat could be a dangerous team. Wade’s health will also be a huge factor.

Key Additions:  Deng, Josh McRoberts   Key Loss:  Lebron James

4.  ATLANTA HAWKS  –  The Hawks were very quiet in the offseason. But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a solid ball club in Atlanta. Now, they have to build on a surprising run in the playoffs, that nearly had them defeat Indiana. That was without Al Horford. He’s back now from injury, and the rest of the cast pretty much stayed the same. Don’t think they’ll win the division, but a run to the playoffs is expected. Jeff Teague is one of the more unsung point guards in the NBA

Key additions:  Thabo Sefolosha, Adreian Payne  (Draft)  Key Loss:  Lou Williams

5.  ORLANDO MAGIC  –  The Magic are definitely the weak link of the division. But, there is talent here. Nikola Vucevic is one of the better, but lesser known big men in the game. Victor Oladipo has plenty of promise. Fans of the team are getting very restless, but clearing house and starting over was the right thing to do. One player to watch out for is rookie Elfrid Payton. He could be one of the steals of this past draft.

Key Addition:  Channing Frye, Aaron Gordon (Draft)         Key Loss:  Aaron Afflalo

 

Atlantic Division  –  There was a great deal of disarray for this division last season. The Toronto Raptors had one of their best seasons ever. Other than that, there was little to cheer about for any of the other fan bases. That includes Brooklyn, who made wholesale changes to their roster, but failed to live up to expectations of winning the division and making a run in the playoffs. There should be improvement in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. But, will it be enough for anyone to really notice. Doubtful. At any rate, here is my look at the Atlantic Division for 2014-15.

1.  TORONTO RAPTORS  –  The young Raptors nearly beat the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs. But, fell in seven games. It was still a good season, and now they’re looking to build on that success. Re-signing Kyle Lowry in free agency was a huge win to keep that momentum going. DeMar Derozan is the franchise. He keeps getting better and is clearly one of the most dynamic shooting guards in the NBA.

Key Addition:  Lou Williams   Key Losses:  Steve Novak (Utah), John Salmons (New Orleans)

2.  NEW YORK KNICKS  –  So much has happened in the Big Apple over the last year or so. Phil Jackson, took over upstairs. Derek Fisher has now taken over on the court, and with both of those changes taking effect, the Triangle Offense has been implemented. The roster has been re-tooled mightily. Now, the big question is how will Carmelo Anthony fit into the new system? Watch out for last year’s rookie, Tim Hardaway Jr. and this year’s rookie, Cleanthony Early.

Key Addition:  Jose Calderon   Key Loss:  Tyson Chandler

3.  BROOKLYN NETS  –  Lionel Hollins takes over the coaching duties, after the Jason Kidd debacle landed him in Milwaukee. He should be an instant upgrade on the bench. The injury to Brook Lopez seemed to be a blessing in disguise, as they turned around a terrible start to last season into a playoff berth. Lopez is back, but Deron Williams is the key to this team. He has to be more consistent for the Nets to be a factor. Joe Johnson and Kevin Garnett also return, but much was lost.

Key Addition:  Jarrett Jack     Key Losses:  Paul Pierce (Washington), Shaun Livingston (Golden State), Andray Blatche (China)

4.  BOSTON CELTICS  –  Brad Stevens enters his second season at the helm, and things really don’t seem much different from his first season that yielded 25 wins. Rajon Rondo, is back…….For now. Avery Bradley also returns. But, the Celts are very young. Marcus Smart and James Young made for an ok draft night, but the Celtics need players like Jeff Green and newcomer Evan Turner to provide more offense. With their youth and ability to defend, they could be fun to watch.

Key Additions:  Marcus Thornton, Tyler Zeller    Key Loss:  Kris Humphries (Washington)

5.  PHILADELPHIA 76ERS  –  Patience is the key word in Philly. The Sixers say they have a plan. They’re doing a great job disguising it. For some reason, it seems the Sixers think trading rookie of the year, Michael Carter-Williams is a good idea. The one good idea they have however, is stacking up draft picks. Three first round picks last year, and multiple picks next year. Now, it’s time to produce on those. On the court, keeping Thaddeus Young was good, but how long will he stay? We’ll finally get to see Nelens Noel, but what about Joel Embiid? Many questions, few answers.

Key Additions: None    Key Loss:  None

 

Central Division  –  As, the Bucks and Pistons continue to try to rebuild, the landscape has changed dramatically in this division. Sure, the Bulls will be at or near the top with Derrick Rose returning from injury and other improvements to their team. But, the Indiana Pacers have taken major steps back due to injuries and key losses in free agency. Of course, the Cleveland Cavaliers will make the biggest jump with their version of the Big 3. But, will they be enough to deny the Bulls as Rose makes his comeback? Should be an exciting race, even if it’s only 2 teams racing.

1.  CHICAGO BULLS  –  What an off-season it’s been in the Windy City. The Bulls amnestied Carlos Boozer. Derrick Rose is back and looking good. They were able to sign Pau Gasol. They welcomed newcomers Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic. Both of whom, could make immediate impacts. Through all of that, they were able to keep Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich, which was huge. About the only thing that went wrong was the Cavs resurgence. If it weren’t for that, the Bulls would have very little competition in the division or the Eastern Conference.

Key Additions:  Gasol, McDermott (Draft), Mirotic  Key Losses: Carlos Boozer (LA Lakers) DJ Augustin (Detroit)

2.  CLEVELAND CAVALIERS  –  There’s no understating what Lebron James does for this team. But, Kevin Love’s impact should be huge as well. Having a big that stretches the floor, but that can also crash the boards will make Lebron and Kyrie Irving’s job a lot easier. Eventually. It depends on how fast they gel together. The addition of Mike Miller should give depth and experience to a bench that needs it. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Cavs win the divsion. For now, I give the Bulls the slight edge.

Key Additions:  James, Love, Miller   Key Loss:  Luol Deng (Miami)

3.  DETROIT PISTONS  –  Stan Van Gundy, takes over in Motown, what has the potential to be a pretty good team down the road. I didn’t like the move to trade Brandon Knight last season in favor of Brandon Jennings. But, acquiring D.J. Augustin looks good coming off the season he had in Chicago. He’s a better lead guard than Jennings. Maybe, finding a way to play them together at times could be beneficial. Re-signing Greg Monroe was huge. Few teams will have the inside punch like the Pistons. But, Josh Smith was not a good decision and the Pistons continue to pay for it.

Key Additions:  Augustin, Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler  Key Loss:  Rodney Stuckey (Indiana)

4.  INDIANA PACERS  –  As good as the off-season was to teams like the Bulls and Cavs. It was just as bad for the Pacers. It all started when Paul George injured himself in an exhibition game with Team USA preparing for the FIBA World Cup of Basketball. That gruesome injury will sit him down for another 8-10 months, at least. Then, to make matters worse, Lance Stephenson departed for Charlotte. David West, is all of a sudden the go-to guy. It’s going to be a long season and an even longer rebuilding process in Indiana.

Key Addition: Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles    Key Loss:  Lance Stephenson (Charlotte)

5.  MILWAUKEE BUCKS  –  Just when it looks like the Bucks take a step forward. They take three steps backwards. Acquring Jabari Parker was fantastic. The Bucks needed someone with the number two overall pick, that could step in and contribute early. Parker, seems to be that guy. He seems to be a good fit, and the icing on the cake is it seems he wants to be in Milwaukee. Homerun all the way. But, the acquisition of Jason Kidd to coach this team is beyond head-scratching. It’s the kind of move that makes you lose hair. Kidd, had it easy in Brooklyn and struggled with a veteran team. Now, he gets a team with no experience. It’s going to take a lot of coaching. Maybe, I’m wrong, but I’m not sure Kidd is cut out for it.

Key Additions: Parker, Jerryd Bayless   Key Loss:  None

 

Even with the Bulls and Cavs looking like legit title contenders, the Eastern Conference as a whole still has a long way to catch up with the depth of the Western Conference. Check back here for my look at the Western Conference as we prepare for an exciting season in the NBA………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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