The NBA season kicked off last night, but with only one Eastern Conference squad in the mix, it was a largely western circuit debut. Tonight we get a full gamut of games, including an Eastern Conference that looks to swing the power balance towards the Atlantic for the first time in nearly a decade. The Eastern Conference hosts a three time NBA Final team, the best player in the country and another team that had a meltdown so public they might as well play on Three Mile Island. Here’s our look at how the Eastern Conference will fare in the 2014-15 NBA season.
+18 LeBron, -What are you serious? This team is nuts.
LeBron coming home to Cleveland was the story of the off-season. And it was honestly a very touching tale of redemption, but he wasn’t just doing this for the feels. The Cavaliers already had a top point guard in Kyrie Irving and had two young No. 1 picks that were traded for Kevin Love. He also brought in Mike Miller and Shawn Marion and possibly Ray Allen, if not until later in the season. The Cavs are clear favorites in the East by a lot, but their rim protection is a little weak and the Bulls have better defense. The Cavs will be tested all year, but there shouldn’t be anything to slow them down.
-18 Dexterity, + 9 Ostrich
The Chris Bosh era has begun. Yes, LeBron has left the warm climate of Miami to swing back home and that leaves the Heat in Bosh’s hands. You couldn’t replace LeBron on the floor, but they added a bunch of veterans to replicate some of the scoring with Josh McRoberts, Danny Granger and Luol Deng, never mind that Granger is already hurt and Deng has a million miles on him from the Bulls era. They still have Mario Chalmers running the point, but hopefully we will see Shabazz Napier get the nod for some games and really help orchestrate that offense the way he did with four years at UConn.
New York Knicks
+1 Dexterity, +18 Illuminati Factor
Gone are the dogged looks of Mike Woodson, in is the triangle offense and adopting a real system to the free range isolation plays of Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith. The head coach is Derek Fisher, but no one believes new team President Phil Jackson is not pulling the strings. Get ready for either brilliance or the continuing crumbling of an empire.
+15 Dexterity, +18 Baited breaths
The Bulls are still Derrick Rose’s team, but now they finally have a real team behind him. They added Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and E’Twaun Moore in free agency, drafted shot expert Doug McDermott and finally dumped Carlos Boozer. Returning youngsters Tony Snell and Jimmy Butler still haven’t reached their ceiling, so this team all of the sudden has something fun going for it on the offensive side. Tom Thibodeau will run everyone into the ground eventually, but at least if Rose goes down again it won’t mean this team putting up 65 points a night.
-18 Dexterity, +10 Group therapy
The Pacers had the best record in the east last season and struggled mightily in the playoffs. The team had a meltdown so public it made “Some Kind of Monster” looks reasonable in hindsight. Fading star Danny Granger was shipped off in the middle of the season for Evan Turner, who in turn got into a fight with Lance Stephenson. That was apparently the Patient X of the toxicity in the locker room and everyone is now gone. Then there’s Paul George, who broke his leg during a warm-up scrimmage for the FIBA World Cup. Thanks to one of the ugliest injuries you will ever see. The Pacers’ offensive production will rely on David West and Roy Hibbert. Hibbert is 7’2”, 290 lbs. and had zero points and zero rebounds in a playoff game last year. First-to-draft lottery is not out of the equation.
-2 Constitution, +9 Mystery
The Nets were old and overpaid last year and in complete disarray until they made a run in the second half of the season and nabbed the sixth seed in the playoffs. Since then they’ve lost Paul Pierce and head coach/walking headache Jason Kidd. The Nets added another headache coach in Lionel Hollins, but seem to have pushed international star Bojan Bogdanovic to the starting line and are expecting big stats from Mirza Teletovic. The occasional big game from the likes of Joe Johnson, Andrei Kirilenko and Kevin Garnett will still pop up, but as every year, the season mostly rides the ankles of Deron Williams.
-7 Charisma, + 14 Swirling trade rumors
Now that the Kevin Love lottery is settled, all eyes are on Rajon Rondo of the Celtics. Rumors about his disinterest in the long rebuilding of the Cs has floated around forever, and GM Danny Ainge keeps bringing in guards that look to replace Rondo’s skill set. On top of the speculation, Rondo has a broken hand and will miss time, so rookie guard Marcus Smart gets the starting nod. Jeff Green is a good second or third scoring option, but is the front court flowing mane of Kelly Olynyk enough to keep you entertained? Spoiler alert: No, it’s not.
-18 Intelligence, +18 Tanking
Despite grabbing three of the most touted draft picks in the last three season, the 76ers seem content with continued tanking to gain assets. They’re even willing to wait an additional season (like last year), keeping No. 1 pick Joel Embiid on the bench. Nerlens Noel, last year’s wait-for-injury-return, is finally going to see some playing time and Michael Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year, so there are some diamonds in there, but lots and lots of rough. Skip the games and just follow Joel Embiid on twitter.
-9 Constitution, + 6 Headbands
The Wizards shocked much of the basketball community when they reached the second round of the playoffs for the first time in nine years. And when they nabbed world class shooter in Paul Pierce in the offseason things were looking pretty good for the Wiz Kids. Then Bradley Beal went down with a broken left wrist, new signee Kris Humphries cut his hand in the first pre-season game and both will miss a month. Backup guard Glen Rice Jr also rolled his ankle and the team is taking it’s time bringing him back onto the court, reducing their guard depth to practically nothing. It will be a slow start, but parity rules in the east, so another playoff run is in the cards.
+18 Charisma, -6 Drake
Tdot had the greatest playoff experience last season, even though they didn’t win a series. Fans packed the area outside the arena (nicely dubbed Jurassic Park) and their owner threw down the expletive gauntlet at their first round opponent, the Brooklyn Nets. Their young backcourt in DeMar DeRozean and Kyle Lowry have been solid for a while, and the offseason saw them draft Brazillian mystery kid Bruno Caboclo and grab perimeter defensive wiz in James Johnson in free agency. The result is a solid core of a team where only one member is over 30. The Raps held their own in the playoffs last year, but their depth could be a little shaky in the front court, so going against a team with a legit big man might knock them down.
+12 Charisma, +11 Lance
The former Bobcats finally get their old name and history back and have a team to match that legacy. Lance Stephenson joined to bring his special kind of crazy into the mix and the Hornets look to take advantage of a re-tooled Southeastern conference and get a playoff series win. Rookies PJ Hairston and Noah Vonleh have a ways to go, but coming off the bench for the likes of Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist make this team poised for a return to 90s-era glory.
+8 Constitution, +9 Spoiler alerts
The Hawks were without their best player for a chunk of last season in Al Horford, but still managed to push the Pacers to seven games in the playoffs before eventually losing. Horford is back and in good health, they’ve fortified some of their scoring by grabbing Thabo Sefolosha from the OKC Thunder, while still retaining some great role players. The worry is that Horford could go down or their lack of depth at guard could hurt them, but the Hawks play great as spoilers and could take that role into the playoffs again.
+8 Wisdom, +18 Van Gundy
The Pistons game plan last year was claustrophobic in design, putting three guys on the court who shared the same space and one player, Josh Smith, who wanted to betray his athleticism for mid-range jumpers. In came Stan Van Gundy, out from exile to breathe new life into the Pistons. Instantly he pulled the Smith-Greg Monroe-Andre Drummond lineup and so far they’ve looked good in the preseason. There are still some question marks in the back court combo of Brandon Jennings and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but if you can get the rest going right, the guards will fall in line.
-9 Constitution, -10 Facial structures
It’s beginning to sound like a broken record already, but the bottom of the east is nearly unwatchable. Compounding that with Magic shooting guard Victor Oladipo missing a month due to a facial fracture, and the Magic just got even worse. They tried to bring in shooters in Ben Gordon and Channing Frye, but Frye is already injured and Gordon’s talent has been waning for years. Their front court pair of Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic will be good, but run quickly from your television if they’re on.
-5 Wisdom, + 18 Giannis
The Bucks were a bad team last year and will not be getting any better, but they do have Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is possibly the most likable basketball player since the dawn of time and has height, wingspan and the ball handling skills of a guard on his side. He is joined by Jabari Parker, last year’s No. 2 pick and touted by many to be the most NBA-ready player of that draft. It will be a long season for the Bucks, but tuning in once in a while should be rewarding.