2011-2012 NBA Preview: Eastern Conference

1. Miami Heat

Projected Rotation

C - Chris Bosh
PF - Udonis Haslem
SF - LeBron James
SG - Dwyane Wade
PG - Mario Chalmers

SF, PF Shane Battier
SG, SF Mike Miller
C Joel Anthony
PG, SG Eddie House
PG Norris Cole
PF, C Juwan Howard

Remember the Heat starting the 2010-2011 season 9-8, and everyone thought the sky was falling? Well the Heat managed to make it all the way to the NBA Finals during their first run together. The team has had one more year to gel and learn how to play together, and I really don't see how you can pick anyone else in the NBA to win the title. Sure, you can nitpick and say they don't really have any size, no one who can score down in the post. Or you can say LeBron James shrivels under pressure. Or that Chris Bosh dresses like a 10 year old boy going to picture day in middle school. But overall, this team is just so good. Not to mention the rich got richer when they added defensive specialist Shane Battier and drafted underrated point guard Norris Cole in the first round. The bench is still pretty weak and there is no real size on the roster, but with the first season "Dream Team" jitters out of the way, there is no one else I would feel comfortable picking to win it all this year.

2. Chicago Bulls

Projected Rotation

C - Joakim Noah
PF - Carlos Boozer
SF - Luol Deng
SG - Richard Hamilton
PG - Derrick Rose

SG, SF Ronnie Brewer
PF, C Taj Gibson
SG, SF Kyle Korver
PG, SG CJ Watson
C Omer Asik

I don't think the Bulls are quite good enough to get by the Heat, but I think they are the only team in the East that can challenge them. This team is deep and versatile. Imagine if they went out on a limb and traded Deng and Noah for Carmelo Anthony. This team would be favored to win it all. Still, they bring back their 61 win team intact and add Richard Hamilton, which is a pretty big upgrade from Keith Bogans and the like.

3. Boston Celtics

Projected Rotation

C - Jermaine O'Neal
PF - Kevin Garnett
SF - Paul Pierce
SG - Ray Allen
PG - Rajon Rondo

PF, C Brandon Bass
SG, SF Marquis Daniels
PG, SG Keyon Dooling
PF, C Chris Wilcox
SG, SF Sasha Pavlovic
PF, C JaJuan Johnson

Sure, the Celtics depth sucks. Especially in the front court. But you can say that about the Heat, Knicks and several other playoff contenders. The fact is that the foursome of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett is still among the best in the game, and I think the Celtics have just enough to hold off the rest of the Atlantic division for one more year. Of course, with a condensed season, the old legs in Boston could give out at any time. The decision to trade Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green was questionable a year ago, and even more so today, and that was before Green was lost for the year due to a heart ailment. This is most likely the last run for this group of Celtics players, with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett set to become free agents after the season.

4. Indiana Pacers

Projected Rotation

C - Roy Hibbert
PF - David West
SF - Danny Granger
SG - Paul George
PG - George Hill

PG Darren Collison
PF, C Tyler Hansbrough
PF, C Louis Amundson
SG, SF Dahntay Jones
C Jeff Foster
PG AJ Price

Management in Indiana has done a great job of clearing off bad contracts and rebuilding through the draft and shrewd trades and free agent acquisitions. Draft picks Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger and Paul George are in the starting lineup. George Hill and Darren Collison make a nice point guard duo, and both guys were acquired through trades. And the team got a nice steal when they signed free agent David West. The Pacers gave the Bulls all they can handle in the playoffs last year, and will be even better next year. Head coach Frank Vogel was hugely responsible for the turnaround. I think this team can struggle with defense and rebounding a bit, but they are young, talented and versatile. I think they have as good of a chance as any other team in the East of grabbing that 3 spot.

5. Philadelphia 76ers

Projected Rotation

C - Spencer Hawes
PF - Elton Brand
SF - Andre Iguodala
SG - Jodie Meeks
PG - Jrue Holiday

SF, PF Thaddeus Young
SG, SF Evan Turner
PG, SG Louis Williams
PF, C Marreese Speights
PF, C Tony Battie
SF, PF Andres Nocioni

Doug Collins has been known to wear out his welcome by the third year, but Sixers fans hope he can hold off on that for a while, because they have a pretty good team here. There are no superstars, but few teams in the East can boast the depth of Philadelphia, and that will be key during this mad dash season. This team goes a legit ten deep with guys like Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Marreese Speights and Lou Williams capable of handling starters minutes and production if need be. Elton Brand looks as good as he has in years, Jrue Holiday continues to improve his game by leaps and bounds and Andre Igoudala was smartly not dealt. The only thing I worry about is the lack of a center, but how many teams in the East other then Orlando don't have problems at center?

6. New York Knicks

Projected Rotation

C - Tyson Chandler
PF - Amar'e Stoudemire
SF - Carmelo Anthony
SG - Landry Fields
PG - Toney Douglas

PG, SG Mike Bibby
PF, C Jared Jeffries
PG, SG Iman Shumpert
SG, SF Bill Walker
SF, PF Renaldo Balkman

Maybe it's because I am a Nuggets fan, and thus a Carmelo Anthony hater, but I can't see the Knicks as challenging the Bulls or Heat like everyone else seems to think. In fact, if they missed the playoffs all together, I would not be surprised at all. Sure, Melo and Amar'e Stoudemire might be the best scoring duo in the league, but other then them two, what does this team have? Tyson Chandler was a decent signing, but I don't think he will make that much of a difference defensively if the rest of the team just doesn't care about it. And the back court is not even worth mentioning. The front court guys are going to have to play some huge minutes all season, and Stoudemire and Chandler aren't exactly known for their immaculate health. This team will probably make the playoffs off the strength of their two stars, but I can't see them doing much at all.

7. Milwaukee Bucks

Projected Rotation

C - Andrew Bogut
PF - Drew Gooden
SF - Carlos Delfino
SG - Stephen Jackson
PG - Brandon Jennings

SF, PF Ersan Ilyasova
SF, PF Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
SG, SF Mike Dunleavy
PG, SG Beno Udrih
PF, C Larry Sanders
SF, PF Tobias Harris

The Bucks were an excellent defensive team but a terrible offensive team. And unless you are the 2000 Baltimore Ravens that strategy just doesn't win you any championships. I think the Bucks can score a little more points this year. Stephen Jackson is a head case and will whine about his contract, but he can fill up the stat sheet. Brandon Jennings has the chance to be a 20 point per game scorer if he can shoot it better then 40%. He looks like he could be this generations Allen Iverson. Which is okay if you have a team that can make up for his defensive shortcomings. The key to this team though is Andrew Bogut. When he is healthy he has shown that he has one of the best all around big man games in the league. Unfortunately he just cannot stay healthy. If you ignore injuries, this team is deep enough to make a serious playoff run and become that sleeper team everyone thought they would be last year.

8. Orlando Magic

Projected Rotation

C - Dwight Howard
PF - Glen Davis
SF - Hedo Turkoglu
SG - Jason Richardson
PG - Jameer Nelson

SG JJ Redick
PF, C Ryan Anderson
PG Chris Duhon
SF, PF Earl Clark
SG, SF Quentin Richardson

Math lesson. Terrible general manager + disgruntled superstar + past their prime role players + no bench + nervous coach = disastrous 2011-2012 season. I still don't think Dwight Howard wants to leave Orlando, but Otis Smith has left him no choice. He has wasted pretty much every first round draft pick and failed to add young talent around Howard. No, Glen Davis and Von Wafer do not count. Jason Richardson, Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu would be a fine fourth or fifth best player on great team, but these are the guys who are supposed to help Dwight get back to the Finals. It is just not going to happen. The Howard saga will most likely be a huge distraction until he is ultimately traded.  That is the unfortunate thing because I think he really wants to stay in Orlando, and the fans who live in my hometown love him back. But no one can blame Howard for wanting to go to a winning organization. The Magic's leadership just does not have any idea how to build a contender.

9. Atlanta Hawks

Projected Rotation

C - Al Horford
PF - Josh Smith
SF - Marvin Williams
SG - Joe Johnson
PG - Jeff Teague

PG, SG Kirk Hinrich
SG, SF Tracy McGrady
C Jason Collins
SF, PF Vladimir Radmanovic
PG Jannero Pargo

I think this current Hawks team has run its course. Joe Johnson is starting to fall off, Marvin Williams was never on, there is really no depth now with the loss of Jamal Crawford. Josh Smith and Al Horford form a good front court, even though both are quite undersized for their positions. The Hawks actually won a playoff series last year, but before that were strictly a regular season team. So many other East teams are younger and deeper, I can't see how the Hawks will finish in the top four. They most likely will battle for the last couple of playoff spots.

10. Detroit Pistons

Projected Rotation

C - Greg Monroe
PF - Charlie Villanueva
SF - Tayshaun Prince
SG - Rodney Stuckey
PG - Brandon Knight

PG, SG Ben Gordon
SF, PF Austin Daye
SF, PF Jonas Jerebko
PG Will Bynum
PF, C Ben Wallace
SG, SF Damien Wilkins

The Pistons have some talent. They won 32 games last year despite all the drama going on in the clubhouse. But can this talent play together, and more importantly, can they be coached? Lawrence Frank gets his second shot to coach and has some guys to work with. Most notably second year player Greg Monroe, who showed that he can be a very good big man in this league. He might be a better fit at power forward, but look for the offense to run through him at the center position. For some reason Tayshaun Prince was resigned even though Joe Dumars really needs to completely move on from the great Pistons teams earlier this century. If Brandon Knight can get used to playing point in the NBA quickly, Rodney Stuckey can transition to the off guard and free agent busts Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva can give the team something, this Pistons squad should challenge for the 8th seed.

11. Washington Wizards

Projected Rotation

C - JaVale McGee
PF - Andray Blatche
SF - Rashard Lewis
SG - Nick Young
PG - John Wall

SG, SF Jordan Crawford
PF, C Ronny Turiaf
PG, SG Roger Mason
SF, PF Jan Vesely
SF, PF Trevor Booker
PF, C Kevin Seraphin

The Wizards have a nice collection of talent, but I wonder how good they will be. John Wall is obviously a stud and a future All Star, but who else is there? JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche have the talent to form a nice front court duo, but they have battled inconsistency and knuckleheadedness. Jordan Crawford and Nick Young can drop 30 plus any given night, but they can also give up that many. Chris Singleton is probably their best defender but most likely won't get any looks this year. Neither will Jan Vesely, who still has a lot to learn about the NBA game. This is a very young team on the upswing, but they will probably struggle mightily for another year or two.

12. Cleveland Cavaliers

Projected Rotation

C - Anderson Varejao
PF - Antawn Jamison
SF - Omri Casspi
SG - Anthony Parker
PG - Kyrie Irving

PG, SG Ramon Sessions
PF Tristan Thompson
PG, SG Daniel Gibson
PF Samardo Samuels
C Semih Erden
SG, SF Alonzo Gee
SF, PF Luke Harangody

The Cavaliers made the move of the 2010-2011 season when they traded Mo Williams and took on Baron Davis contract and a draft pick which winded up being first overall. Now, Davis is off the books and they have Kyrie Irving to help lead the post-LeBron era. This team will still be pretty bad though. They don't have any player on the roster who can give them 20 points per night. Antawn Jamison is probably their best bet, but he is well into his mid 30's and could decline sharply at any time. Anderson Varejao is a nice glue guy in the middle and Omri Casspi was a shrewd pick up, but overall, there is not nearly enough talent on this team to make any kind of a playoff run. But the rebuilding process is well on track.

13. Toronto Raptors

Projected Rotation

C - Amir Johnson
PF - Andrea Bargnani
SF - James Johnson
SG - DeMar DeRozan
PG - Jose Calderon

PF, C Ed Davis
PG, SG Jerryd Bayless
SF Gary Forbes
PG, SG Leandro Barbosa
SG, SF Rasual Butler
C Aaron Gray

The Raptors are going to be very bad this year. But I think most Raptors fans will be okay with this. Management has finally decided to build this team the right way. And that is not signing guys like Hedo Turkoglu to 10 million dollar a year deals. The Raptors have used the draft to add key pieces to the core. DeMar DeRozan more then doubled his scoring output during his second NBA season. He is one of the most exciting young wing players in the league and looks like a future 20 point per game scorer. Ed Davis proved to be a good rebounder and efficient scorer. Once Jonas Valanciunas, who I think will wind up being the best player in the 2011 draft class, arrives next year, the Raptors should have three spots in the starting lineup filled for years. The former first overall pick, Andrea Bargnani, is what he is at this point. He is a very good scorer who causes all kinds of mismatches on the offensive end. But he is one of the worst defenders in the NBA and doesn't rebound the ball at all. Unfortunately it is hard to rely on his great scoring because he gives up so many points on the other end. The Raptors are a crummy team, but the future is very bright.

14. Charlotte Bobcats

Projected Rotation

C - Boris Diaw
PF - Tyrus Thomas
SF - Corey Maggette
SG - Gerald Henderson
PG - DJ Augustin

SG, SF Reggie Williams
PG, SG Kemba Walker
SF, PF Derrick Brown
PF, C Melvin Ely
PF, C DJ White

The Bobcats are the worst team in the NBA. Thankfully for Bobcats fans they actually have a real GM in place now. Rich Cho wasted no time in tearing down this roster and rebuilding the right way. He managed to wind up with two picks in the top ten of the 2011 draft. Kemba Walker brings a brand name to the Charlotte franchise following his amazing collegiate career. Of course, this strategy hasn't worked out for the Bobcats in the past. College studs like Sean May and Adam Morrison were massive busts. They took a huge risk by taking relative unknown Bismack Biyombo. I like the risk for a team that has been conservative in the draft every year. As for this year, the Bobcats are going to lose and lose a lot. An NBA team cannot win with a couple of 6'9 guys holding down the power spots, and average talent everywhere.

15. New Jersey Nets

Projected Rotation

C - Johan Petro
PF - Kris Humphries
SF - Damion James
SG - Anthony Morrow
PG - Deron Williams

PG Jordan Farmar
SF, PF Shawne Williams
PF, C Shelden Williams
SG Marshon Brooks
SG, SF Stephen Graham

The Nets have swung and missed more then Mark Reynolds recently. They have tried to land LeBron James, trade for Dwight Howard, but all they have to show for all their cap space is an amnestied Travis Outlaw. If they cannot trade for Howard, and that is somewhat of a longshot since all they have to give is a 7 footer who can't rebound, this team might be in trouble. That is because they gave up all their young pieces for Deron Williams, who most likely will not resign with a team starting the likes of Anthony Morrow and Damion James. As the roster stands now, I see no way they can make the playoffs with this thin of a lineup and bench, even in the weak East and even with an All Star point guard.

Edit: I already had the Nets at 13 out of 15, but without Brook Lopez for perhaps the entire year this is the new worst team in the NBA. Deron Williams might as well start forcing his way out of town right now.

Jonathan Carrano

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