Tag Archives: Hornets

You are here: Home / Archive
NBA playoffs Cleveland Cavaliers Lebron James - Kyrie Irving - Kevin Love

Who Has The Star Power In The NBA East?

The NBA is a star driven league and the teams with the biggest stars seem to inevitably make it into the playoffs and the best on to the NBA Finals. However, no star is big enough to do it on their own, they need help on the level of the top 100 NBA players as described by SI.com’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney. SI might not be 100 percent right on their selections, but be assured, if a team doesn’t have more than it’s share of talent from this list, their playoff aspirations could be in trouble.

Eastern Conference teams with significant top 100 depth are:

Cleveland Cavaliers (5 players on SI’s top 100)

Assuming a deal eventually gets done with J.R. Smith (96th), the Cavs have SI’s number one ranked player in the NBA, LeBron James backed up by Kyrie Irving (25), Kevin Love (30) and Tristan Thompson (52). This returning starting five averaged an impressive 81.1 points and 31.1 rebounds.

Somehow it doesn’t seem fair that James gets to play with this much depth until one checks out the Warriors who have four players ranked in the top 20.

Boston Celtics (5 players on SI’s top 100)

The free agent acquisition of Al Horford (18th) gives the Celtics a top 20 player to play with Isaiah Thomas (45), Jae Crowder (53), Avery Bradley (72) and Amir Johnson (86). However, this likely starting five only averaged 74.1 points and 24.7 rebounds combined last year. The Celtics might just miss last season’s number 4 scorer and SI snub ranked in the “next 25” Evan Turner. Horford replaces Boston’s top rebounder and fifth leading scorer Jared Sullinger who signed with Toronto.

Orlando Magic (5 players on SI’s top 100)

It may come as a surprise, but the Magic really are a better and deeper team than last year’s 35 win squad, albeit with perhaps more depth at the 4/5 than usual? The acquisition of Serge Ibaka (42) fits in nicely with the smash-mouth style of new head coach Frank Vogel as does free agent Bismack Biyombo (91). They join Nikola Vucevic (75), Evan Fournier (95) and Aaron Gordon (99). A starting five Elfrid Payton, Fournier, Gordon, Ibaka and Vucevic averaged 65.5 points and 28.1 rebounds combined last year.

Orlando could be a playoff team, but with no star in the top 40, depth can only carry a team so far.

Toronto Raptors (4 players on SI’s top 100)

The Raptors top ranked players all played on last year’s 56 win team led by Kyle Lowry (14), DeMar DeRozan (46), Jonas Valanciunas (62) and DeMarre Carroll (73). SI snub Cory Joseph just missing the cut. Toronto’s starting lineup will include Sullinger from the Celtics replacing the 36-year-old Luis Scola. This anticipated starting lineup averaged a Cavaliers-like 78.8 points and 31.3 rebounds combined. Lowry is ranked as the third best player in the East and should be expected to carry his team far again this season.

Charlotte Hornets (4 players on SI’s top 100)

The Hornets live or die on the back of Kemba Walker (33), but he has help from Nicolas Batum (43), Marvin Williams (65) and Cody Zeller (94). Micheal Kidd-Gilchrist made the next 25 snub list despite only playing 7 regular season games last year. These five players averaged 68.9 points and 29.5 rebounds combined.

Washington Wizards (4 players on SI’s top 100)

No one ever said the Wizards didn’t have talent. John Wall (17), Marcan Gortat (55), Bradley Beal (58) and Ian Mahinmi (76) all make SI’s top 100. The presumed starting lineup includes Otto Porter and Markieff Morris with 74.5 points and 29.3 boards combined.

Atlanta Hawks (4 players on SI’s top 100)

This team doesn’t feel like a playoff contender, but Paul Millsap (15), Dwight Howard (34), Kyle Korver (70) and Kent Bazemore (90) indicate there’s still something here. Dennis Schroder takes over from Jeff Teague to lead this group at point guard, their combined averages were 62.6 points and 31.8 rebounds.

In a 30 team league, a middle of the pack team should have at least three players from SI’s list and five Eastern Conference teams do.  Teams hitting this mark include:

Chicago Bulls feature Jimmy Butler (16), Dwyane Wade (32) and Robin Lopez (82) plus three more in the next 25, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Rajon Rondo, so maybe they are better than average?

Indiana Pacers feature the resurgent Paul George (9), Jeff Teague (57) and Thaddeus Young (66) plus two snubs in Monta Ellis and Al Jefferson. George is ranked as the second best player in the East, so expect the Pacers to be in the middle of the playoff pack rather than the middle of the conference.

Milwaukee Bucks have Kris Middleton (39), Giannis Antetokounmpo (48), Greg Monroe (63) plus Jabari Parker in the next 25. (Note: Middleton is expected to miss the next 6 months due to injury)

Detroit Pistons rely on Andre Drummond (29), Reggie Jackson (54) and Tobias Harris (77). Head coach Stan Van Gundy might be the real star in Detroit.

In theory Miami had Hassan Whiteside (35), Goran Dragic (61) and Chris Bosh (37), however, Bosh failed his preseason physical so maybe the Heat can stop pretending they can even be an average team this season?

The star power in the East suggests Cleveland remains unchallenged with Toronto, Boston and possibly Indiana fighting it out for next best. However, the depleted Hawks with four players in the top 100 may not be as badly off as anticipated if they can find the chemistry needed to keep their 9-year postseason run alive.

It should be noted that the Knicks are one of just three Eastern Conference teams to have less than three players on SI’s top 100 list as Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah fell into the snubbed category. The East and the West each have 50 players in SI’s top 100.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 


 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Experts Rank The 2016-17 NBA East

It seems like months since an NBA team has made a move that wasn’t anticipated or mattered, so how the NBA East was ranked really shouldn’t have changed much since the end of July when ESPN forecast the standings for 2016-17. Recently Basketball Insiders Joel Brigham and Steve Kyler threw caution to the wind and talked thru their ranking of the Eastern Conference and Pro Bball Report has come to its own conclusions about where this season is headed.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers, last year 57-25

ESPN – Cavaliers
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Cavaliers
Pro Bball Report – Cavaliers

Even with the Cavs three-point leader J.R. Smith still unsigned for 2016-17, any team LeBron James is on remains the undisputed favorite in the East. Besides, no one believes the 31-year-old Smith really has any other option but to re-sign with the Cavaliers.

2. Toronto Raptors, last year 56-26

ESPN – Toronto/Boston tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Raptors
Pro Bball Report – Raptors

Don’t undersell a 56 win season. ESPN tends to overestimate the impact of the loss of backup (stress backup) center Bismack Biyombo on Toronto who Kyler suggests might have the worst hands in basketball and ESPN ignores the challenge Boston will face with the loss of their best rebounder in Jared Sullinger to Toronto. The Celtics may have picked up a few wins with the veteran savvy of All-Star Al Horford, but a really bad rebounding team got worse this summer. Boston is still going to struggle getting the ball back after playing their brand of stellar defense again this season.

3. Boston Celtics, last year 48-34

ESPN – Toronto/Boston tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Pacers
Pro Bball Report – Celtics

Kyler likes the Celtics here, disagreeing with his senior writer on this pick as he is not sold on the Pacers coaching change and he’s got a point, Frank Vogel is a superior coach. However, everyone seems to agree that the top four teams in the East are the Cavs, Raptors, Celtics and Pacers. It’s easy to like the Celtics here.

4. Indiana Pacers, last year 45-37

ESPN – Pacers/Pistons tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Celtics
Pro Bball Report – Pacers

After watching Paul George in the first round of the playoffs, it’s easy to say the Pacers are back and they have a superstar that can carry the team. The Jeff Teague for George Hill move is likely a wash, but acquiring Thaddeus Young is an upgrade and if Al Jefferson can get his game back on track, the Pacers will be one of the tougher teams in the East. Replacing Frank Vogel with Nate McMillan remains a head scratcher?

5. Detroit Pistons, last year 44-38

ESPN – Pacers/Pistons tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Bulls
Pro Bball Report – Pistons

Basketball Insiders seems to think that as many as 12 teams in the East could have 40 or more wins in 2016-17, although a couple of teams are likely to fall short of expectations. Like last season when 10 teams had 40+ win records, the battle for the last four playoff spots is going to be fierce. The Pistons are building from a solid base with a fiery head coach known for getting the most out of his guys (at least for a few years). All the rest have issues to overcome and the Pistons continuity should give them the edge.

6. Chicago Bulls, last year 42-40

ESPN – Hawks
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Wizards
Pro Bball Report – Bulls

ESPN hangs their hat on the acquisition of Dwight Howard to save the Hawks, but that’s not a limb everyone is going to be willing to climb out on. In Chicago the combination of Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade should be enough to get the Bulls back in the postseason picture and it’s hard jumping on a Wizards revival bandwagon before seeing them play a game.

7. Charlotte Hornets, last year 48-34

ESPN – Hornets
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Knicks
Pro Bball Report – Hornets

Yes the Hornets lost Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee, but this team lives and dies on the play of Kemba Walker and as long as he returns 100 percent from his August knee surgery, the Hornets should be back in the mix for a playoff spot. Kyler’s assertion that this team can’t put together back-to-back winning seasons notwithstanding. Unfortunately, the popular Knicks are a team built to break their fans’ hearts.

8. Orlando Magic, last year 35-47

ESPN – Wizards
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Detroit
Pro Bball Report – Magic

Kyler acknowledges the Magic, among others, can win 40 games, although it will likely take 44 wins again this season to make the playoffs in the East. The Magic have issues to overcome, but talent isn’t one of them. This team will rise or falter on new head coach Frank Vogel’s ability to get the most out of what he’s got and just in case you haven’t been paying attention, betting against Vogel hasn’t been a good idea.

9. New York Knicks, last year 32-50

ESPN – Knicks/Bulls tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Magic
Pro Bball Report – Knicks

On paper the Knicks should be fifth in the East like Kyler suggested, unfortunately at this point in their careers some of the Knicks best players have joints that seem to be made of paper. If Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Carmelo Anthony and Joakim Noah can stay on the court, the Knicks can stay in the playoff picture and be a threat in the postseason. Based on recent Knicks luck, that’s a lot to ask for.

10. Washington Wizards, last year 41-41

ESPN – Knicks/Bulls tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Bucks
Pro Bball Report – Wizards

A lot of people want the Wizards to figure it out. Wall and Beal are an exciting pair when they are healthy and don’t appear to hate each other (ok, hate is a little strong, but there are issues here). The Wizards are just one year away from a 46 win season, but that feels like ancient history now and if things aren’t going well by Christmas, changes will need to be made. Maybe Scott Brooks can save this motley crew, but we’re not convinced.

11. Atlanta Hawks, last year 48-34

ESPN – Bucks
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Hornets
Pro Bball Report – Hawks

Two seasons ago the Hawks were a 60 win team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but since then DeMarre Carroll, Jeff Teague and Al Horford have moved/been moved on and Kyle Korver has had his 35th birthday. The Hawks are good enough to win 40 games, but that record will still end a nine year run as an Eastern Conference playoff team. There’s no love for the Hawks chances from Basketball Insiders. ESPN putting the Hawks in sixth feels like a lot of wishful thinking.

12. Milwaukee Bucks, last year 33-49

ESPN – Heat
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Hawks
Pro Bball Report – Bucks

The Bucks appear to have improved somewhat from last season, but so much of their success will hinge on the development of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker and getting a collection of talent that doesn’t quite seem to fit to play better.

13. Miami Heat, last year 48-34

ESPN – Magic
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Heat
Pro Bball Report – Heat

The Heat’s Big Three are no more. LeBron James left for Cleveland last year. Wade bolted for Chicago this summer and Chris Bosh may or may not ever play again. Add to this to the loss of Luol Deng and Joe Johnson and the Heat are rebuilding – whether they admit to it or not. The only real question outstanding is if Miami is willing to move out the 30-year-old veteran Goran Dragic for young players and a draft pick or do they stay the course and hope for better than the rationally expected outcome?

14. Philadelphia 76ers, last year 10-72

ESPN – 76ers/Nets tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – 76ers
Pro Bball Report – 76ers

A very young and inexperienced roster of top NBA draft picks with veterans Sergio Rodriguez, Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson providing some badly needed leadership that should enable this team to double last year’s win total.

15. Brooklyn Nets, last year 21-61

ESPN – 76ers/Nets tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Nets
Pro Bball Report – Nets

It wasn’t easy to field a team that was worse than last year’s Nets, but with a little work (salary dump), the Nets made it happen. And the Celtics can swap first round draft picks with Brooklyn in June and own the Nets 2018 first round pick. This is what basketball purgatory looks like.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 


 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll

Ranking The NBA Eastern Conference 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers ended up defeating the Golden State Warriors bringing the Larry O’Brien Trophy back to the Eastern Conference, but the major question is what did the other 14 teams in the East do to keep the Cavs from repeating? Here’s an early season preview on each of the teams.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

Key Additions- Mike Dunleavy Jr and Chris Anderson
Key Loss- Matthew Dellavadova

Outlook – LeBron James just re-signed and although J.R Smith hasn’t (he will), the Cavaliers are the defending NBA Champions with no major losses from last year’s team. Kyrie Irving has turned into a superstar point guard and could be best point guard not named Paul, Westbrook or Curry in the NBA. Dunleavy Jr. brings a solid 3-point marksman off the bench. Now the real question is will Kevin Love still be on this roster on opening night? If he is, then they should repeat with no problems.


2. Toronto Raptors

Key Addition- Jared Sullinger
Key Losses- Bismack Biyombo and Luis Scola

Outlook – Toronto entered Free Agency with one major agenda and that was re-signing DeMar DeRozan as soon as possible. Well the Compton, California native didn’t entertain the chance to going back home and signed a huge contract to stay in Toronto. Playoff hero Bismack Biyombo got a huge payday from the Orlando Magic and the team lost a few spare pieces off a team that won 56 games and took the Cavaliers to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. So why do they stay at number 2? Well Jonas Valenciunas and DeMarre Carroll are both healthy and they added former Celtic Jared Sullinger to help in the forward rotation. Besides you have Kyle Lowry and DeRozan as your starting backcourt. There’s no need to go any further.

3. Boston Celtics

Key Addition- Al Horford
Key Losses- Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger

Outlook – Boston didn’t get Kevin Durant, but they got former Hawks All-Star Al Horford to come play in Beantown. The 31-year-old Horford, brings an interior presence, a solid team defender and inside/outside threat from the post. Armed with so many young players, they let Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger go in free agency, but 1st round pick Jaylen Brown should ease some of the load and remember the Celtics still have 1st time All-Star Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart and All-NBA Defensive wizard Avery Bradley as your lead guard rotation. One can only wonder when will Danny Ainge pull the trigger on a big trade for one more big fish to chase Cleveland and Toronto in the East.

4. Indiana Pacers

Key Addtions- Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson
Key Losses- George Hill, Jordan Hill and Ian Mahinmi

Outlook – No team was more active in the early part of summer than the Indiana Pacers. They made Draft day deals for Teague and Young and during the free agency period and added Al Jefferson from Charlotte. With the additions Teague and Young, the Pacers potentially the best starting 5 in the Eastern Conference. Jefferson brings one of the best low post games to the bench while they still have All-Star Paul George, the always dangerous Monta Ellis and the improving 2nd year stud Miles Turner. Remember CJ Miles and Rodney Stuckey will lead the bench unit along with Jefferson. The major questions is how will new head coach Nate McMillan turn this group into a Eastern Conference contender.

5. Atlanta Hawks

Key Additions- Dwight Howard and Jarrett Jack
Key Losses- Al Horford and Jeff Teague

Outlook – I know when you look at this your wondering why are the Hawks rated this high? Well, adding Howard is going to be bigger than most think. Howard, in this writers opinion, will turn back into the Orlando Howard. Yes he’s a bit older and a lot of his athleticism is gone, that doesn’t mean Howard can’t go back to 18 points, 12 rebounds and at least 2 blocks a game. Howard spending more time in the post will allow Paul Millsap to be able to have more space on the floor on the offensive side. Resigning Kent Bazemore was critical to this team upcoming success especially if one of the draft picks Taurean Prince or DeAndre Bembry can step into the starting Small Forward spot and allow Kyle Korver to come off the bench. But the evolution of Dennis Schroder into an upper ensulion Point Guard is the key for the Hawks to stay in this spot.

6. New York Knicks

Key Additions- Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee
Key Losses- Langston Galloway, Aaron Affalo, Robin Lopez and Derrick Williams

Outlook – New York made some major splashes and took some major risks in the process. By adding Rose and Noah from Chicago they are taking a big risk with guys with no good great injury histories. Noah has had one season since 2009-2010 of playing at least 70 games and we already know about Rose’s history. Bringing in Lee adds another solid role player who knows his role and plays it very well. If the Knicks starting 5 can at least by 65 games together, this ranking might be a bit too low.

7. Charlotte Hornets

Key Additions- Roy Hibbert, Ramon Sessions and Marco Bellini
Key Losses- Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee

Outlook – Charlotte did lose a lot this summer from a team that was one game away from being in the 2nd round of the Playoffs. So after losing 3 key members off last season’s team, how can they stay in the playoffs? Getting a full season from defensive wizard Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the 1st reason. With MKG and Nicolas Batum manning the wings it allows for Kemba Walker to play the passing lanes, which creates more steals. Adding Roy Hibbert at center is a massive upgrade on the defensive side of the floor because Jefferson couldn’t really guard anyone in the post. The main problem once again is can this team score enough points to win. For Charlotte to take that step forward, it’s going to have to be a team effort and they have enough guys who can do that. Watch for Walker to be an All-Star this year.

8. Chicago Bulls

Key Additions- Dwayne Wade, Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez
Key Losses- Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose

Outlook – The Bulls didn’t make the playoffs last year and they lost Pau Gasol among other players, but this team will end up outlasting Detroit to make the final spot in the playoffs. Any time you have All-Stars in Wade and Jimmy Butler it’s kind of hard to leave them out of the playoffs. Wade has something to prove as he was passed over for a major contract this summer. Now they are issues everywhere when it comes to the roster and the style of play that 2nd year Head Coach Fred Hoiberg wants to play. He wants to be a perimeter oriented team, well with Wade, Butler and Rajon Rondo you won’t get that at all. None of the 3 of them are close to being 3 point threats. Good news for Bulls fans is with the losses of Gasol and Noah, the #FreeBobbyPortis movement can finally see the light.

9. Detroit Pistons

Key Additons- Jon Leuer, Ish Smith and Boban Marjanovic
Key Losses- Steve Blake and Anthony Tolliver

Outlook – Detroit made the playoffs last year and this unit is still young so they miss the playoffs for what reason? Well, Chicago added Dwayne Wade, New York has a better starting 5 and Atlanta and Charlotte are just better teams currently. Someone had to miss the playoffs. The Pistons can easily make the playoffs if Stanley Johnson and Kentanvous Caldwell-Pope can exceed expectations. What Detroit really needs is that star that can take games over in the 4th quarter. Andre Drummond is a free throw liability and Reggie Jackson is not a closer.

10. Orlando Magic

Key Additions- Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, D.J. Augustin and Jeff Green
Key Losses- Victor Oladipo, Ersan Illavsova and Dewayne Dedmon

Outlook – Orlando made some interesting moves this summer to say the least. Good news is that they have the best shot blocking duo in the NBA, added a new Head Coach in Frank Vogel and they created a buzz in Orlando. Now here is the bad news, they don’t have a go-to-scorer, they have forced the potential face of franchise in Aaron Gordon to play out of position at Small Forward to get him playing time and have a serious issue when it comes to outside shooting. They added Jodie Meeks from Detroit, but he’s still hurt currently. Evan Fournier and Augustin are solid from behind the arc, but that’s really it. 2nd year Guard Mario Hezonja better make a tremendous leap or it’s going to be a long year in Orlando. To be honest, I’m not sold on the Biyombo signing, he’s needed but not at over $17 million per season.

11. Washington Wizards

Key Additions- Ian Mahinmi and Andrew Nicholson
Key Losses- Ramon Sessions, Nene, Gary Neal and Jared Dudley

Outlook – Washington has been going through the injury bug for years, especially with newly paid Bradley Beal. If All-Star Point Guard John Wall could finally get his main guys healthy long enough, this team has enough talent to potentially breakthrough and make the playoffs. New coach Scott Brooks is very good at getting the most out of his teams and if gets this unit in the playoffs, then he should be a serious candidate for Coach of the Year. If Beal and others can’t stay healthy, Wizards fans will be looking forward to next years draft.

12. Milwaukee Bucks

Key Additions- Matthew Dellavadova and Mirza Teletovic
Key Losses- Jerryd Bayless, OJ Mayo and Grievis Vasquez

Outlook – For a team that has one of the best groups of talent in the NBA and were in the playoffs 2 years ago, to be out of the playoffs for potentially a 2nd season in a row is head scratching. Lets be honest, the major hole on this roster was at point guard going into the summer. They went out and drafted Thon Maker (a 7’0 power forward/center) in the lottery, let Bayless and Vasquez go to other teams and went out and overpaid for Dellavadova from Cleveland. They would be better, if Michael Carter-Willams played with a pulse or the team could acquire a point guard for out of place Big Man Greg Monroe. Otherwise it could be a wasted year for young studs Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton in Milwaukee.

13. Miami Heat

Key Additions- Dion Waiters, Derrick Williams and Wayne Ellington
Key Losses- Dwayne Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson

Outlook – It could be a long year in South Beach in 2016-2017 for Heat fans. They have lost the face of the franchise in Wade, key veterans in Deng and Johnson and they still don’t know about the health of Chris Bosh. This spells a recipe for disaster for head coach Eric Spolstra and company. On a positive note, this youth movement will allow Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson to grow as the leaders with Hassan Whiteside anchoring the low post.

14. Philadelphia 76ers

Key Additions- Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson
Key Loss- Ish Smith

Outlook – For the 1st Time in years the Philadelpha 76ers aren’t the worst team in the NBA. They added Ben Simmons, Saric and Joel Embiid to the front court that already has Nerlens Noel and Jahil Okafor in the rotation. Now if they can either be bad for one more year and draft a guard of the future or deal a big man or two to get an established one, then we are talking something special in Philly. Simmons alone is one of the few players worth getting NBA League Pass for in the upcoming season.

15. Brooklyn Nets

Key Additions- Jeremy Lin, Grievis Vasquez and Luis Scola
Key Losses- Jarrett Jack, Thaddeus Young and Wayne Ellington

Outlook – It could get really ugly in Brooklyn this year. I mean REALLY UGLY. They tried and failed in free agency, offering contracts to Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe only to have them matched by their teams. Their previous 1st round pick went to Boston and their upcoming pick will in most cases head right back to Boston as well. Unless the Brook-Lin connection is the basketball version of wrestling’s Rock and Sock Connection, they will not get out of the cellar in the Eastern Conference.

 

 

Danny Thompson Full Court Press Radio hostDanny Thompson is the Creator and Host of NBA Full Court Press Radio and Lead Columnist for FULL COURT PRESS RADIO.

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.

 

 

 


 

NBA Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford

Hornets Coach Clifford Argues Rest Versus Rust

By Frank McLean

As we head into the last week of the regular season we get into that annual dilemma of coaches who have teams heading for the playoffs but still have some regular season game to play. Rest versus rust, should I rest my starters or should I play them?

“So much of this game is having your rhythm, ” Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford said. “You don’t do that this time of year. Players are used to playing three or four nights a week, so I’m glad that we are playing for something because it gives you the best chance to be playing well going into the playoffs.”

As we have seen from the Toronto Raptors, head coach Dwane Casey has rested his engines that run the team, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Saturday night after playing a tough game in Memphis the night before, the duo sat on the bench in uniform, but had the night off.

There are two schools of thought on this. Lowry has had to have his elbow drained a week ago and DeRozan logs a lot of minutes. In fact both these guards log a lot of minutes period. So giving them a breather can be a good thing.

The Raptors can do this since they can’t fall lower than second place in the Eastern Conference.

Meanwhile on the other side of the argument you have the Hornets. The Hornets have qualified for the playoffs, but they are in a tight four fight in the Eastern Conference where they could finish anywhere from third to sixth and they still have a chance of winning the Southeast Division title.

Tuesday night before their game in Toronto, Hornets coach Steve Clifford talked about the pros and cons of resting your key players before the playoffs. He is glad that his club still has something to play for even though they are guaranteed to be playing in the playoffs the weekend of April 16th.

“There’s so much that gets said about guys being tired or this or that,” Clifford said. “Listen, 10 or 12 years ago guys never sat out. They didn’t and if you want to know the truth teams practised a lot harder back then. They practised longer and there were less limitations on what we could do.”

There is one team who rests their players all time and that’s the San Antonio Spurs who have an old roster and coach Greg Popovich has a plan to make sure his team can give there all come playoff time.

Clifford says why it’s successful for San Antonio is that they have a plan for the whole season and not just the last few weeks.

“What San Antonio does is good, but I think the difference to me from what they do compared to other teams is they have a whole plan for the season,” Clifford said. “They are not just sitting guys the last two weeks. That’s what I’m talking about with rhythm. And they have always done it that way. They will sit guys in December. They have a seasonal master plan where these guys are playing.”

Keeping you in rhythm is something every coach does not want to mess with heading into the playoffs. However, the way they do it it’s up to each team to find a way that works for them.

It’s the age old question, how much rest should I give to my starters heading into the playoffs?

The right answer isn’t found until the playoffs start.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 


NBA Toronto Raptors Dwane Casey

Toronto Raptors Casey For Coach Of The Year

With a baker’s dozen worth of games left in the NBA schedule, the season isn’t over and little is set for a lot of teams, but the field for this year’s Coach of the Year (COY) candidates is down to four or five and the Toronto Raptors Dwane Casey should be at the top of that list.

A COY should be having a good season with better than expected results and an objective look back at ESPN Summer Forecast provides a benchmark for the preseason consensus. There is no requirement to agree with the ESPN panel of more than 200 members, but they say it’s “produced the most accurate predictions in the game.” At least it was done before any games were played and it’s done by a very diverse group which should eliminate bias.

Our list of candidates comes down to six head coaches. In the West: Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich and Terry Stotts. In the East: Dwane Casey, Brad Stevens and Steve Clifford.

Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors, expected finish +13 wins better than projected

Last season 67-15, ESPN summer projection 60-22, current record of 63-7 projects to 73-9

If last year’s COY runner up Steve Kerr had of coached the entire season in Golden State, there wouldn’t even be a race. We now expect the Warriors to tie or beat the all-time NBA record for wins in a season. But when you miss the first half of the season, how can you still vote for the guy when assistant coach Luke Walton was running the show at the same pace?

Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs, expected finish +11 wins better than projected

Last season 55-27, ESPN summer projection 57-25, current record of 59-11 projects to 68-14

Three-time Coach of the Year winner in 2002-03, 2011-12 and 2013-14, there are those in the media who’d give the award to Pop every year, but that isn’t how the NBA awards are handed out.

Exactly how ESPN managed to only project the Spurs to gain two wins after adding All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and David West to an already deep roster is a little confusing and the bold attempts to argue how tough it must be for Pop to integrate all that talent seems more than a little forced. Ask almost any other coach and they’ll beg to be struck down by having to deal with another All-Star on their roster.

To put it bluntly, Pop is a great coach with a great team who is having a great season, but who honestly didn’t expect it?

Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers, expected finish +11 wins better than projected

Last season 51-31, ESPN summer projection 31-51, current record of 36-35 projects to 42-40

Stotts basically lost his entire starting lineup sans Damian Lillard and his team was supposed to be rebuilding with a crop of promising but unproven young talent. To put it mildly, some of those guys have played a lot better than expected.

Projected to finish 11th in the West and currently precariously perched in 6th 1.5 games ahead of the 9th place Jazz, the Trail Blazers are a success story. If they can hang onto a playoff spot, Stotts will get some votes for COY.

Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics, expected finish +7 wins better than projected

Last season 40-42, ESPN summer projection 40-42, current record of 41-30 projects to 47-35

Brad Stevens has created a lot of believers in the media. He got a few COY votes last year and he’ll likely get a few more this time, but Boston has been stubbing their toes at the wrong time.

Not long ago the Celtics were considered to be the biggest threat to the second place Raptors, but a recent four game skid has taken the shine off an otherwise better than expected season. You can’t be lowering expectations heading towards the end of the season and still be in the COY race. Stevens needs to turn this ship around fast.

Steve Clifford, Charlotte Hornets, expected finish +12 wins better than projected

Last season 33-49, ESPN summer projection 35-47, current record of 41-30 projects to 47-35

The Hornets have been red hot since the All-Star break and are rocketing up the standings to be wedged in a three-way tie for fourth in the East with the Hawks and Boston. The third place Heat are only a half game in front of this pack. Forecast to finish in 10th, it’s safe to say the ESPN panelists didn’t see this coming.

Clifford has earned some votes for COY and if he can win the Southwest Division, he’ll get even more attention.

Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors, expected finish +11 wins better than projected

Last season 49-33, ESPN summer projection 44-38, current record of 48-31 projects to 55-27

If you are looking for proof that ESPN doesn’t really pay much attention to the only team north of the border, look no further than their summer projection. Objectively the Raptors improved in the off season, but somehow the ESPN panel consensus was for five fewer wins?

Under Casey the Raptors number of wins has increased each season from 23 in 2011-12 to 34 to 48 to 49 and now projected at 55 wins this year.

Toronto has been closely tracking the first place Cleveland Cavaliers all season as the second best team in the Eastern Conference and are now just one loss back of the leader with 13 games left. Second place at a minimum is secure, eight losses in front of the third place Heat.

The Raptors franchise has never won 50 games in a season. They have never finished better than third place in their conference. Already in contention, if Casey can lead his team to a first place finish, it’s going to be hard to argue against him for COY.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 
 
 


 

NBA Charlotte Hornets Kemba Walker

Can Kemba Walker Carry The Hornets To Fourth Place?

It’s been as dramatic as flipping a light switch. In early January the Charlotte Hornets were on a 7 game losing streak and fading quickly out of relevance in the Eastern Conference, then the guy who could be an All-Star started playing like one. Kemba Walker began to carry the Hornets back from the brink of obscurity and into playoff contention. Could fourth place in the Eastern Conference really be within reach?

Looking at the standings today, the Hornets are in sixth place, but just a single win back of Atlanta for fifth and only two losses back of the third place Celtics and fourth place Heat. No one seems to be noticing, but home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs is a very real possibility.

Things didn’t look so promising two months ago. The Hornets were 17-20 and their leader Walker was averaging 19 points, 4.9 assists and 4.2 rebounds thru 37 games. He was taking 4.5 threes and making 34.3 percent of them, getting to the line 4.9 times a game and everyone could be comfortable that their team’s star player had taken another nice modest jump in production. However, it wasn’t going to be enough to get them back to the postseason.

Then on January 13, Walker woke up and began scoring at another level. A pair a 20+ point scoring games before a dip ahead of a 52 point scoring outburst against the Jazz. The point guard everybody likes to forget about was on a roll and carrying his team to a 17-8 record over their next 25 games.

This new more aggressive version of Walker has averaged 24.5 points a game since January 13th to lead all scorers in the Eastern Conference (7th in the NBA). He is taking 2.8 more shots (18.5) and the increase is almost entirely made up of three-pointers and he’s been hitting 41 percent of those. Walker is getting to the line 1.3 more times per game (6.2) and his assists (5.6) and rebounds (4.8) are up too. You’d think someone would have noticed?

David Aldridge reported on NBA.com that Walker doesn’t really care about getting noticed, he just wants to make shots and win.

“The only difference is making the shots,” Walker said. “Me, I’m at a high percentage now.

“It opens up everything. Now I’m just a threat. I’m a threat out there. Guys are running out at me and I’m able to either give them a pump fake or let it fly.

“I’m not as popular as the other guys. It’s whatever. If we make the playoffs, hopefully the world will see what we’ve been doing out here in Charlotte and the way I’ve been playing. Maybe it’ll help me for next season. I just want to continue my good play. That’s what I’ve been focused on, just keep on getting better and trying to win.”

The Hornets are likely to continue fighting for respect in obscurity. Everyone seems to be focused on a Heat team that hasn’t collapsed without Chris Bosh, but both the Heat and the Hornets are 8-2 over their past 10 games. Then there’s the drama with the 8th place Bulls who don’t know who is going to play for them from night to night, but ESPN, TNT and NBATV seem to be desperately clinging to the hope of a miracle in time for the playoff TV ratings.

Charlotte and Walker just can’t get any respect.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

Bismack Biyombo - cropped

Hornets Bismack Biyombo Should Be A Free Agent Target

It’s been four years since Bismack Biyombo was drafted seventh overall by the Kings and flipped to Charlotte in a three-team deal and the 6’ 9.5” project center/power forward has been toiling away in near obscurity ever since. However, the big man from the Congo won’t be 23-years-old until August and he should be a legitimate target in free agency for any team in need of defensive help off the bench. He is only just starting to figure the NBA game out.

“The game has kind of slowed down for me,” Biyombo told Pro Bball Report. “I understand the game better. I know how I can help the team on defense. Help different guys on the floor to cover weaknesses and help them play to their strengths on offense.”

Biyombo has provided solid defense on one of the NBA’s better defensive teams. He averaged 6.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in just 19.1 minutes this past season. On offense, he ran the floor and set solid screens, but he only averaged 4.8 points as his effective scoring range is virtually point blank.

The Hornets have a big decision to make. If Al Jefferson and Gerald Henderson pickup their player options, the Hornets will have no salary cap space with which to work and if they opt out, to keep them or find equivalent replacements will likely cost more. The qualifying offer to retain the rights to Biyombo is $4 million and on the 28th lowest scoring team in the Association, they’ll have to decide if they can afford to keep plowing more money into defense.

These are not easy decisions. Biyombo is young and still developing his craft.

“I am really starting to get comfortable (offensively),” Biyombo said. “The game slowed down for me so much you know exactly where to be, how to set a perfect screen for a teammate to get open, how to position yourself to get the ball the right way. I have worked hard enough. I am not surprised with how I am playing this season and I’ll make sure I come to the new season a better player, a better person. I am pretty sure people will be surprised because I still have a lot to show.”

However, after his first two seasons in Charlotte his role shrunk rather than expanded and while his own confidence and play seems to be on the upswing, his role off the bench was only garnering him 15.9 minutes per game last year. The cost of that qualifying offer is pretty steep if that’s the role the Hornets have for him going forward.

As hard as it is to envision a breakout offensive season by Biyombo, it isn’t hard to imagine several GMs being interested in wanting Biyombo’s defensive presence coming off their team’s bench next season if the price is right.

Young big men that can fill a role and have potential are always in demand. If the Hornet’s don’t bite the financial bullet and lock up their young big man, he’ll be a target in free agency this summer.

 
Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Lance Stephenson cropped

Lance Stephenson: High Risk, High Return, But No Takers?

When Indiana basically decided to let the talented but flaky Lance Stephenson walk to Charlotte in free agency it left a gaping hole in both their offense and defense. Stephenson did a lot for the Pacers, however, it came at a cost from what the Hornets were hoping was just immaturity. High risk, high return described Stephenson then, it describes him now and after a rough start with his new team, Charlotte is having trouble finding another team to take the 24-year-old guard off their hands.

In addition to not being able to find the bottom of the bucket this season and shooting 37.1 percent from the field (versus 49.1 percent last year), Stephenson has been hit hard by the injury bug and has already missed 14 games. To make matters worse, Rotoworld reported on February 6th:

Lance Stephenson is dealing with left knee tendinitis. He had left knee soreness in 2013, didn’t miss any games. Stephenson is coming off a groin injury and has visibly battled through that injury in the past couple weeks.

From January 13th on Rotoworld:

Stephenson has missed 14 consecutive games with a pelvic sprain and will come off the bench once he returns.

Injuries haven’t been the only thing distracting Stephenson this season as a rocky relationship and the Hornets disappointing start to the year has had him on the trade block since he was eligible to be moved in mid-December.

Lance Stephenson will become trade-eligible on Monday, and the Hornets are reportedly looking for a trade partner. Charlotte and Indiana have had preliminary discussions regarding Stephenson, but the talks haven’t gone far, according to sources. So far, Charlotte has been unwilling to include a first-round draft pick in order to unload Stephenson.

It’s been reported that Charlotte has tried to move Stephenson to Indiana, Denver, Miami, Los Angeles and Brooklyn, but haven’t been able to put together a deal.

The pressure of being on the trade block for so long combined with his on court struggles has lead to some rather public campaigning to get out of Dodge and Brooklyn has been Stephenson’s destination of choice – not that wearing his emotions on his sleeve have exactly been a help to Stephenson in the past.

Lance Stephenson continued his campaign for a move to Brooklyn on Saturday, telling Stefan Bondy of New York Daily News that playing in Brooklyn would be a “blessing.”

For all the lowlights in the current season, and there have been many, Stephenson continues to put up individual game performances that should be teasing general managers around the Association. Young talents that can do what Stephenson has done are not exactly easy to find.

Earlier in the season, Stephenson put up stat lines of 14/9/8 in New York, 17/13/4 against the Hawks and 14/14/3 in Portland. He wasn’t showing game-to-game consistency, but that could be merely the pressure to perform after signing a new three-year $27.4 million contract and being slighted by the Pacers. Since his return in January, Stephenson has had games with 9 assists twice and 13 assists once and is averaging 6.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists coming off the bench. His shooting percentage was only 32.7, but that shouldn’t be a huge surprise considering his recent injuries and knee soreness.

Highlights of Stephenson with the Pacers might provide a reminder of what Stephenson could be.

It appears that Charlotte may have exhausted their trade possibilities for Stephenson. They should be justifiably reluctant to toss in a first round draft pick just to be rid of him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports told SiriusXM NBA Radio that Lance Stephenson would likely remain with the Hornets past the Feb. 19 trade deadline. There is reportedly no market for the enigmatic shooting guard.

However, if the knee soreness isn’t serious, there is an opportunity here. The Hornets appear desperate. An expiring contract and a young cheaper reclamation project would probably land a GM a young player with 42 games of high level playoff experience. Stephenson wasn’t just along for the ride in the Pacers last two Eastern Conference Finals appearances, he was a key piece of those teams.

High risk, high return decisions are made all the time in the NBA. Somewhere, some team could do a lot worse than take a chance on Stephenson.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Biyombo Hill Wright

Toronto Raptors Should Trade For A Rebounder

President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri should be forgiven if he chooses to sit on his hands through the NBA trade deadline. His Eastern Conference leading team is exceeding all expectations and will be instantly improved once DeMar DeRozan returns from his groin injury – which could happen any day now. However, rebounding has been an issue all season and Ujiri would be remiss if he wasn’t looking to add some frontcourt help on the glass.

The bane of Head Coach’s Dwane Casey’s defense has been giving up offense rebounds after a tough defensive stand. The Raptors are 26th in the Association at grabbing available defensive boards at 72.7 percent. Only the guard heavy Suns and the offensive-minded Mavericks are worse among +.500 teams. The Wizards are top five in defensive rebounding at 77.2 percent of available defensive rebounds and the Hawks and Bulls grab better than 74 percent. These are teams Toronto will have to beat if this season is going to go as well as the early indications suggest it might.

Big men that can rebound and provide some rim protection are always in demand, but looking around the league, there are some trade targets Ujiri could go after if he is willing to part with some of his future oriented assets. Also, Toronto has players on expiring contracts that could provide matching salaries in a deal.
 
Kevin Garnett, Brooklyn Nets
 
It might seem crazy to rent the 38-year-old Garnett for the rest of the season, but he leads the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage at 33.5 and is currently a top 10 rebounder per minute. No one should question his passion to win and the impact he would have on a young team like Toronto.

Garnett doesn’t come without some risks and he should be a polarizing figure in any debate about who the Raptors should target. However, his expiring deal shouldn’t command a high price and he is best suited to a backup center role and that meets the Raptors needs for this season.
 
Brandan Wright, Boston Celtics
 
The Raptors were interested in the 27-year-old 6’10 athletic forward/center when he signed with Dallas two summers ago as a free agent. His rebounding numbers are average, but his shot blocking is superior. Wright is efficient offensively and he has the kind of long reach and big hops that seems to attract Ujiri.

Boston doesn’t seem interested in keeping Wright, but they are not under any to pressure to move him either. The Celtics will likely hold out for a future oriented asset in return and Wright will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. His $5 million salary makes a trade relatively straightforward if Ujiri is willing to part with a draft pick or a rookie?
 
Jordan Hill, Los Angeles Lakers
 
When the Lakers claimed center Tarik Black off of waivers, they may as well have fired off an email to every GM that they now have a big man available to trade. The most likely available target, Jordan Hill, has a $9 million deal and a team option for $9 million that would probably have to be picked up to get a trade done.

The 27-year-old 6’10 center is starting for the woeful Lakers, but would probably look better coming off the bench against other backups. He is long, bouncy and plays with energy and he is a solid defensive rebounder that grabs about 20 percent of the available defensive boards. In Toronto, only Valanciunas has better numbers on the glass than Hill.

It’s tough to know what the Lakers would want in return. They should be rebuilding and the acquisition of Black suggests that might be the direction the team is heading. Toronto does have an ‘extra’ first round draft pick in 2016 if Ujiri wants a specific player badly enough and one look at the Lakers roster suggests players like Landry Fields and Tyler Hansbrough would actually help them.
 
Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte Hornets
 
At 22-years-old, Bismack Biyombo is still young, raw and coming to the end of his rookie deal in Charlotte. He is playing 14.4 minutes a night and earning $3.9 million. The Hornets will have to make him a $5.1 million qualifying offer this summer or risk losing him for nothing in free agency. There is a deal to made here if another team wants him.

Biyombo isn’t going to score much and it’s likely he never will. He’s 50 percent from the free throw line as well. However, he rebounds the heck out of the ball. Top 5 in rebounds per minute grabbing over 25 percent of the available defensive boards and over 15 percent at the offensive end, Biyombo does what no one else on the Raptors can except Valanciunas. He is also blocking 7.7 percent of opponent’s two-point shots while he is on the court. This kid provides rim protection and takes away opponents’ second chance opportunities.

On a team that is at the top of the league in scoring, a shot blocking rebounder could look pretty good coming off the bench.
 
Players to keep an eye on:
 
Nuggets JaVale McGee had tibia surgery last year and is out with leg soreness, but if he comes back in time, he is a player Denver might give up assets to move along. He makes $12 million next season and appears to have lost his job to Timofey Mozgov, but he is an active player and very good rebounder when 100 percent healthy. There will be rumors about all the Nuggets big men if they keep losing at the current rate.

Rockets Terrence Jones will be out for 4-6 weeks with nerve damage in his leg and when he gets back, it looks like recently acquired Josh Smith will be his team’s main man at power forward – for now and in the future. His return should coincide with the trade deadline, so if the Rockets feel they have a need, he is an attractive trade asset.

Ujiri has options to look at during the season. The bigger question in Toronto revolves around messing with some very effective team chemistry and keeping one’s powder dry (salary cap space available) for the July free agency period. However, when a team is doing this well and has a legitimate shot at reaching the NBA Finals, Ujiri has to look at what’s available. The future is unpredictable. The opportunity to go far in the playoffs may not be there again next year.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Amir Lowry and DeRozanToronto Raptors New Year’s Hopes And Wishes

A GM’s job is never done and the Raptors have hopes and wishes for the New Year. Fortunately, outside of a couple of possible roster tweaks, the Raptors best chance at a dramatic improvement is already in their own locker room. It isn’t often a team can hold onto first place in the conference while their only All-Star is out of action for over a month. However, their biggest wish is for their fans to vote Kyle Lowry onto the All-Star team.

 

 

Landry Fields - croppedThe Toronto Raptors Landry Fields Showcase

Fields has the highest salary of any player on the Raptors who isn’t part of the regular rotation and that big expiring contract could make him a key piece in any trade President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri might make in an attempt to upgrade the team’s roster for the postseason and beyond.

 

 

TOR DeRozan Lowry ValanciunasRaptors No. 1 In Attendance But Not In All-Star Voting

After 30 games, 17 of them at home, the Toronto Raptors lead the NBA in attendance at 334,624, but their fans just aren’t getting the job done in the All-Star voting. In the early All-Star ballot returns, Toronto doesn’t have any players even close to being voted into the big game.

 

 

 

Irving and Rose

Ranking The Top Five 2014-15 NBA Eastern Conference Teams

There is change coming to the anticipated top five teams in the NBA Eastern Conference for 2014-15. Teams that stepped up unexpectedly last season are looking for more, player movement during the summer will have a huge impact and risks abound all around the Conference. However, make no mistake, the top five teams in the East this season will finish with better overall records than the top five did last year.

As always, injuries, hidden agendas and plain old fashioned luck will impact the final standings and being first during the regular season doesn’t always mean much in June.

The Top Five

1. Cleveland Cavaliers – Projected 57-25, last season 33-49

CLE_James and Love

Ignore everything about the last few Cavaliers seasons, the King has returned and the expectations LeBron James brings with him are in Cleveland.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Cavs get off to a relatively slow start, most of the roster has turned over and it will take time for James, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Kevin Love to get used to sharing the ball. However, barring injury, the Cavaliers should easily reside in first place.

The risk in Cleveland is the injury history of Irving, Love and Anderson Varejao. Depth could become an issue and first place will be tough to hold onto if the injury bug bites too hard.

2. Chicago Bulls – Projected 54-28, 48-34 last season

CHI Rose and Gasol

Derrick Rose is back and Pau Gasol was a huge addition, but the Bulls have question marks all over this season and falling short of second place remains a distinct possibility.

The risks for Chicago this year are pretty much the same as last season.

Rose, who couldn’t find any offensive rhythm in 10 games last season and had a nightmare offensively in Spain, may have lost a step – yeah think! Rose looked okay on the court right up until he had to do something with the ball during the World Cup. That Rose will lead the Bulls to last season’s record. They need him to be the “old” Rose to contend.

Pau Gasol replaces Carlos Boozer and that’s a big upgrade in size, passing and rim protection if he can stay healthy, but both Joakim Noah and Gasol have experienced foot problems in the past and this big upgrade requires them to stay reasonably healthy. At least in Gasol’s case, he looked fantastic at the World Cup and was arguably the best player in the tournament.

The Bulls will miss Luol Deng if they end up in a Conference Final with the Cavs, but they can count on Head Coach Tom Thibodeau to keep Chicago competitive no matter what obstacles they face.

3. Toronto Raptors – Projected 52-30, 48-34 last season

TOR Ross and Valanciunas

Toronto went on a 54-win pace after the Rudy Gay trade in early December last season and the team returns to the court with the same starting five, two key backups, two key reserve big men to cover injury concerns and added sixth man Lou Williams and defensive forward James Johnson.

The Raptors strengths heading into this season will be team chemistry, depth and a massive chip on their shoulders from a feeling that they aren’t respected. Toronto doesn’t have the star power of Cleveland or Chicago, but they believe in themselves and like last season, the whole might be a lot better than the sum of the parts.

A net +3.5 points per 100 possessions was the best in the East after Miami and Indiana last year and suggests this team may be underestimated, however, they are a young team counting on the continued development of both Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas as they head into their third seasons and that team chemistry can be a fickle thing.

4. Washington Wizards – Projected 48-34, 44-38 last season

WAS_Wall_ John

The Wizards were inconsistent last season and probably should have sported a better record, but with another year under their belt, it is reasonable to expect they will.

Paul Pierce is a solid replacement for Trevor Ariza from a leadership standpoint and the team added depth at the big man positions with Kris Humphreys and Juan Blair. The only real question marks revolve around whether this team will start investing playing time in guys like Otto Porter or Glen Rice Jr. as they should.

Like Toronto, Washington kept their core together and should get off to a fast start. If the Bulls and Cavs struggle early, the Raps and Wiz will be more than happy to fight for first in the East.

5. Charlotte Hornets – Projected 46-36, 43-39 last season

Kemba Walker Charlotte Bobcats Media Day

The Hornets (as Bobcats) impressed last year with a tough defensive style and some badly needed offensive punch from Al Jefferson. This team tasted the playoffs and they’ll be back.

Kemba Walker has evolved into the clutch scorer and leader he was at the end of his college career and with the addition of the veteran Marvin Williams and last season’s triple-double leader Lance Stephenson, the Hornets are a dark horse team that could be a lot better than anyone expects.

There will be battles for minutes in Charlotte, roles to be defined and some very young big men who probably aren’t ready for the demands that will be put upon them. It’s hard not to see Charlotte making roster moves during the season, but once they get their team chemistry straightened out, they could be scary good.

Risks and Obstacles

Miami, Brooklyn and Atlanta could all say, what about me? They are not going to be bad teams. Actually, as a group, the playoff teams in the East this season should all sport better records than last year’s crop. All that means to the top five is don’t falter because there is someone waiting to take your spot this time.

At the end of season, Cleveland should prevail. In Chicago, Rose will prove to either be back to his old self or not. The Raptors young players and team chemistry will have taken them another step or not. The Wizards will know if they can find some consistency and Charlotte will have discovered if they can blend Stephenson into their group to become a potential (future) contender.

Who do you think will put forth the effort and has the luck it takes to be first in the NBA Eastern Conference at the end of the season? Which one of these teams do you think gives up home court in the first round of the playoffs? Can any other team crack the top five in the East? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.