Has the balance of power shifted in the East?
The ESPN "experts" opinion puts the Magic as a slight favorite for the 8th slot. The consensus here has Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Boston, Toronto, Miami & New Jersey as making the playoffs with Orlando a likely 8th seed fighting it out with Washington and maybe the Knicks.
4. Does the addition of Rashard Lewis make the Magic a postseason lock?
Abbott: Like Boston, I feel the Magic need a top-flight point guard before they can be considered a reliable top Eastern team. And again, I'm feeling that barring a surprise there aren't a lot of Eastern spots up for grabs.
Hollinger: Again, not so fast. The Magic lost nearly as much as they gained between Hill, Darko and Diener, and their neighborhood just got tougher.
Stein: A lock, yes. Just because Lewis is way -- W-A-Y -- overpaid doesn't mean I don't like the idea of pairing Rashard with Dwight Howard. As long as we're only talking about finishing in the top eight, sure. Howard and Lewis aren't enough to lift Orlando to contender status, but those two get you in the playoffs in spite of some obvious holes around them.
Thorpe: Barring injury, probably yes. Especially with the new coach. They can play big or small effectively, and Dwight Howard should only keep growing as a player. Jameer Nelson is obviously a key, as is getting production from J.J. Redick. I like both to have better seasons this year.
Bucher: No lock, but I like their chances, as much because they hired Stan Van Gundy as having added Lewis to a team that squeaked into the playoffs last year. Boston is the only certifiable lottery team from last year joining the playoff mix and with the Wizards still a mixed bag and huge question marks about Miami, the Magic have as good a shot as they did last year. Which was good enough.
6. If the Celtics make the playoffs, which '07 East playoff team most likely will not make the playoffs next season?
Abbott: Gilbert Arenas could be the guy left standing at the altar, which would be especially troublesome for the Wizards, as he will be heading into free agency.
Hollinger: One of the Florida teams. Be great to see Stan Van Gundy and Pat Riley slugging it out for the 8 seed on the last day of the season; let's hope the schedule-makers come through.
Stein: The team that's about to be wracked with injuries but doesn't know it yet.
Thorpe: The Heat are in trouble. Ironically, they are beginning to look like the South Beach Lakers with maybe the best all-around player on the planet in Dwyane Wade, and little else beyond a few solid role players. It's no longer a question of "if Shaq can stay healthy," but "how many games will he miss?" Even if Wade can stay healthy all season, it may not be enough.
Bucher: Miami. It's hard to imagine Shaq and a healthy Wade not in the playoffs, but Shaq couldn't prevent a first-round sweep or attract any quality free agents and Wade's return is up in the air. And if it comes down to a battle between Orlando and Miami, I like the karmic and revenge-inspired motivation SVG brings to the table.
My own thoughts based on last years finish:
1. Detroit 53-29: will probably decline a little bit more and win 50. Saunders has never done a thing as a head coach to develop young players and the core is another year older. Detroit is likely done as a contender for the NBA championship, but will remain in the top 4 of the east for at least another year.
2. Cleveland 50-32: Bad coach. Bill Simmons called Mike Brown the worst finals coach since Brian Hill. As long as LBJ is healthy they will be in the top four and could win the east again.
3. Toronto 47-35. Excellent front office. Young team. Probably a lock for finishing somewhere between 3-6 this year.
4. Miami 44-38 Pat Riley could walk away at any time. Wade had a horrible shoulder injury. Shaq continues to fade away. And there isn't much else left. Mo Williams indicated he only visited Miami because his agent made him, but would never sign there as long as Riley was around. His suspension of Posey and Walker in the middle of the season for not being fit enough was heard around the league. Miami looks vulnerable to having an awful year unless Wade comes back really strong.
5. Chicago 49-33. I love Scott Skiles. They have loads of young talent, and an old proven center. Deng could have a huge year. Thomas could break out this year. And Yoakim Noah gives them defense, energy and spirit off the bench. Chicago is a likely candidate for best record in the East this year.
6. New Jersey 41-41. Likely to stay mediocre. Now that Vince Carter has his last big contract what will push him? Jefferson seems to be hurt a lot. And isn't Jason Kidd about 55 years old now? New Jersey seems to be stuck in the swamp and slowly sinking. It could be a 50-50 proposition that they either improve by 3 games or decline by 3 games next season, and 38 wins is out of the playoffs. NBA karma says if you don't add talent each year, you decline.
7. Washington 41-41. They haven't improved themselves in the off season. Arenas is coming off a bad injury. They seem to be in the exact same boat as New Jersey. Could easily miss the playoffs with only a slight decline.
8. Orlando 40-42. Only playoff team to upgrade their coach from last season. (Hurray!) There is suspicion that they may have not improved their personnel over the off season, but that is a stretch. Grant Hill's overall game was a shell of his past, despite o.k. numbers. Darko was all the potential of his potential. Lewis is firmly in his prime and his outside shot will finally open the paint up for Howard. Orlando has every right to believe it can pass Washington, New Jersey, and even Miami to climb to #5 this year.
9. Indiana. 35-47 Horrible off season. Changed coaches, but for the worse? Team in turmoil, Diener may be #2 PG? Jermaine O'Neil doesn't know where he will be playing next January. They would be lucky to finish 9th again next year.
10. Philadelphia 35-47. Refused to tank last year to get a top pick. Good for them. Horrible GM. They are probably years away from making the playoffs again.
11. Charlotte 33-49. Added Jason Richardson, resigned Wallace. Cut Brevin Knight. Doesn't seem inspired enough off season to make the playoffs, but they should be improved.
12. New York 33-49. Bad second half. I have no idea what to think about a Marbury, Curry, Randolph combo for your 3 "stars." This could be a really bad idea, or might work and earn them an 8th seed. Marbury seems to be a good guy everywhere but the basketball court where he keeps the ball too long. Curry doesn't play defense and needs the ball. Randolph doesn't play defense and needs the ball. This could get ugly (and comical.)
13. Atlanta 30-52. Stupid ownership group. Bad coach. Worse GM. Great draft. Will probably finish with about 37-38 wins.
14. Milwaukee 28-54. Yi is the new Vazquez.
15. Boston 24-58. KG is still great. Anyone should want Ray Allen on their favorite team. Pierce is a bit of an enigma. Bob Ryan (Boston Globe/ESPN) calls players 4-15 the worst in the NBA. Bill Simmons thinks the big 3 can magically coach themselves and win despite Doc Rivers being on the bench. I disagree. None of the 3 have finals experience. Rivers has never won a playoff series and has never liked any big man who has played for him. This could be a bigger disaster than the Knicks if Rivers sticks around and Ainge can't build a bench.
7. New Jersey