Hey everyone……..I bet you were guessing I may not get this in. Well fear not, I am here with the bottom half of the NBA Eastern Conference Top 8 as a follow up to the previous post about the top 4 in the East. The bottom half of the East this year looks to be the strongest it has looked in many years. For most of the 2000s, the Western Conference was the dominant conference in the league by a long shot, but with so many young players on the rise, its a great time to be in the Eastern Conference and it looks like the conference isn’t falling off anytime soon.
Here is the bottom half of the top 8 East playoff teams and remember, we don’t review teams who we don’t feel will be in the playoff hunt.
5) Brooklyn Nets.
The Brooklyn Nets have put all of their chips in on this season and possibly next in terms of trying to win a NBA Championship. Owner Mikhael Prokorhov has been very adamant about not wanting to wait to win a championship and be an elite team in the league, and he has been very much a man of his word the last few offseasons, with the signing of PG Deron Williams, locking down C/F Brook Lopez long term, and signing SG Joe Johnson last season from Atlanta.
But the Nets didn’t stop there. They traded a bunch of bad contracts (okay, okay, so Gerald Wallace isn’t THAT bad of a contract) to the depleted Boston Celtics for Celtics mainstays Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Mind you KG and Pierce are not completely in the prime of their careers, but with a lineup that includes Williams at the PG spot to get them the ball in their sweet spots and Lopez who can be a beast down low, Jason Terry and Shaun Livingston giving some depth at the guard position, and the addition of Andrei Kirilenko at the SF for some extra versatility, the Nets will be a formidable squad in the league.
But the big keys will be having KG and Pierce in the lineup. The one area where it can be argued that the Nets have struggled is leadership, and those two bring not only leadership and will, but invaluable championship experience on the floor.
That championship experience will also extend to the bench as one of the greatest Nets players ever, Jason Kidd, will be the first player to go directly from being a key player on a playoff team last year (Knicks) to being a first time head coach on a team that is expected to be a contender. The players will respect Kidd because they have played against him, but the question will be what will happen when Kidd has to show discipline against guys he was playing against only 5 months ago?
6) Cleveland Cavs.
Depending on what you believe, there is a theory out that the Cavs are putting together a team that can attract possible free agent LeBron James to come back home to Ohio to play with the Cavs next year, the team that James started his career with.
But since that isn’t going to be the case right this second, the team that is put together should be a force in the Eastern Conference hunt. We don’t see them as a team that will be getting out of the first round this year, but getting back to the playoffs after falling off so much when LeBron left for South Beach in 2010 is a major accomplishment for the organization.
When James left, it left a void for someone to become the new face of the franchise, and that player came in All-star PG Kyrie Irving in 2011. Irving has become one of the most dynamic and exciting young players in the NBA, and has developed his game so much to the point where players want to come to Cleveland to build with him and help him to grow into an elite-level player.
Along with Irving this season, the Cavs have signed embattled center Andrew Bynum, who didn’t play at all in Philadelphia last season due to a lingering knee injury after his signing from the Los Angeles Lakers. If Bynum is even 90% of the player that he was with the Lakers, the Cavs will have a chance to give some top teams a bit of a headache in the first round of the playoffs.
Around the Cavs are mostly role players in Varejao, Thompson and Gibson, along with rookie Anthony Bennett out of UNLV, but that’s not a bad thing. If Irving and Bynum can be a poor man’s Shaq and Kobe from the Laker heyday, the Cavs future will be strong, and quite possibly lure the King from South Beach……
7) Indiana Pacers
The Pacers are coming off of a trip to the NBA Eastern Conference Finals and losing in 7 games to the Miami Heat. The team played pretty much all of last season with out their leading scorer, Danny Granger, but grew as a defensive juggernaut and developed a tough, physical attitude that was the main reason they were able to push the Heat as hard as they were able to.
Wingman forward Paul George took massive steps into becoming an elite player in the league. I do believe that George is on the cusp of being one of the top 10 players in the league, but I need to see another season of him being dominant with Hibbert and Granger in the lineup full time. George is one of the toughest players in the league to guard due to his athleticism, the ability to be 6’10” and shoot the 3-pointer consistently and go to the basket as a 6’2″ guard.
This season, I do see where the Pacers fall back a bit because outside of Granger and top center Roy Hibbert, there aren’t any real go-to scorers on the squad. Guard Lance Stephenson is a solid player but he has to show more consistency overall to be considered a real threat game in and game out.
If the bench players, led by Ben Hansborough and Chris Copeland, can become a strong aspect of the team and spell some of the starters a bit, the Pacers will have the opportunity to be a grinding team with solid defense and will do a great job of implementing Frank Vogel’s philosophy.
At first sight……you might be asking, why exactly would the Philadelphia 76ers be involved in the NBA playoffs this upcoming season?
The reason is that the team has just enough talent to keep up with the joneses in the Eastern Conference.
Evan Turner is emerging as one of the bright, young talents in the league each season that goes by, and by having Andrew Bynum out of Philadelphia, the team can have a new start knowing that he won’t be taking up salary on the bench each night, hoping that he will be able to play at some point down the line.
The Sixers’ big draft pick was Nerlens Noel from Kentucky, a long, lanky power forward who needs some offensive work but is already a defensive force ala Ben Wallace. IF Noel can be dominant down low and make teams think twice about coming into the lane, Turner and Jason Richardson will have the ability to penetrate and work the wings nicely and be great scoring threats from inside and out.
The Sixers are on the rise right now, and may not get out of the first round this year, but this is going to be a team that in about 2 years will be a team that the NBA will be dealing with in an elite contender level.