Jerry Zgoda’s Eastern Conference Power Rankings
Contenders are closing in fast and the Heat’s bid for a three-peat just might depend on no-risk, big-reward gambles Greg Oden and Michael Beasley to provide fresh legs as much as it does on a guy named LeBron.
Yes, believe it: Derrick Rose (right) is back and barring a setback, better than ever after a full season lost to ACL knee surgery. Tom Thibodeau’s teams always defend, but as goes Rose, so go the Bulls.
Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov is entrusting his $190 million investment to rookie coach Jason Kidd with a team that’s not quite as old as you think — at least Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are both under 30 — and will be better in the playoffs than the regular season.
The Pacers added gritty Luis Scola after getting within a Game 7 of the NBA Finals last spring and are getting Danny Granger back in three weeks. But can Roy Hibbert repeat his springtime performance?
Trading injured Emeka Okafor for dependable Marcin Gortat solves a problem up front and helps a blossoming John Wall-Bradley Beal backcourt get the Wizards back in playoffs for first time since 2008.
6. New York
The Carmelo Anthony free-agent watch already has begun for 2014, before the Knicks even have time to discover if experiments with Andrea Bargnani and Metta World Peace work out.
The Pistons possess a potentially dynamic frontcourt after adding free-agent Josh Smith to Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, but can they shoot it well enough to give those guys room to work?
Yes, Kyrie Irving is THAT good and that just might be enough to make the playoffs in the uneven East. But the Cavs could use some help from oft-injured gamble Andrew Bynum.
Josh Smith left for Detroit’s big offer, so the Hawks signed cost-efficient Paul Millsap and still have cap flexibility to make trade-deadline moves that could get them and Al Horford back into the playoffs.
With a team built around Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry, new GM Masai Ujiri could bust into overhaul mode if the Raptors are headed for the lottery again, which is a pretty decent bet.
The Bucks swapped one Brandon (Jennings) for another (Knight) and changed lines on the fly, bringing in O.J. Mayo and bringing back Luke Ridnour. But they’re where they always seem to be, middling.
Who would have guessed it then, but the Magic now is the big winner in last year’s four-team Dwight Howard trade. It’s collected some nice pieces — see Victor Oladipo — but now needs the big one in next draft lotto.
The Bobcats draft in the lottery every year and never make the playoffs. Their biggest move was signing free-agent Big Al Jefferson, the low-post scorer they need but who still won’t be enough.
Gigantic job for college wunderkind Brad Stevens, but the Celtics will move up a few notches here if they don’t trade Rajon Rondo midseason. Here’s saying they will.
There’s fierce competition down in the lotto dunk tank for Kansas stud Andrew Wiggins … and the completely dismantled 76ers will win the race while contesting their own NBA record for fewest victories in a season (nine).