The Knights of the FanHouse Roundtable have assembled to consider the NBA in '08-09. In this dispatch, we discuss the worst of the Eastern Conference. Be sure to also check out the hub of our NBA Preview activity
Ziller: Do any Eastern teams actually have no chance at the playoffs?
Matt Moore: Charlotte -- not with this coach in his first year (Larry Brown), with all the pressure he's going to put on a young squad. Not with the inevitable injuries. Not with you know who at the roster helm.
While I think the Nets will be the second worst team the league, albeit an entertaining one, they have a shot if Chris Douglas-Roberts makes a phenomenal leap, Vince Carter does everything he's never done in his career but is capable of, and the frontcourt gets healthy. Long shot, but a shot.
Ziller: But doesn't Brown have the reputation of getting more juice from the proverbial orange than expected? Unless his Knicks team, I don't think this Charlotte squad is too overloaded with pulp. Emeka Okafor and Jason Richardson might be overpaid, but those are two quality blocks ... and we all know how dynamic Gerald Wallace can be. What's the fatal weakness here, ignoring MJ for a second? Frontline depth? Couldn't a healthy, eventually in-shape Sean May fix that?
Will Brinson: Yeah, Charlotte and New York were my first thoughts too. And while I agree with Tom that LB is good at squeezing the citrus, the Southeast is too loaded, in a relative sense, for the Bobcats to win.
Sean May clearly isn't prepared to play power forward so they have a gaping hole there, and simply based on the draft, you have to think no one in that organization believes Felton is the future at point guard. If they did, why not take Brook Lopez, shift Emeka to the four and have a roster that's ready to at least make a playoff run this season?
Ziller: Devin Harris
Brinson: Yes they will -- Devin Harris taking the reigns on a team that isn't restricted offensively by Avery Johnson is going to give Mark Cuban nightmares all season long.
And I'm not saying that Lopez makes the Nets contenders; and much less am I saying that he would have made the Bobcats a playoff team. But Okafor is vastly more effective at the four, and Gerald Wallace at the three. So, unless Jared Dudley can fill the role (and I have a sneaking suspicion that he might) of PF, I foresee roster troubles.
My greater point was that if they wanted to contend, they shouldn't have used another first round draft on a player that doesn't necessarily fill a "Now" need; Lopez doesn't put them over the top, but they're not backdooring the playoffs with the current construction they've got.
Moore: I go back and forth on the Nets pretty much daily. One day I wake up and think, "Oh, man, this frontcourt is horrible! They're going to get eaten alive!" and the next I think, "What really is the limit of Devin Harris with an effective wing structure and complete creative control?" But then I think, "Josh Boone. Oh."
My big thing with the Bobcats is they still don't have an elite guy. Okafor is good, not great. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, not everyone can be a superduperuperstar. But while Jason Richardson is a very dangerous scorer and a great asset for the team, I don't look at him as being that guy. And for whatever reason, Wallace hasn't been there, either. He's an NBA fan's NBA player, a guy you can love for everything he does, but not the guy you can just give the ball to down two with 10 seconds to go and say, "Kill." You know what they need? Kevin Martin.
Bucks or Bulls, who's closer to the playoffs but just misses? Everyone keeps telling me the Bucks are terrible, but they were contending for that 8th seed late in the season and their only significant loss is Mo Williams, and I have to admit as much of a Ramon Sessions fan as I am, he looked great in preseason running with Bogut and Jefferson.
Brinson: Not that this isn't obvious or even absolutely necessary to mention right now ... but think about what happens if the Magic take Okafor over Dwight Howard. Is MJ suddenly a genius? Because that team would be sick.
Moore: Unless MJ crushes his soul like so many before him.
Brett Edwards: Dwight Howard is not exactly Kwame Brown.
You have to remember that last year, the eight seed in the East got into the postseason with a record of 37-45 ... and then took the one seed to seven games. Sure there are teams like the Knicks and Bobcats that are likely going to struggle to win 30, but beyond that, as KG would say, anything is possible. Miami with the Olympic version of Dwyane Wade 2.0 could get there, Devin Harris could lead New Jersey there, and Richard Jefferson plus a healthy Michael Redd in Milwaukee could make it. None of those teams are going to have amazing seasons, but they don't have to in order to make the playoffs: they play in the Eastern Conference.
Ziller: Along those lines, Hollinger and others have said the East is catching up because of two things: the top (Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, Philly) can be competitive with the top tier in the West, and because the West's bottom is far worse than the East's. Do you buy the latter argument? Could Oklahoma City, Memphis and Sacramento finish 10th or 11th in the East?
Nate Jones: Not sure if I agree that the Knicks and Bobcats are definite outs. Bobcats do have talent, and Larry Brown is good at bringing teams together. It's just a matter if he sabotages the entire thing by slipping rumors in the press about trading some of his stars. I just think they have a team of good guys that will work hard for LB. Brown's been pretty good when he's had decent talent that has been willing to run through a wall for him.
Of course the Knicks will most likely still miss the playoffs. But I have a feeling they are going to be in a ton of games. The problem with playing D'Antoni teams is that it is easy to get caught up in the style D'Antoni wants to play. I mean, it's pretty fun playing an uptempo style. Only problem is that D'Antoni's teams are actually prepared to play that way, while most teams aren't really capable of playing their best in that style. I guess I'm saying that the Knicks will catch a lot of teams off guard simply by getting them to play their style. But in the end, I'm sure he will still be wishing he was in Chicago instead of New York.
Without significant injury, the only team from last year's eight Eastern Conference playoff participants that I think has a chance to fall out of the playoffs this season is Washington. I don't think people realize how big Brendan Haywood was for them last season. That will be a big time loss. Although I hear that rookie JaVale McGee has been looking pretty good. And don't discount the morale issues that come with constantly having key guys go down to injury. If Gilbert doesn't get healthy this season, Eddie Jordan might have a tough time keeping this group playing as hard as they have in the past.
For some reason, I just think Atlanta will be good enough to make the playoffs again. Yeah, Mike Bibby is on the decline, but Acie Law IV looks like he will at least be able to contribute some this season. But the real reason I don't see them falling off is Alfonso Joel Horford-Reynoso. Dude's a freaking beast and will likely continue to improve this season. Also, Marvin Williams is in a contract year, so expect a big year from him.
Brinson: Yes, absolutely. Although I think that the competitiveness of the top teams in the East may be overshot a little bit -- I'd take New Orelans, Los Angeles, Utah and Portland (or San Antonio if that's your thing) against Boston, Detroit, Cleveland and Philly in some sort of ACC-Big 10 challenge type thing all day long.
As for the bottom portion, it could also potentially be explained by a greater disparity, although I think the horrible teams in the East can beat up on the horrible teams in the West. For now. Maybe -- Sacramento could be better than we think and even with MDA in place in New York, the Knicks are still going to stink.
Ziller: I don't think OKC and Memphis are competitive in any conference ... not even the Big 12. As such, I tend to agree that the bottom of the East is better than the West's cellar. But between sixth place and 12th, the West is remarkably superior. Given a push at the top and really only two Western teams who are worse than anything in the East, I think the West still reigns supreme.
Nate brings up a good point about the absence of Haywood. Assuming the conference's top six (Boston, Philly, Detroit, Orlando, Cleveland, Toronto) are locks for the playoffs and the three previously discussed teams (Charlotte, NJ, NY) stay out, only three of the following teams will get in: Washington, Milwaukee, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Indiana. Who's got the best chance? The worst?
Moore: I think the Western top eight are far superior to the Eastern top eight, and the Eastern bottom eight are far superior to the Western bottom eight.
I like the Hornets, Lakers, Spurs, and ...ugh... Jazz over the Cavs, Sixers, Pistons, and Celtics. But not by much. One thing I noticed in last year's playoffs is that the Eastern playoffs were a lot more physical and defensively draining. It makes the Celtics run more understandable because when I looked and saw how good Cleveland's defense plays in a series, I was really impressed. But Oklahoma City is not better than the Nets, though I think the Grizzlies are better than the Knicks. I think the Kings are a playoff team in the East.
Jones: David Lee Nate Robinson
Moore: For all the reasons Washington won't go, they still find a way. This team is the John McClane of the NBA. You can cut their feet with glass, throw them down an elevator shaft and drop them off a bridge, and they just keep coming at you. I liked Miami a lot to start the preseason, but I think I underestimated just how bad their supporting cast is. Because it is horrendous. I don't know if there are enough perimeter weapons without a Marion trade to get them through, especially since Marion has not looked like he fits in so far. I'd say the best chances are Washington, Chicago, and Milwaukee. The Hawks essentially needed a last month miniburst to make the playoffs, and we just don't know how much they'll be able to cover the loss of Childress. I think Indiana will be better than we think, but will have long losing streaks where they look helpless. I know there's a very outside chance at this, but what happens if the Bulls team that was around in 2006 shows up, with Rose and Gooden?
Brinson: Everyone is just subconsciously bullish on the Hawks because of that series against the Celtics, which makes us look past the fact that they really did limp strongly into the playoffs last season.
Ziller: ... and past the fact that the entire bench is made up of Maurice Evans (not bad) and Acie Law (not completely fricking awful). They need some big men, or Horford is playing 48 minutes a night.
Matt Watson: After the Hawks let Josh Childress go, I was down on their chances to get back to the playoffs, but I'm starting to come around. When you look at their roster, they're anchored by three All-Star-caliber players in Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford -- if they all stay healthy, do they *need* a bench? They lack much frontline depth (sorry, Zaza), but they're kind of like the Warriors of the past couple of years in that they throw a bunch of insanely athletic 6-9 guys on the floor who can outrun the opposition. Plus, while I'm not a huge Bibby fan, this is a contract year for him. I'm not saying they'll win a title, but if 37-40 wins is all it takes to get back to the playoffs, I can see it happening.