1. Orlando Magic: This may come as somewhat of a surprise, but I truly do believe the Magic will be atop the East next season. Orlando did part ways with Hedo Turkoglu (where'd he go again?), Courtney Lee, and Rafer Alston, but look who was added. By bringing in Vince Carter, the Magic still have a very solid starting 5, and the bench becomes better with Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass, along with the pre-existing players, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus. Considering the team made the Finals last year, I think it will give the team extra confidence. On paper, the Magic have one of the best starting 5's in the league.
2. Cleveland Cavs: What? The Cavs didn't win the East? Kevin, you must be insane. I'm sure readers are thinking this. But does Shaq REALLY make the Cavs THAT much better? I have worries about this signing. How is Lebron going to penetrate when a 325 pound beast is clogging the lane? And isn't Shaq 37? Yes, he had an impressive year last year in Phoenix, but will that really happen again? And didn't the Cavs lose Sasha Pavolic? The Shaq move fixes an issue, but I really don't see how it makes the Cavs winning the East next year.
3. Boston Celtics: Ray Allen is 34. Kevin Garnett is 33. Paul Pierce is 31. And the so called "best off-season signing", Rasheed Wallace is 34. Age has eventually going to show for this team. Rasheed Wallace won't even start. It also looks looks like Leon Powe won't return to Boston. Sorry Celtic fans, but I don't see how another run for a ring is possible.
4. Toronto Raptors: Yes yes, y'all, the Toronto Raptors are back. I may be biased, but I think the Raptors have had one of the best off-seasons in the league. The team lost Shawn Marion, but gained Hedo Turkgolu. The bench is MUCH better with the Jarrett Jack and Rasho Nesterovic signings, and it appears another player may be added as well. Breath a sigh of relief Raptor fans--the future looks bright.
5. Atlanta Hawks: The ATL won 47 games last year, and continue to fly under the radar. Jamal Crawford was added to the roster and will only improve the team.
6. Chicago Bulls: Next year, I believe Derrick Rose will be behind a select few for best PG in the league. Rose had an unbelievable rookie year. With the possibility of the Carlos Boozer trade, the Bulls may sneak up on people once again.
7. Miami Heat: Okay, maybe I wrote this blog a little too early, considering not all off-season moves have been complete. But last I checked, the Heat are yet to do anything this off-season, and only won 43 games last year. The off-season isn't done yet, so the Heat may make a move or two before the season starts, but AS OF RIGHT NOW, the 7 spot is perfect for the Heat. Losing Jamario Moon certainly doesn't make them better either. Pat Riley--you gotta get on the phone...make your superstar happy.
8. Philadephia 76ers: The Sixers had one of the biggest steals in the draft, picking Jrue Holiday at the 18th spot. A week before, Holiday was projected to go #4, so falling all the way to #18 certainly made the Sixers happy. Holiday has a bright future ahead of him, but I think he'll take a while to develop. Andre Miller also signed with Portland, so I'm not sure about the Sixers next year.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: Detroit Pistons. Sorry Joe Dumars, but you're team isn't much better than last year. I think the off-season moves the team has made doesn't make them much better, and rather evens out for losses that previously happened. For example--Rasheed Wallace signed with Boston, but Charlie Villanueva was brought in--talent wise, these two players are pretty even. One of the biggest problems for the Pistons last year was the controversy at the shooting guard position. Who would start--Iverson or Hamilton? Well, now Iverson is gone, and was replaced by Ben Gordon. Once again, this evens out, and is just another setup for another problem.
And yes, I know I left the Washington Wizards out--but until Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, and Gilbert Arenas play more than 20 games together, the Wizards won't make the playoffs.
1. LA Lakers: Assuming Lamar Odom returns, this is pretty obvious. However, if Odom doesn't return, we may have a different story on our hands.
2. Dallas Mavericks: Congrats Dallas, you're back. Mark Cuban has conducted a fantastic off-season, one that I believe will put Dallas back up there with the West's elites. Shawn Marion, despite not having Steve Nash anymore, still has much to offer. The Drew Gooden signing also helps, which will add more talent to the bench.
3. Denver Nuggets: The Chauncey Billups trade was one of the smartest moves the team has done in its franchise. The Nuggets had a fantastic season last year, and I believe the Nuggets will be in the thick of the playoffs for years to come. I do have worries though--Dahntay Jones signed with Indiana, and it appears Linas Kleiza won't be back either.
4. San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs have also had a great off-season. Not only did the team have a great draft, but traded for Richard Jefferson. Just because I believe the Spurs won't win the West next year, doesn't mean they won't go deep into the playoffs, which I believe they will. The Mavericks and Spurs may also flip flop.
5. Portland Trail Blazers: Kevin Pritchard may be the smartest man in the biz. The youth on the Blazers will continue to get more mature, and the future will continues to look bright for this team. The 5 seed may be a little low, but not bad a competitive West and an extremely young team.
6. Utah Jazz: No more controveries now that Carlos Boozer is gone. I look for this team to rebound after a disappointing season last year.
7. New Orleans Hornets: Remember the 2007-2008 when the Hornets were the 2 seed in the West? That was definitely a fluke. The Hornets are good, but that not good. I think it's safe to say that after last year, and probably next year, the Hornets are just an average team with an above average point guard.
8. Phoenix Suns: Yes, the Suns made the playoffs, but only because the Rockets didn't. Steve Kerr may be an idiot, but the team still has talent. I liked the Earl Clark drafting back in June, as well.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: Golden State Warriors. After a terrible season last year, I think the Warriors will be much improved next year. Stephen Curry has a very bright future, and I also like the Acie Law signing. This team won't make the playoffs next year, but a much better season is in sight for this team.
Like the Warriors, the Oklahoma City Thunder will also be much improved. Again, they won't make the playoffs, but long term, this team may be very good. Give it just a few more seasons, and the Thunder will be right in the thick of the playoffs. James Harden's potential is endless.
And yes, I know I didn't put the Houston Rockets in the playoffs. But c'mon, do they really have a shot?