I'm going to steal this post from KnickerBlogger to generate some discussion today. Is the East on the rise?
This NBA offseason seems to have benefited the East. Lost in the Baron Davis/Elton Brand/Clippers story was that the Sixers were the big winners. Between Dalembert, Iguodala, and Brand Philadelphia might have one of the league’s best defenses. If Brand is healthy, the Sixers go from a middle of the road team to an Eastern powerhouse. The Chicago Bulls were a 49 win team two seasons ago and ended up with the #1 overall pick this year. Derrick Rose should give them production at the point guard position where Kirk Hinrich regressed heavily. Similarly the Miami Heat added the #2 pick, and Michael Beasley combined with a full season from All Stars Dwayne Wade and Shawn Marion could make them a strong rebound candidate in 2009. Meanwhile there are a few Eastern teams led by young stars that could take a step forward next year, like Orlando, Cleveland, and Toronto.
Last year the league’s two best teams were in the East. The Celtics won 66 games and the Pistons won 59. Although Boston has already lost a key role player (Posey), Detroit’s roster remains largely unchanged. If one or two of the other Eastern teams can break the 55 win barrier, then it’s likely that the gap between conferences may no longer exist.
The team that is forgotten about here (and pretty often really) is the Wizards. They have been snake bit by injuries and the lack of defense is always their achilies heal, but that didn't stop the Suns from becoming a Western powerhouse (even if they never made it to the Finals. I think the Wizards make some noise this year.
I agree that the top 2 draft picks will eventually help out the Bulls and Heat (who were both hurting for some good luck). I think in the short term, though, we'll be seeing more and more from the Magic and Raptors. Cleveland really needs a huge trade, which they can pull of with the expiring contracts, but they need a seller first.
Who do you think is on the rise in the East? Do you think the balance of power is shifting?