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Leading The East Again

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This is great timing.  One of the topics I wanted to discuss was the way the Eastern Conference is shaping up.  Wouldn't you know it, Marty Burns took a stab at that very subject.   This is, of course, low hanging fruit for NBA writers.  It almost writes itself.  Rank the teams, state the obvious, lather, rinse, repeat.  Of course that means that bloggers like me will pick them apart with snarky sarcasm, which is formulaic in its own way, but hey, its the summer.

The following in bold are snippets of Marty's comments.  The rest is me.

1. Celtics:  "The bottom line is that the defending champs didn't make any significant moves ... but they didn't need to."

Burns is clearly sleeping on the deep impact of rising meteor Patrick O'Bryant.  Like a caterpillar crawling along slowly in Golden State, he is now in a Clifford Ray spun cocoon and will emerge as a beautiful butterfly.  Oh yeah, and the New Big Three would be good enough to lap the field even if Doc and Danny had to suit up and play the last two starting spots.

2. Cavaliers:  "They are one of the NBA's toughest defensive teams under coach Mike Brown, and their core lineup -- shuffled by a major deal at last season's trade deadline -- was starting to jell at the end of last season."

You do have to respect the defense on this team, but if they think they can compete with Wally World and broken down Ben, they are kidding themselves.  They'll be Mo betta at the point and they've still got a few expiring contracts to shop around, but I just see them throwing money at mediocre players to put around LeBron and ultimately watching him walk in 2010.  But that's just me.

3. Magic: "With Dwight Howard coming into his own, big man Tony Battie back after missing all of last season with a shoulder injury and coach Stan Van Gundy having another training camp to implement his system, the Magic should be even better next season."

Tony Battie?  Really?  I love El Busto, but I didn't even know he was still in the league.  Still, Superman is indeed "coming into his own" and Hedo has found himself a happy home.  We'll see how Pietrus fits in.  I could see Philly in this spot, but you never know.

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4. 76ers: "Assuming they bring back Andre Iguodala, who reportedly is nearing a new deal to stay, the Sixers should take another big step in their dramatic rise."

Did they overpay for Iggy?  Of course they did.  But that's the cost of the strategy they pursued when they traded Allen Iverson.  Get a bunch of cap space and overpay free agents (other people's and their own).  Brand is so widely considered underrated that I'm not sure he's really underrated anymore.  Can he be The Man in Philly?  Can Iggy keep getting better?  How much better can their young players (Williams, Young, Rush) get?  They could go as high as number 2 and will be a trendy pick headed into the season.

5. Wizards: "If Arenas is healthy and ready to earn his huge paycheck, the Wizards should get back to being the team that had one of the best records in the East two years ago before injuries derailed their season."

Death, taxes, and the Wizards losing to the Cavs in the playoffs.  Some things you just can't avoid.  This team has so much talent, so much scoring ability, and so much bad luck.  It doesn't help that they play zero defense.  You can get away with that during the regular season.  They signed up for many more years of this same cast, so expect this same prediction next year, and the year after, and the year after...

6. Pistons: "Unless Dumars has something else up his sleeve, the Pistons just seem like a team headed for a decline."

I have too much respect for Dumars to write this team off completely, but you have to think they'll take a step back before he has a chance to usher in the new Pistons era.  I wouldn't call it rebuilding (yet) but everyone expects a transition year, and unless you are transitioning with KG and Ray Allen, that means falling back in the pack.

7. Raptors: "GM Bryan Colangelo made perhaps the most underrated move of the offseason, acquiring five-time All-Star Jermaine O'Neal from the Pacers for T.J. Ford and Rasho Nesterovic."

Call me crazy, but I love this move for Toronto.  I think O'Neal will be healthy and ticked off and I think pairing him with Bosh is just crazy enough to work.  Calderon is ready to be the full time starter and Colangelo continues to stock up on International talent.

8. Pacers: "With Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy, the pieces are there for coach Jim O'Brien " to run his type of fast-breaking, three-point-shooting system."

Larry Legend made a bunch of moves, most of which seem to fit well, but I still don't see a star on that team.  And as we all know, O'Brien will get you only so far with his gimmick offense.  Live by the 3, die by letting guys beat Dick Harter's defense with endless backdoor cuts.

For the rest of the way I'm ditching Marty's comments and going on my own, wish me luck.

9. Hawks: Josh Smith got paid, but is he happy?  Can Marvin the Martian step up to fill the void as Childress is off eating gyros?  Can someone who cares buy this team and actually, you know, invest some time and money into it instead of letting it flounder around in litigation and stuff fans don't care about?  Still, JJ is too good to make me think they'll miss the playoffs.

10. Bobcats: Every year I look at this team and think "why can't they be better?"  I'm a fan of Okafor and Gerald Wallace.  Jason Richardson can score.  They've got talent in a lot of places but there's something missing.  Can Larry Brown resurrect another franchise?  Will Ammo shave the stache?  Will MJ flip out one day and show up to practice in gym shorts?  I want to root for this team, or at least find them somewhat interesting.  So far it hasn't happened.

11. Heat: I don't understand this ranking by Burns.  Yes, I know the Heat won 15 games last year and they still have Mark Blount.  Still, just getting Wade back to 100% is nearly enough to get them to the playoffs.  Factor in the fact that Shawn Marion is still a money player looking for a big payday and sprinkle in a little excitement over the Beasley kid, and you've got yourself an exciting team.  Of course a big trade or two could be looming depending on how the Marion situation plays out, but still.

12. Bucks:  Here's your starting lineup folks:  Luke Ridnour, Michael Redd, Richard Jefferson, Charlie Villanueva, Andrew Bogut. Honestly I like that lineup a little better than the Pacers squad, but again, no stars.  No wow players.  We'll see how long it takes Skiles to rub players the wrong way.

13. Bulls:  Another one I feel like is too low.  I see a comeback year for Kirk and a solid year for the rookie Rose. I'm a Deng fan and I think they'll get a little something for Gordon.  They need someone in the post, but they could be a poor-man's Wizards for a while.

14. Nets:  The team punted.  What else is there to say?  I'll check back in 2010 and see how things are going in Brooklyn.

15. Knicks: D'Antoni alone is enough to get out of the basement, especially with the Nets in Sherman Tank mode.  Still, even with a new GM and coach, it will take a few years to turn over the roster and create a new culture, but it can happen.  The Celtics fan in me is content to let them twist in the wind.  The NBA fan in me wants to see them at least become relevant again.

My rankings:  Since I picked Marty apart, I have to let you guys take your shots at me.  Here's my ranking as of today.

1. Celtics
2. Cavs
3. Sixers
4. Magic
5. Pistons - I don't think Matt Watson will like this much better.
6. Raptors
7. Wizards
8. Hawks
9. Pacers
10. Heat
11. Bucks
12. Bulls
13. Bobcats
14. Knicks
15. Nets