Most of the offseason moves have been completed by now. It is still far too early to make real, legit predictions about next year, but it is only human nature to take a "windage" of where things stand after the summer activity has died down.
Here's a quick snapshot at all the teams in the Eastern Conference in order of where they finished last year with a note on each about their general trend (according to me).
Note: "Rising" and "Falling" are merely the general direction that I see each team going. It does NOT directly correlate with their place in the standings. A team could be "rising" and still get passed up by teams rising faster.
The ATL started off the season on fire, then couldn't keep up that breakneck pace as the season wore on. This offseason they lost key catalyst DeMarre Carroll to the Raptors which won't help. They did add Tiago Splitter for cheap. I think this group will still be good, but there's really nowhere to go but down (in terms of regular season success). Trend: Falling
The opposite was true for the Cavs. They failed to gel early on but figured things out as they went along and steamrolled all the way to the Finals. Given a full season with everyone (in theory) on the same page, they should be the favorites until someone unseats them. Trend: Rising
Tom Thibodeau is out and Fred Hoiberg is in. The roster is largely back from last year (with rookie Bobby Portis added to the mix). In theory, they should get a healthy Joakim Noah back. In theory, Hoiberg should manage people's minutes better so they don't get run into the ground by Christmas. But will they be as disciplined (in particular on defense)? We'll see. I'm calling this a push for now. They may rise or fall in the standings depending on what other teams do, but I don't think they are all that different a team fundamentally. Trend: Even
4 Toronto Raptors
The Raps return much of the same roster and added Carroll. I'm not sure I'm buying them as contenders, but if Lowry can return to his better form (he seemed a bit dinged up last year) then the team could be a better version of themselves. For what that's worth. Trend: Rising
They lost Paul Pierce but added sneaky-good Jared Dudley and saw Otto Porter take a step forward in the playoffs. If they can keep everyone healthy, they could make some real noise in the East this year. And if not, there's always the summer of Kevin Durant to look forward to. Trend: Rising
This team finished .500 despite missing their prize rookie Jabari Parker for much of the year. Add Parker and Greg Monroe to this team and they could be scary good. Especially with the Greek Freak getting one year older. Trend: Rising
The second half of the year certainly showed people that this team is on the upward swing. They added two veteran bigs to the mix, both of whom add elements lacking on last year's team. Everything could change at the trade deadline but I think I can call this offseason a positive one. Trend: Rising
I'm not entirely sure how they made the playoffs last year and the team is kind of in cost cutting mode (while still handing out big contracts to maintain respectability). Cutting Deron Williams might actually end up being a net positive for them in the end, and bringing back Thad Young and Brook Lopez could help if everyone can stay healthy. But ultimately I'm not buying this team. Trend: Falling
The Pacers get their best player back as Paul George returns from that gruesome injury that happened a full year ago. So that's good. They also lost David West and dumped Roy Hibbert, replacing him with Jordan Hill. Add Monta Ellis to the mix and stir. Net result, ...umm, I have no idea so I'm going to push. Trend: Even
10 Miami Heat
Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh, Hassan Whiteside. That's a pretty solid starting lineup if everyone is healthy and full speed. Add in a revamped bench of Gerald Green, Amare Stoudamire, Josh McRoberts and rookie Justise Winslow (ok, you too Mario Chalmers) and you've got a potential top 4 team in the East. Trend: Rising
So basically it is Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, MKG, and hope that Frank Kaminsky is the real deal. I'm not sure what is going on in Charlotte but I'll say they stay about the same (and watch other teams pass them by). Trend: Even
Stan Van Gundy is molding this team into his image and it is starting to look a lot like those old Orlando Magic teams he did so well with back in the day. A dynamic big man in the middle (Drummond), shooters to space the floor (Ilyasova, Meeks, KCP) and a lot of pick and roll action (Reggie Jackson). Call me crazy but I see them getting slowly better over time. Trend: Rising
Speaking of the Magic, they are building their own new core in Orlando. I like a lot of their pieces but like the Celtics there's not really a lead dog or clear identity. Then again, that could be where Scott Skiles comes in. He'll probably wear out his welcome in a few years, but not before they get respectable. Trend: Rising
Trust the process. I guess. Trend: Even
Can't go anywhere but up, right? They swung and missed on the big name free agents (who would have thought Monroe would pick the Bucks over the Knicks? ...and it was absolutely the right choice). Still, the Knicks lucked into a few solid moves that probably will end up working better than if they spent all their money one one big name. Lopez and Afflalo aren't exciting names on paper, but they should at least give Carmelo Anthony some decent teammates to play with. They'll still be pretty bad, but they probably won't be embarrassingly putrid any more. Trend: Rising
So I count 9 rising teams, 4 even teams, and just 2 falling teams. Some of those best laid plans are going to blow up in the teams' faces and increase the number of falling teams but in general I see the East as getting moderately better.
So what does this mean to the Celtics? Well, I think you could look at this as one big exercise to show how the Celtics could have gotten better this offseason and still manage to slide back in the standings by virtue of other teams getting better.
I tend to believe that won't happen because I believe in the mojo of the 2nd half of the season. That could have been a fluke but I'm going to give Brad Stevens credit and believe that he can keep this team headed in the right direction.
If I had to guess right now, I'd put the Cavs, Bulls, Heat, and Wizards in the top tier. The Hawks, Raptors, Bucks, and Celtics round out the playoff spots in some order and the Pistons and Pacers fall just shy.
How would you rank the teams in the East?