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With the NBA season set to tip-off, it's time the WhatIfSports NBA simulation engine produces its 2010-2011 forecast. Today's article will focus on the Eastern Conference.
The teams are ordered by their predicted finish in the conference, listed from worst to first (all projected win totals are rounded up). As with all our simulations, these predictions/projections are based on the statistical make-up of each team.
Eastern Conference Breakdown
15) Washington Wizards - 19 Wins
With the selection of All-American John Wall in this year's Draft, the Wizards formally began the arduous process of rebuilding their proud franchise. One problem: Washington headache Gilbert Arenas is still part of the equation. After spending most of '09-10 on the sidelines thanks to a league-sanctioned suspension, many assumed the team would part ways with the talented but troubled Arenas. However, due to his massive contract, the team was unable to unload the former All-Star, creating an "elephant in the backcourt" situation between Arenas and Wall. When healthy, there are few in the league who can replicate Agent Zero's scoring ability. Washington fans hope this sentiment still rings true.
14) Detroit Pistons - 22 Wins
The Pistons can be classified as a franchise in basketball purgatory, caught between the limbo of rebuilding and competing. On one hand, Detroit has a young core of talent in Rodney Stuckey, Jonas Jerebko, Austin Daye, and Greg Monroe. Yet the team has substantial fiscal resources invested in Rip Hamilton, Tayshuan Prince, and Ben Gordon. Add in the addition of Tracy McGrady and re-signing of Ben Wallace, and one has to question the direction and strategy the Detroit brass has taken. It will be interesting to see how Coach John Kuester allots playing time between the potential and past of the Pistons. If Kuester can crack the equation, Detroit could be a dark horse in the relatively weak Eastern Conference.
13) Toronto Raptors- 30 Wins
Marcus Camby. Damon Stoudamire. Tracy McGrady. Vince Carter. Chris Bosh now joins the ranks of these notorious names who have broken the spirit of the Raptor fanbase. Add in the exodus of disgruntled forward Hedo Turkoglu, and Toronto's roster appears to lack an established NBA star. However, the Raptor cupboard is not necessarily bare. Andrea Bargnani, the #1 pick in the 2006 Draft, made significant strides in '09-10, with career marks in points (17.2), rebounds (6.2), FG % (.470), MPG (35.0) and games played (80). DeMar DeRozan, in his 2nd year in the league, has been impressive in the preseason. Former Sixth Man of the Year Leandro Barbosa arrived via Phoenix in the Turkoglu trade and gives the Raptors a scoring presence off the bench. And although injuries have sidelined his debut, expectations are high for rookie Ed Davis out of North Carolina. Toronto won't impress fans on paper, but a playoff appearance is feasible for this Raptors squad.
12) New Jersey Nets - 30 Wins
Ouch. The arrival of Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov was supposed to ignite a revival for the Nets. Many NBA pundits predicted New Jersey as the wildcard in the free-agency frenzy, with Prokhorov leveraging his global reach and the franchise's foray into Brooklyn to attract one of the marquee commodities. Unfortunately, New Jersey's offseason acquisitions fell just short of the hype. And by "just short" I mean "epic failure." Troy Murphy? Anthony Morrow? Travis Outlaw? While each is a solid player in his own right, none would be considered a building block. The Nets do have a young nucleus of Brook Lopez, Devin Harris, and rookie Derrick Favors (although Harris is far from a "spring chicken."). Additionally, coach Avery Johnson has been known extract the most from his players' talents. Unfortunately for New Jersey fans, unless the team can swing a deal for Carmelo Anthony, the Nets are primed for mediocrity for years to come.
11) Philadelphia 76ers - 31 Wins
Some might suppose labeling one as a "bust" before suiting up for an official game as a tad premature. Yet that seems to be the stigma surrounding 2nd overall pick Evan Turner, whose preseason has been prosaic at best. Not helping matters is the performance of fellow 1st rounder DeMarcus Cousins, who may have been the steal of the Draft at the 5 spot. In Turner's defense, his role will be coming off the bench rather than the focal point of the offense. That designation falls on Andre Iguodala, who raised some eyebrows with his superb showing in Turkey for Team USA. Besides AI9, Elton Brand is projected to carry the offensive attack for the '76ers. Brand will be looking to rejuvenate his career after two injury-plagued seasons in the City of Brotherly Love. But if Brand can't recapture his Clipper form, Philly could be trapped in the conference cellar all year long.
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10) Indiana Pacers- 31 Wins
Have to feel for the Hoosier State. Not only did Indiana submit another pedestrian performance in '09-10, but fans watched in dismay as Pacer pariah Ron Artest carried the Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Worse, fan favorite Troy Murphy was shipped to New Jersey as a salary-saving move. Yet, there is reason for optimism in Conseco Fieldhouse. PG Darren Collison arrived from New Orleans, where the former Bruin averaged 12.4 points and 5.7 assists (18.8 points and 9.1 assists as a starter) on his way to earning All-Rookie First Team distinction. Roy Hibbert has shown flashes of dominance in the preseason, and Danny Granger appears to be healthy. Attaining a playoff position is probably a pipedream; however, the Pacers finally have a solid foundation on the floor, one that can put the Malice at the Palace in the past.
9) New York Knicks - 36 Wins
For the second straight year, the biggest news regarding the Knicks won't concern what's happening on the floor, but off it. After striking out on the LeBron James/Dwyane Wade sweepstakes, New York settled on Amar'e Stoudemire to the chagrin of Knickerbocker fans. Yet a few weeks after signing the former Phoenix forward, rumors began to escalate about Chris Paul yearning to migrate from New Orleans. This was superseded by the now infamous toast during Carmelo Anthony's wedding, where Paul paid tribute to a new "Big 3" in New York, with the implication that Paul and Anthony would someday join forces with Stoudemire in the Big Apple. With trade speculation surrounding Anthony in Denver, this proposal is not preposterous. In the meantime, those in Madison Square Garden will have to settle watching an improved squad of Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, and Anthony Randolph until the Paul-Melo fantasy comes to fruition.
8) Milwaukee Bucks - 40 Wins
Milwaukee was a force to be reckoned with in the 2nd half of the '09-10 campaign, as "Fear the Deer!" became a battle cry for Buck fans. Alas, Milwaukee center Andrew Bogut suffered an elbow and hand injury, derailing any aspirations for a deep playoff run. Luckily, Milwaukee returns most of their nucleus from last season. Bogut appears to be on the mend and hopes to return to '09-10 form, where the Australian earned All-NBA honors. Rookie sensation Brandon Jennings and John Salmons will be looked to provide offense for the Bucks, with Carlos Delfino, newly acquired Drew Gooden, and Ersan Ilyasova assigned the defense detail. The wildcard for Milwaukee will be Corey Maggette, an offensive assassin who occasionally as shown lapses of judgment on the floor.
Eastern Conference - Atlantic
Eastern Conference - Central
Eastern Conference - Southeast
7) Charlotte Bobcats- 43 Wins
The Bobcats captured their first playoff berth in the short history of the Charlotte franchise in '09-10 with a 44-38. Larry Brown's endeavor will be no less difficult this season, as the Bobcats lost stars Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler. Charlotte will count on captains Gerald Wallace (who had a breakout year with averages 18.2 points and 10 rebounds on his way to All-Star and All-Defensive team berths) and Stephen Jackson (who had a career-high average of 21.1 points in '09-10) to jump-start the Bobcat offensive attack. The X-factor will be 3rd-year PG D.J. Augustin, who will be filling the departed Felton's void. While Augustin is one of the league's best creators at getting his shot, he tends to overlook his role as a facilitator. If he fails to make that transition, the Bobcats could be in for a long winter.
6) Cleveland Cavaliers- 44 Wins
One would be a cold-hearted mongrel not to empathize with the Cavalier faithful after LeBron tore their collective heart out, Temple of Doom style on national television. Cleveland now faces the tedious task of dealing with the most daunting and disheartening word in sports: "rebuilding." Unfortunately for the Cavs, the only building blocks in place are J.J. Hickson (averaging 14.9 points and 8.9 boards in the preseason), Anderson Varejao (though the Brazilian is already 28) and relative unknown Christian Eyenga. Hickson, guard Mo Williams, and sixth man Antawn Jamison will be the catalysts for Cleveland's offense, with Varejao and Jamario Moon doing the dirty work on defense.
5) Atlanta Hawks- 46 Wins
The Hawks are hoping to exercise the demons from last season, where they were embarrassingly bamboozled in the playoffs by the Orlando Magic. Atlanta resigned guard and leading scorer Joe Johnson, and added Jamal Crawford from Xavier, whose early returns in the preseason have been spectacular. Atlanta's strength is down low, where it boasts one of the most ferocious frontlines in the league in Josh Smith (15.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.1 blocks) and Al Horford (14.2 points, 9.9 rebounds). A possible weakness for Atlanta could be its guard play, where Mike Bibby has rapidly begun to decline. Don't be surprised if Crawford is inserted in the starting role by midseason.
4) Chicago Bulls- 55 Wins
The Bulls will have to wait until December to parade their new acquisition, Carlos Boozer, off to the rest of the Eastern Conference. Derek Rose, who's transformed into one of the league's top point guards in just two seasons, and Joakim Noah will have to maintain the status quo until Boozer's return. While attaining the services of Boozer, defensive specialist Ronnie Brewer, and sharp shooter Kyle Korver will undoubtedly give Rose a few more options in his arsenal, Chicago's most significant move didn't involve a player. Tom Thibodeau, the defensive mastermind behind the Boston Celtic powerhouses of the past three seasons, was handed the head coaching reins over the summer. If Thibodeau can implement his brand of fundamentally-sound, suffocating defense to the Windy City, the Bulls will instantly become a championship contender. Furthermore, a development to keep an eye on is Carmelo Anthony, who is rumored to favor Chicago or New York as his preferred destinations.
3) Boston Celtics- 56 Wins
After Kendrick Perkins went down in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, the Lakers abused the Celtics on the boards and in the paint. With Perkins out until February, Boston addressed this issue by signing a pair of O'Neals in Shaquille and Jermaine. Which would have been grand, had this been 2003. However, with Shaq and Jermaine splitting time, along with Kevin Garnett, Glen Davis, and rookie Luke Harangody, the Celtics should be able to hold down the proverbial fort until Perkins returns. Kevin Garnett appears to be healthy for the first time since 2008, and Ray Allen and Paul Pierce re-signed over the summer. The big question (as usual) will be Rajon Rondo. The PG turned in his finest campaign in his young NBA career, averaging 13.7 points and 9.8 assists, earning All-Star honors in the process. Does the 5th-yar guard out of Kentucky continue to develop into one of the league's elite, or will he sour from this summer's exodus from Team USA? The route Rondo takes could alter the outcome of the Eastern Conference.
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2) Orlando Magic- 57 Wins
As every Eastern Conference contender obtained assets to improve the DNA of their respective rosters over the summer, Orlando responded by idly observing with it's hands in its pockets (unless you count matching Chicago's offer to J.J. Redick and signing journeyman Quentin Richardson). However, aside from potentially upgrading from Vince Carter, the Magic didn't have a glaring need to address, as they have experienced consistent success with their current roster. Orlando's size and athleticism make the Magic one of the few viable threats towards Miami's conquest over the Eastern Conference. One potential roadblock for Orlando could be their coach, Stan Van Gundy. While one of the game's best tacticians, Van Gundy can tire on players with his stanch commands and overreaction, which has earned him the nickname "Master of Panic" from former player Shaquille O'Neal. It will be interesting to see if Van Gundy's words still ring true or if his players begin to drown his message out.
1) Miami Heat- 65 Wins
No one likes how the deal went down, but there's no denying the Miami Heat are in an echelon by themselves in the East. The season has yet to begin, but the story lines already seem played out. Will there be enough touches to go around? How will Miami compensate for lack of size? Can the team survive the season's toll of taking each team's best shot? In fact, there are already chinks in the team's armor, as Mike Miller could miss significant time with a thumb injury, and Dwyane Wade is recovering from a hamstring scare. Yet when Miami is in full-throttle, it will be a sight to behold.
Check out the 2010-11 Western Conference Preview.
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