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Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011-12 NBA Season Preview: Eastern Conference

Canaan breaks down the 15 teams out East.


Offseason Recap: The Hawks haven't made a significant off-season addition since trading for Jamal Crawford. The firm belief in Atlanta has been that the core of Al Horford, Joe Johnson, and Josh Smith will eventually develop into a championship contender, with no major additions needed. Marvin Williams is paid like he's part of that core, and his bloated salary forced the Hawks to wave goodbye to Crawford after two very successful seasons in Atlanta. Jeff Teague is being counted on to build on his promising series vs. the Bulls last spring and become the man at point, which he'll have to do considering Tracy McGrady is his lone backup with Kirk Hinrich sidelined following shoulder surgery. Vladimir Radmonivic was also brought in to provide three-point shooting.
Offseason Grade: C-     Projected 2011-12 Record: 41-25 (5th in East)

Crawford cost too much
Kirk Hinrich hurt his shoulder
Teague must be the man


Offseason Recap: The moves the Celtics didn't make (trading for Chris Paul and/or David West) are more interesting than the moves they did make, but Danny Ainge still found a way to improve his team. Brandon Bass is a huge upgrade of Big Baby Davis, especially considering the money Davis will be making. The loss of Jeff Green hurts the depth behind Paul Pierce, and I don't think bringing back Sasha Pavlovic is going to help there. I do like the drafting of the Purdue duo JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, but Jermaine O'Neal is still the starting center (ahead of Chris Wilcox), which isn't ideal. Delonte West was allowed to part, which may be for the best for both parties.

Offseason Grade: C     Projected 2011-12 Record: 44-22 (3rd in East)

Dooling and Bradley
Are the Celtics' backcourt depth
Rondo plays all game?


Offseason Recap: A 305-pound Boris Diaw is the Bobcats' starting center, so things are pretty dire regardless of whatever else is going on in Charlotte. Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo, and Corey Maggette were draft-day acquisitions, with Walker (hopefully) bringing leadership and scoring, Biyombo (hopefully) bringing the shot-blocking and rebounding the Bobcats gave away when they dumped Tyson Chandler last year, and Maggette (definitely) filling the offensive black hole void left by the departed Stephen Jackson. OKC bust Byron Mullens was brought in to compete with incumbent stiff Desgana Diop to see who truly is the worst center in the NBA, which both have proven worthy of already by failing to beat out Diaw for the starting role. Reggie Williams is an okay signing (although he's already hurt).

Offseason Grade: D     Projected 2011-12 Record: 12-54 (15th in East)

Kemba and Bismack
Are the same as the 'Cats two
Best players last year


Offseason Recap: The only move the Bulls made this off-season was replacing Keith Bogans with Rip Hamilton, which is at worst a wash, and at best gives the Bulls a major upgrade at their lone problem spot last season. Jimmy Butler was also drafted, and although draftniks are high on him (or at least as high as someone can be on the 30th pick), he most likely won't contribute much this season. If he does, it most likely means something has gone very wrong in the upper reaches of what may be the most complete depth chart in the NBA. While many teams sat on their hands this off-season, the Bulls are one of the few that were correct in doing so.

Offseason Grade: B     Projected 2011-12 Record: 52-14 (2nd in East)

Rip, Ronnie, Kyle 
It does not matter who's two 
Rose makes all better


Offseason Recap: The arrival of Kyrie Irving and (to a lesser extent) Tristan Thompson signals the true beginning of the post-LeBron era, as last season's squad made the mistake of believing it could contend for the playoffs before a record-setting losing streak forced management to accept that the only way up is down. No such delusional mistakes were made this winter, with the fat cut (Baron Davis), and the steady placeholder (Anthony Parker) brought back to share the backcourt with Irving. One more season at the bottom of the league should provide the draft pick necessary to begin the climb back out of the gutter, and start the countdown until Irving's (or next year's rookie sensation's) free agency, and Cleveland can do this all over again.

Offseason Grade: B    Projected 2011-12 Record: 14-52 (12th in East)

Gilbert writes letters
The font and words scream DOUCHEBAG
At least Dan spends cash


Offseason Recap: Joe Dumars continued his assault on logic, contradicting himself by the move. First, he drafted Brandon Knight, presumably to replace restricted free agent Rodney Stuckey, who of course was instead re-signed to a three-year deal. Rip Hamilton was bought out, signaling a long-overdue move towards a total rebuild, until Tayshaun Prince was brought back for four more years. With Prince, Austin Daye, and Charlie Villanueva locked up to man the three, Jonas Jerebko could be let go. Or he could be re-signed for four more years. Effectively, Dumars kept the same log-jammed, overpaid roster that finished 30-52 last year together for the foreseeable future, squandering his first chance to rectify the disastrous 2009 off-season and dooming the Pistons to an immediate future of boring mediocrity.

Offseason Grade: D-     Projected 2011-12 Record: 13-53 (t-13th in East)

Three sort-of point guards 
Three tweener forwards who suck 
Help poor Greg Monroe


Offseason Recap: Deciding (correctly) that they had enough young talent on the wings, the Pacers started off by trading the draft rights to Kawhi Leonard to the Spurs for Indianapolis native George Hill. While the Hill acquisition is nice, the real coup of Indiana's off-season was the signing of David West. West's addition moves Tyler Hansborough to the bench, a role more suited for Psycho T's style. Jeff Foster was brought back to back up Roy Hibbert, and (presumably) to mentor his replacement, Lou Amudson, who was acquired for disappointing wing Brandon Rush. West may not be the superstar needed to elevate Indiana to the heights of Chicago or Miami, but he should at least help the Pacers compete with the Hawks and Magic of the world.

Offseason Grade: B+     Projected 2011-12 Record: 37-29 (7th in East)

George grew two inches
Granger received scoring help
Indy will be tough


Offseason Recap: Unfortunately, a 4th quarter backbone for LeBron James wasn't available this off-season, or the Heat would have addressed their only weakness. Even without that, the Heat should be better. Shane Battier will take Mike Miller's mostly ineffective minutes, while rookie Norris Cole will provide the spark and energy Mike Bibby's corpse failed to provide. A flier was taken on Eddy Curry, but unfortunately it looks like the end of the line for the former Bull. Udonis Haslem should be healthy for the whole season, which will help, but, honestly, as long as LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and (to a much lesser extent) Chris Bosh are healthy, the Heat will always be the favorites to win the title, which they should do this summer.

Offseason Grade: B     Projected 2011-12 Record: 53-13 (1st in East)

Oh for two in June
LeBron will finally win
Breaking Cleveland's heart 


Offseason Recap: The Bucks traded the pick that became The Jimmer for Stephen Jackson, which is already looking shaky, considering Fredette is looking at least entertaining (something the Bucks weren't at all last year) and Jackson is threatening a holdout despite having two seasons left on his current deal. Second round pick Jon Leur will provide a different look behind Andrew Bogut, spotting up for threes and becoming a fan favorite, while Bogut by all accounts is finally recovered from that gruesome arm injury, which would be by far the most impactful development of the off-season. With a healthy Bogut, the Bucks should be right in the mix with the Pacers and Sixers at the bottom of the East. Without him, Jon Leur is their starting center.

Offseason Grade: C     Projected 2011-12 Record: 29-37 (10th in East)

Michael Redd is gone
Delfino is no answer 
Dunleavy, Jr. 


Offseason Recap: No, Dwight Howard wasn't stolen for Brook Lopez and some late-round draft picks, but the off-season wasn't a bust for the Nets. Travis Outlaw's non-production will be replaced by anything else (most likely either Damion James or ex-Knick Shawne Williams), and Kirk Humphries was brought back without the Nets having to comprise future cap space (which could be used to continue the pursuit of Howard). Rookie Marshon Brooks should provide scoring, even if it is inefficient. This year will be another holding year for New Jersey, but the presence of Deron Williams for a full year should make them the most competitive they've been since the Jason Kidd days. With Brooklyn and (perhaps) a Dwight-D-Will combo ahead, better days should be coming.

Offseason Grade: C     Projected 2011-12 Record: 32-34 (9th in East)

Last time in Jersey
The Nets will wait once again
For a star to come


Offseason Recap: The Knicks went all-in with the Melo-Amare combo, jettisoning Chauncey Billups and the coming salary relief he represented to bring in Tyson Chandler. An Anthony-Stoudemire-Chandler frontcourt is boffo, but how long will they get to play together, 60 games, or 30? Elsewhere, with Billups gone and rookie Iman Shumpert looking promising but not like a point guard, discarded vets Mike Bibby and, more interestingly, Baron Davis were brought in to help Toney Douglas try to run Mike D'Antoni's attack. If Davis is healthy and motivated, the Knicks will push the Celtics in the Atlantic division. If he isn't, at least that frontcourt will be a blast to watch go .500.

Offseason Grade: B     Projected 2011-12 Record: 42-24 (4th in East)

League's strongest frontcourt
Unstoppable if only
They had a point guard


Offseason Recap: Instead of actively pursuing the best deal out there for Dwight Howard, Otis Smith instead has spent (even more) big money to make another run at a title in what could be Dwight's Orlando swan song. Jason Richardson was inexplicably brought back for a 4-year deal, despite the fact that JJ Reddick was outplaying him by the end of last year. Big Baby Davis was given a huge contract, and cost the Magic a better player in Brandon Bass. Cleveland similarly loaded up for one last run in LeBron's last year in town, only to become one of the worst teams ever following his exit. A similar fate likely awaits the Magic, except they won't be nearly as good as that Cleveland team this year.

Offseason Grade: D     Projected 2011-12 Record: 40-26 (6th in East)

Lopez will not do
Hurt Bynum and who? Won't do
So Otis gave up


Offseason Recap: With a young roster tied up to fairly substantial contracts, and with seemingly no desire to trade Andre Igulodala, the Sixers had little choice but to stand pat and wait for youngsters like Evan Turner and a re-signed Thaddeus Young to blossom. First-round choice Nikola Vucevic appears to be a guy drafted because he's tall who never does anything. Spencer Hawes is tall and has talent, so he's back for one more year to see if he can finally harness it. PER favorite Mareese Speights was rumored to be shopped, but it looks like he'll be back to finally prove John Hollinger right. Barring a stunning development by Turner or Young, the Sixers should again find themselves at the bottom of the East playoff field.

Offseason Grade: B-     Projected 2011-12 Record: 34-32 (8th in East)

Middle of the road
With some talent that can grow
A spring sweep ahead

Offseason Recap: The Raptors finally seem ready to hit bottom, which hasn't happened since they set themselves up to draft Chris Bosh. No significant additions were made this off-season (talent-wise or salary-wise), and even their first round pick Jonas Valanciunas won't be in Toronto this year. Gary Forbes, Aaron Gray, and Jamal Magloire aren't going to win any games, which is good, since the Raptors should do nothing to jeopardize their lofty draft position in one of the strongest drafts in years. DeMarr DeRozan and Ed Davis—Toronto's past two first rounders—are nice pieces, but neither is going to be a superstar, nor is Valanciunas (despite his dominating European Under 19 performance). A superstar is needed to make the Raptors matter again, and this draft should provide one.

Offseason Grade: C     Projected 2011-12 Record: 13-53 (t-13th in East)

DeRozan will shine
And Bargnani will score lots
But the Raps will suck


Offseason Recap: With a roster brimming with talented knuckleheads, Rashard Lewis's contract, and John Wall, the Wizards faced several possibilities. They could have amnestied Lewis, clearing his contract from their books, and traded a knucklehead. Or, they could have brought everyone back, and hoped that a year-older Wall could become a leader, whipping the knuckleheads into shape and coaxing production out of Lewis. The Wiz chose the latter, bringing back Nick Young, keeping Lewis, and adding Ronny Turiaf to mentor JaVale McGee, which should set up yet another exciting year filled with bone-headed moments. Wall should start to move into the elite point guard discussion, while the whole team will rock the best uniforms in the league, but actual playoff contention is at least one year away.

Offseason Grade: C+     Projected 2011-12 Record: 21-45 (11th in East)

Blatche, McGee, and Young
The Capitol's three stooges
Will undermine Wall

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