For the first time in almost half-a-decade, the Eastern Conference in the NBA is nearly wide-open. The Miami Heat, the defending NBA champions, have all but guaranteed to take the number one seed in the East. But other than the all-mighty Heat, the rest of the seeds in the East are available for the taking. In the Finals, the Heat’s remarkable depth, as evidenced by sharpshooter Mike Miller’s barrage of threes in Game Five of the Finals, guided them to their first NBA title in six years.
During the playoffs, however, former-MVP Derrick Rose was crestfallen to learn that he tore his MCL in his knee, all but assuring that he will miss most of the regular season. In addition, Iman Shumpert, the Knicks defensive rookie specialist, was also plagued by the same MCL tear, and thus won’t make his return till at least February. The Indiana Pacers made a questionable move by trading point guard Darren Collison to Dallas in exchange for big-man Ian Manhimi. While Manhimi has shined at times, his lack of consistency could be problematic, especially if Indiana relies on him to be a weapon off the bench. The Philadelphia 76ers amnestied Elton Brand and let Lou Williams walk to Atlanta. In addition, Chicago let C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver and Omer Asik, thus diminishing the strength of the Bulls bench. Therefore it can be argued that Chicago, Philadelphia and even Indiana will be worse this season. Even the Knicks, who lost Jeremy Lin, Landry Fields and Jared Jefferies, may have gotten “worse”.
The Brooklyn Nets, however, are one team that have improved. Many pundits point out the fact that the Nets just re-signed four of their five starters from last season, and just added Joe Johnson and a “new” bench. Yet Deron Williams and Brook Lopez have played just 17 games together, and 12 of those games were with Williams playing with a severe wrist injury. Williams and Gerald Wallace have played just 12 games together. And furthermore, Williams, Lopez and Wallace have played a grand total of zero games all together.
There’s no doubt the Nets will be much, much better, but the question remains whether the Nets, and even the Knicks, can snare the number two seed in the East. With Rose out till March, it all but rules out Chicago taking the number two seed, and Philadelphia and Indiana have arguably gotten “worse”. But there is one team that could be standing in the Nets/Knicks way of the number 2 seed: The Boston Celtics.
Although Boston lost fan-favorite and sharp-shooter Ray Allen, they did bolster their team by signing ex-Mav Jason Terry and ex-Rocket Courtney Lee. Both should help assuage the loss of Ray Allen, but it still remains to be seen how the situation with Rajon Rondo will play out. Multiple reports pointed to Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo’s “friction in the locker room” as the underlying root that ultimately spurred Allen to join the boys’ in South Beach. And of course Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will be another year older and have to play through another 80+ games this season with the playoffs.
Every team, even the all-mighty Heat, has question marks and multiple what “ifs.” Thus for the first time in a while there’s no true “lock” for the number two, three or four seed in the East. The Knicks and Nets will surely be in contention for this prestigious seed, as it could provide home-court advantage all the way to the Conference Finals. Nevertheless, the East will be a fun and competitive “battle” this season, for the first time in at least a few seasons.