Chicago Bulls (50-16, lost in the first round to Philadelphia)
Headline: Without Rose, Chicago looks set for a step back after two promising seasons in a row
Summary: It was all going so well for Chicago in the first game of the 2012 NBA playoffs vs. Philadelphia. They were up big and coasting him when the unthinkable happened as Derek Rose collapsed to the court with a serious knee injury. It was the most serious in a series of injuries that had limited Rose to only 39 regular season games last year. Without Rose for at least the first half of the season, if not more, the Bulls have a tough task if they want to remain title contenders.
Overall Trend: Down, even if Rose comes back he’s not going to be full strength for a good while, the Bulls will almost certainly take a huge step back this year.
Salary: $74.4M (over luxury tax threshold).
2013 Draft Picks: Owed Charlotte’s 2013 first round pick (top 12 protected)
Biggest Addition: Marco Belinelli.
Losses: Kyle Korver.
Best Case: NBA Title, if Rose comes back full strength somehow and the Bulls get a little bit of luck, its not entirely out of the realm of possibility that they could wind up winning it all.
Worst Case: Miss playoffs, if things are going poorly the Bulls might decide to simply tank the season, jettison Carlos Boozer and let Rose have the full year off to recover. If that happens, its entirely possible they miss out on the postseason.
Most Likely Case: First round. The Bulls without Rose are an average to slightly above average team and although strong on defense lack that scoring punch. Still, the defense is good enough to get the into the playoffs, although the offense is bad enough to see them out quickly.
Indiana Pacers (42-24, lost in the second round to Miami)
Headline: After falling in the second round to Miami, the Pacers look to build off that success and take the next step.
Summary: I wrote before last year that I really liked what the Pacers had done to build their roster. Turns out I was right to think that way as the Pacers had their best season since Reggie Miller retired, pushing Miami nearly to the brink before falling in the second round. With one more year of experience under their belts, this Pacer team looks set to surpass that this season.
Overall Trend: Up, especially with the Chicago’s likely step back this year, the Pacers could slot in as the second best team out east.
Salary: $69.62M (over cap)
2013 Draft Picks: No picks owed to other teams, own both their own picks.
Biggest Addition: DJ Augustin.
Losses: Darren Collison.
Best Case: NBA Finals. They pushed Miami nearly to the brink last year and although they aren’t good enough to win it all, they could certainly make it to that final step before falling this year.
Worst Case: Second Round. Beyond Miami, the east is basically a big mess. Indiana stands out above that mess, however, and should be able to win at least one series this year.
Most Likely Case: Eastern Conference Finals. They aren’t as good as Miami but I would place a bet on them being a solid #2 in the east behind the Heat.
Milwaukee Bucks (31-35, missed playoffs)
Headline: After falling short of the playoffs last year, Milwaukee looks to finally get over the hump and back into the postseaosn
Summary: Once thing the Bucks certainly don’t lack is players willing to take shots as their starting backcourt of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings are among the league’s most prolific shooters (if not exactly high efficiency shooters). The Bucks have a solid roster of decent players at virtually every position, nothing spectacular but certainly good enough to be a middle of the road team once again.
Overall Trend: Up, they aren’t contenders but they are certainly better off than they were last year.
Salary: $65.59M (over cap)
2013 Draft Picks: No picks owed to other teams, own both their own picks.
Biggest Addition: Samuel Dalembert.
Best Case: Second round, if everything falls into place for Milwaukee they could perhaps win a series but that’s all for them.
Worst Case: Miss the playoffs. The Bucks are a solid team but they are not markedly better than the rest of the borderline East playoff teams, its not hard to see them failing to reach the postseason again.
Most Likely Case: First round They are simply not as good as the established eastern conference teams above them but should be the #7 or #8 seed.
Detroit Pistons (25-41, missed playoffs)
Headline: Detroit looks set to avoid another year stuck in neutral
Summary: By all rights, a couple years ago, realizing their days as an Eastern Conference power were through for the time being, Detroit should have shed its aging veterans and rebuild. Instead, they held onto those veterans and those slid further and further into irrelevancy. They might have been a bit better last year but until they manage to rid themselves of the likes of Prince and Maxiell, they will remain stuck in neutral.
Overall Trend: Up, however slightly, they are a long way from being good but they are better off than they were last year, even if not by a whole lot.
Salary: $69.43M (over cap)
2013 Draft Picks: Owed LA Clippers 2013 2nd round pick (top 55 protected), owe Charlotte their 2013 first round pick (top 14 protected).
Biggest Addition: Andre Drummond.
Losses: Ben Gordon,
Best Case: Top five draft pick. The Pistons will not make the playoffs this year and thus the best they can hope for is a top draft pick in next year’s draft.
Worst Case: Sign yet another aging veteran to a big money contract. This team needs to rebuild, not bolster its roster with a few vets. If they sign another aging veteran to a big contract, they will get worse, not better.
Most Likely Case: Miss the playoffs and get a top ten pick. They aren’t the worst team in the league but they aren’t good enough to make the playoffs. Thus, they will probably end up with a pick around the 8-10 range this season as they have the past few seasons.
Cleveland Cavaliers (21-45, missed playoffs)
Headline: The Cavs looks to build on a solid season as they look to climb back towards respectability.
Summary: Honestly the Cavs are in a lot better shape than almost anyone could have thought they would be just two years after LeBron bolted for Miami. Kyrie Irving is a legitimate budding NBA star, Tristan Thompson showed flashes that he could be at worst a solid NBA starter and they have a good young core. They aren’t going to be anywhere near the playoffs but they will continue to move forward.
Overall Trend: Up, Kyrie Irving was everything the Cavs could have hoped for last season and he leads a strong and growing cadre of talented players for Cleveland.
Salary: $50.35M (under cap)
2013 Draft Picks: Own Miami’s 2013 first round pick (top 10 protected), Sacramento’s 2013 first round pick (top 13 protected), and Orlando’s 2013 second round pick. The Cavs also have the right to swap the least favorable of Miami’s pick, Sacramento’s pick (provided they receive one or both) and their own pick for the Lakers 2013 first round pick provided LA’s pick is not in the top 14.
Biggest Addition: Dion Waters.
Losses: Anthony Parker, Antawn Jamison.
Best Case: Get the #1 pick in next year’s draft. The Cavs will be better this year but they are not anywhere close to a playoff team. They could make that leap sooner than they think, however, if they luck into the #1 overall pick next year they could continue to move forward as a franchise.
Worst Case: Just miss the playoffs, if you aren’t going to be good in the NBA, you might as well be bad. The Cavs still need talent and thus the worst thing that can happen to them is barely missing the playoffs and getting a late lottery pick.
Most Likely Case: Miss the playoffs and get a pick in the 5-7 range. This will allow them to continue their climb back towards the playoffs.