NBA teams have completed the bulk of their offseason moves, so now’s the perfect time to evaluate what, if anything, has changed in the Eastern Conference’s balance of power.
There will be two competitions to watch in the season ahead.
Can any team unseat the Miami Heat as the Heat go for a third consecutive NBA title?
And how low will some teams go to secure the best possible odds of winning the draft lottery?
Here’s my forecast for the 2013-14 regular season.
1st Miami Heat (Last season: 1st)
LeBron James will continue to be great — that’s a given. But the Eastern Conference finals and the NBA Finals showed the Heat are vulnerable. Miami hasn’t done much to upgrade its roster; it re-signed Chris Andersen and waived Mike Miller and will sign Greg Oden. The Heat’s title hopes revolve around Dwyane Wade and his problematic left knee, but Miami still has enough talent to secure homecourt advantage throughout the East playoffs.
2nd Indiana Pacers (3rd)
The Pacers upgraded their bench this offseason, adding point guard C.J. Watson and forwards Luis Scola and Chris Copeland. Former All-Star Danny Granger is expected to return after missing most of last season due to injury.
3rd Chicago Bulls (5th)
The obvious question about the Bulls revolves around Derrick Rose, who will return from reconstructive knee surgery. Can Rose be as effective as he used to be?
4th Brooklyn Nets (4th)
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko will help. But the Nets will peak closer to the playoffs. Deron Williams’ stats improved last season, but I’d argue his play has slipped since his days with the Utah Jazz. Can he become dominant once again?
5th New York Knicks (2nd)
Other teams have vaulted over the Knicks this offseason, and I don’t think the trade for Andrea Bargnani will help them.
6th Atlanta Hawks (6th)
Josh Smith signed with the Detroit Pistons, and Paul Millsap came aboard in free agency. Although the Hawks won’t be as athletic, their shot selection will be better.
7th Detroit Pistons (11th)
The Pistons signed Smith, acquired point guard Brandon Jennings in a sign-and-trade and added Chauncey Billups to provide veteran leadership. Detroit will make the biggest jump in the East.
8th Washington Wizards (12th)
The Wizards went 24-25 in games John Wall played last season, and now Wall has been re-signed to a five-year, $80 million deal. The pressure’s on for him to prove he’s worth the money, but in reality, the team’s chances of making the playoffs revolve around his supporting cast getting better.
9th Cleveland Cavaliers (13th)
The Cavs have made strides, but Cleveland fans should keep their expectations reasonable. Andrew Bynum could be a great asset if he can stay healthy, but that’s a big “if.”
10th Milwaukee Bucks (8th)
Larry Drew, whom the Hawks didn’t bring back, is one of the league’s most underrated coaches. But who will provide the offense?
11th Boston Celtics (7th)
The losses of Pierce, Garnett and coach Doc Rivers hurt. But at least Rajon Rondo will return from injury.
12th Toronto Raptors (10th)
If nothing else, the departure of Bargnani should help the Raptors’ defense.
13th Orlando Magic (15th)
The Magic started last season with a 12-13 record. Then, Glen Davis got hurt and the defense started to struggle. It’s unclear when Davis will return from a July foot surgery, and it’s unclear if the team will trade away a veteran or two at the trade deadline.
14th Charlotte Bobcats (14th)
New coach Steve Clifford and his staff, which includes former Magic assistant coaches Patrick Ewing, Bob Beyer and Mark Price, will get the most of their roster. But the Bobcats lack talent.
15th Philadelphia 76ers (9th)
After trading away Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel and a draft pick, the Sixers will be awful.