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East Capsules In Predicted Order Of Finish

October 28, 2002|Mark Heisler

NEW JERSEY NETS

2001-02 record: 52-30, first.

Offense: 96.2 (13). Defense: 92.0 (5).

Gone: Keith Van Horn, Todd MacCulloch.

Arriving: Dikembe Mutombo, Rodney Rogers, Chris Childs.

Outlook: As Bull general manager, Rod Thorn drafted Quintin Dailey after his rape arrest, Ennis Whatley after his drug involvement and Ronnie Lester after he blew out his knee, before finding sanctuary as vice president in charge of fines in the NBA office. It's been a different story here, where Thorn's moves have revived the haunted franchise. It has all fallen together perfectly. Mutombo gives them a big center and a defensive presence. His arrival and Van Horn's departure means they can get away with a smaller power forward and Coach Byron Scott can move Kenyon Martin there. That opens a spot for the explosive young Richard Jefferson.

Prediction: With Scott you get attitude and with Jason Kidd you get instant karma, more than enough to rule the roost over here.

*

INDIANA PACERS

2001-02 record: 42-40, eighth.

Offense: 96.8 (9). Defense: 96.5 (18).

Gone: No one of note.

Arriving: No. 1 pick Fred Jones, Erick Strickland.

Outlook: With the Pacer roster revamped since their 2000 Finals appearance, the heat's on Isiah Thomas, who has taken his sweet time in his two-year coaching career, figuring out how to do this. Last season's deal for Brad Miller and Ron Artest made them one of the East's bigger teams. They were already one of the deepest as their kids, Jermaine O'Neal, Al Harrington and Jonathan Bender, began realizing their promise. Of course, O'Neal still has to go from being a guy who scores 20 points, taunts opponents and then disappears when double-teamed, to the real deal. Thomas keeps experimenting -- he just put in another offense -- but now must settle on a scheme, a lineup and deliver.

Prediction: They'll move up. Time will tell if it's far enough.

*

NEW ORLEANS HORNETS

2001-02 record: 44-38, fourth.

Offense: 93.9 (20). Defense: 92.9 (7).

Gone: Lee Nailon, Matt Bullard.

Arriving: Courtney Alexander.

Outlook: They made the East semis as lame ducks in Charlotte. Now they're the toast of the French Quarter and Jamal Mashburn, who played 40 games, is back. General Manager Bob Bass kept them going while his owners, busy alienating the community, let free agents walk. They have the East's deepest front line with Jamal Magloire, P.J. Brown, Robert Traylor and, finally, Jerome Moiso, making Elden Campbell's biorhythms irrelevant. Baron Davis signed an $84-million extension, and Mashburn re-upped a year ago, giving them something they haven't had since their early '90s honeymoon with Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson: stability.

Prediction: The high-spirited Davis left UCLA after his sophomore year, played little as a rookie but, two seasons later, was their acknowledged leader. If he's ready to move up further, so are they.

*

DETROIT PISTONS

20010-2 record: 50-32, second.

Offense: 94.3 (18). Defense: 92.2 (6).

Gone: Jerry Stackhouse.

Arriving: Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Hubert Davis, Mehmet Okur, No. 1 pick Tayshaun Prince.

Outlook: Joe Dumars outdid himself, trading Stackhouse, who helped them go from 32-50 to 50-32, convinced by last season's fade (he took fewer shots, still made only 39% and didn't come up big in the playoffs) that he wasn't worth the big money he'd want as a free agent this summer. On the other hand, their improbable rise was going to be hard enough to duplicate and Dumars just traded a 6-6, 220-pound No. 1 option for Hamilton, who may be tough but is built like a toothpick. With cap room next summer and Memphis' No. 1 pick, Dumars thinks he can get a star to move to Motown, even if it's cold and has a state sales tax. Good luck.

Prediction: Rookie Coach Rick Carlise turned their defense around but if they don't play it as well, they'll go lower than this.

*

BOSTON CELTICS

2001-02 record: 49-33, third.

Offense: 96.4 (12). Defense: 94.1 (9, tie).

Gone: Rodney Rogers, Kenny Anderson, Vitaly Potapenko, Mark Blount.

Arriving: Vin Baker, Shammond Williams.

Outlook: After surviving Rick Pitino to make last season's jump, they really did it to themselves this time, trading Anderson, who was handy and, more to the point, had one season on his contract, for Baker, who was useless in Seattle and has four seasons left at $12.4 million per. New England is home for the easily depressed Baker but since he'll be the No. 3 option behind Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker, it may not turn out to be where Vin's heart is, assuming he has one. Baker has already earned himself a reserve role, averaging 4.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 5.0 fouls in exhibitions, sending the front office into barely-controlled panic. Said personnel director Tony Papile, "To say he's done is premature. He didn't age in dog years over the summer."

Prediction: Dear new owners: Good luck.

*

TORONTO RAPTORS

2001-02 record: 42-40, seventh.

Offense: 91.4 (25). Defense: 91.8 (4).

Gone: Hakeem Olajuwon, Keon Clark, Chris Childs.

Arriving: Jelani McCoy, Lamond Murray, Lindsey Hunter.

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