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Mark Heisler's NBA Eastern Conference preview

Boston finished second in the East last season, but the 2009-10 Celtics may be better than the 2008 title team.

October 25, 2009|Mark Heisler

In predicted order of finish

1. Boston

2008-09 record: 62-20, No. 2 in East.

New: Rasheed Wallace, Marquis Daniels.

Gone: Stephon Marbury, Leon Powe.

Even with last season's worst-case scenario, they still came within a game of the East finals.

With Kevin Garnett back, Wallace adding length they were dying for, a grown-up Rajon Rondo who averaged a triple-double in the playoffs, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, they may be better than their 2008 title team. That's good, since Cleveland is better than last season's 66-win team.

2. Cleveland

2008-09 record: 66-16, No. 1.

New: Shaquille O'Neal, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Leon Powe.

Gone: Ben Wallace, Joe Smith, Wally Szczerbiak, Sasha Pavlovic.

This is LeBron James' best supporting cast, and not a moment too soon. If this were golf, Smith, Wallace and Szczerbiak would be on the senior tour. Their new players bring size and athleticism, but with the other East powers better too, ESPN pundits project the Cavaliers at No. 3. And another stumble in the East draw could be the last with James.

3. Orlando

2008-09 record: 59-23, No. 3.

New: Vince Carter, Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson.

Gone: Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston, Tony Battie.

They flew under the radar until stunning Cleveland in the East finals, but then lost Turkoglu, who was like a second point guard who made big shots . . . replacing him with Carter, who makes $6 million a year more than Hedo wanted. They still have that model inside-outside game with still-improving Dwight Howard and those shooters, so who says it's over?

4. Atlanta

2008-09 record: 47-35, No. 4.

New: Jamal Crawford, Joe Smith, No. 1 pick Jeff Teague.

Gone: Solomon Jones, Ronald Murray.

Years of paralysis with owners suing one another actually helped, leaving the young team alone to grow up under Coach Mike Woodson, despite players grumbling. With Joe Johnson and the athletic Al Horford-Josh Smith-Marvin Williams front line, their win total has gone 13-26-30-37-47. However, they have yet to become an elite team, and Johnson, an upcoming free agent, just rejected an extension offer.

5. Miami

2008-09 record: 43-39, No. 5.

New: Carlos Arroyo, Quentin Richardson.

Gone: Shawn Marion, Jamario Moon.

Needing to give Dwyane Wade a reason to stay, President Pat Riley stood, uh, pat. After Riley's Marion-for-Jermaine O'Neal deal, this was good thinking. With $20 million-plus in cap space, there's as much chance Wade will lure a star to South Beach, or as NBA players call it, "the clubhouse." In the meantime, Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers, whose antics frustrated Wade, need to grow up.

6. Washington

2008-09 record: 19-63, No. 15.

New: Coach Flip Saunders, Randy Foye, Mike Miller.

Gone: Coaches Eddie Jordan and Ed Tapscott, Etan Thomas.

Rolling over and dying with Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood out, they, at least, learned where they could go with young players like Nick Young and Andray Blatche: crazy. Arenas is back, no longer blogging, or even talking, to show he's serious now. With enough kids, they traded their No. 5 pick for Foye and Miller. What could go wrong now?

7. Toronto

2008-09 record: 33-49, No. 13.

New: Hedo Turkoglu, No. 1 pick Demar DeRozan, Jarrett Jack, Marco Belinelli, Amir Johnson.

Gone: Shawn Marion, Anthony Parker.

Having fallen from 47 wins to 33 in three seasons, leaving this one to turn it, and Chris Bosh, around. GM Bryan Colangelo, whose Euro-centric style was a hit in Phoenix, finally fired skeptical coach Sam Mitchell as their Jermaine O'Neal experiment tanked. Colangelo now takes his last shot with Canadian Coach Jay Triano, a veteran of international play, and Turkoglu and Belinelli joining Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon.

8. Chicago

2008-09 record: 41-41 No. 6 (tie).

New: No. 1 picks James Johnson, Taj Gibson.

Gone: Ben Gordon.

Gordon and Derrick Rose looked like the backcourt of the future in the thrilling Boston series, but the thrifty Bulls let the Gordon half go to Detroit. Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and John Salmons remain with Gibson, who started ahead of Tyrus Thomas in exhibitions, and the team has a max slot to offer area native Wade next summer. In the meantime, there are fall, winter and spring.

9. Philadelphia

2008-09 record: 41-41, No. 6 (tie).

New: Coach Eddie Jordan, Jason Kapono, No. 1 pick Jrue Holiday.

Gone: Coach Mo Cheeks, Andre Miller, Reggie Evans.

Even while progressing in the Allen Iverson era, things have been a bit off: New GM Ed Stefanski dumped Kyle Korver, just before nudging Cheeks to play fast, enabling them to sign Elton Brand, who still looks lost in their system . . . which is dying for shooters. Hemorrhaging money, the team didn't re-sign Miller. With non-passing Lou Williams in his place, they'll miss Miller.

10. Detroit

2008-09 record: 39-43, No. 8.

New: Coach John Kuester, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Ben Wallace, Chris Wilcox.

Gone: Coach Michael Curry, Allen Iverson, Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess, Amir Johnson.

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