The 2013-14 NBA season is one week away from its official tip-off. In Boston, the season has been received with a measure of ambivalence, with the World Series run of the Red Sox and the Patriots in the midst of their season schedule. For the past six seasons, the opening of the Celtics season was greeted with much optimism and excitement, and for good reason. The team’s renaissance was triggered by a July 2007 trade that brought Kevin Garnett into town to pair up with the likes pf Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. That combination brought the franchise its 17th banner and elevated fan expectations of more to come.
But not only is Ray Allen no longer wearing Celtic green, so are Pierce and Garnett. In addition the departure of head coach Doc Rivers has signalled an official end of their contention and the beginning of the rebuilding process. For those of us that went through the painful 22 years of rebuilding since their 1986 title, For the first time in six seasons, the Celtics will not be counted on for a playoff appearance. With that in mind, here is a look at the opening night ranking of the NBA eastern Conference teams.
1) Miami Heat
Defending champions are favorites to accomplish the three-peat. LeBron James is at the peak of his powers and the supporting cast is intact. Only injury will keep the Heat from another deep playoff run.
2) Brooklyn Nets
The addition of playoff-savvy veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett adds a swagger and confidence lacking on this talented roster. The wild card is how this team will gel and who will get the ball and when. Witnessing first hand how Pierce and Garnett were willing to take lesser roles in order to win in 2008, there should be no issue with the former Celtics duo blending into this team. Rookie head coach Jason Kidd will need to prove he is not just an elite floor general ,but one that can direct a team from the bench.
3) Chicago Bulls
Derrick Rose looks to be as good as he was before the devastating 2012 knee injury, if not even more explosive. Tom Thiibdeau’s defensive-oriented team will hold most opponents in check. A healthy return of Joakim Noah will solidify the interior. In the end, this team will go as far as their former MVP can carry him on his surgically repaired knee.
4) New York Knicks
A solid frontcourt anchored offensively by Carmelo Anthony and defensively by Tyson Chandler are a good place to start. Add to that a solid-but-unspectacular point guard (Felton) and a talented bench rotation including the likes of Meta World Peace, Andrea Bargani , and J.R. Smith will keep this team among the top four teams in the conference. How they gel under the leadership of Mike Woodson will determine their playoff fate.
5) Indiana Pacers
The lack of Danny Granger for the first three weeks of the season will be tough, but Paul George has emerged as the team’s go-to player last season. He will retain the role of number one option even after Granger returns. A talented big man (Hibbert) and a deep rotation will keep this team among the elite teams in the Eastern Conference.
6) Cleveland Cavaliers
Yes, you are reading this right; the Cleveland Cavaliers will ascend the Eastern Conference and be a playoff force. All Star Kyrie Irving is a budding superstar and the team will benefit from their energy big man ( Varejao ). A lot of young and talented supporting players in Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and rookie Anthony Bennet highlight a young and versatile bench. Mike Brown returns to Cleveland for a second tour of duty and will lead this team to the playoffs. A playoff matchup with LeBron James could make this season even more of a success.
7) Atlanta Hawks
Paul Milsap arrives as a free agent to compliment incumbent starters Al Horford and Jeff Teague. Solid talent on this roster includes sharp-shooter Kyle Korver , Lou Williams and Elton Brand. the team should have a solid season and likely be a tough first round playoff opponent.
8) Detroit Pistons
The additions of Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith to a team with young frontcourt studs Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond will lead this team to a first round matchup with the defending champion Heat. What a great reward for a team that has toiled in irrelevance for the past few seasons. Adding veteran Chauncey Billups was an underrated acquisition, as the perennial playoff leader will bring stability on the floor. This team is poised to make their return to the playoffs and be a tough opponent on any night.
9) Milwaukee Bucks
Some good talent on this roster will keep them in the hunt for a low playoff seed. Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo and Brandon Knight present a solid core for the Bucks. The addition of veterans Luke Ridnour , Caron Butler and Zaza Pachulia will not bring much in the form of production but experience to a team previously lacking it. This team could finish anywhere from 6th to 9th in conference seeding; and that uncertainty lands them here in their opening night rankings.
10) Toronto Raptors
Kyle Lowry will need to be more of an offensive force for Toronto to give the Raptors more than Rudy Gay and DeMar Derozan as primary options on some nights. Derozan is the most tenured member of the roster, which is not saying much since he is in his fifth season. A cast of solid but unspectacular role players will make their contributions, but not enough to be more than a low playoff seed.
11) Philadelphia 76ers
This is where the Eastern Conference playoff contender threshold lies. The 76ers are one of five teams with more roster questions than answers. Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young will need to shoulder most of the load for this inexperienced team that consists of six players with one year of experience or less. The team already announced that top draft pick Nerlens Noel will miss the season with a knee injury. One would think that after the abysmal Andrew Bynum experiment, the team would not want another injured big man. Depending on how rookie Michael Carter Williams performs will determine how far out of playoff contention this team will be.
12) Boston Celtics
Odd place for the Celtics to be given how prominent the team has been in recent seasons. A full rebuilding process will be stalled while All Star Rajon Rondo recovers from knee surgery. Recent comments that Rondo will not return until he is physically and mentally ready is eerily similar to the predicament the Bulls faced with Derrick Rose. Rondo presents the one piece that would make this team more of a competitive threat due to his floor generalship. A motley crew of veterans (Wallace, Humphries) with less than impressive returning rotation players (Green, Bass, Lee) will cause this team to sputter for much of the season’s ear
13) Charlotte Bobcats
Could this be the year the Bobcats begin their conference ascent? With a weak lower half of the East that is not saying much. Michael Jordan has yet to prove he knows how to run a basketball organization, but young talent Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson have proven to be solid NBA contributors; and the addition of Al Jefferson is likely MJ’s best move since his push-off jumper in the NBA Finals against the Jazz.
14) Washington Wizards
John Wall is a promising cornerstone player. Along with backcourt mate Bradley Beal, the Wizards have a potentially potent tandem. Beyond that, there is a lot of uncertainty, with Al Harrington, Nene Hilario and Trevor Ariza struggling to find their role. The Wizards could be an interesting team to watch as the season progresses.
15) Orlando Magic
The Magic will struggle to compete with Disney for the region’s entertainment dollar, with a mix of youth led by preseason scoring leader Victor Oladipo providing some promise. Relying on a veteran core of Glen Davis (foot surgery) along with Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu will lead to many a struggling night.
Founder, Senior Contributor – Banner Day Boston
Host – Banner Day Boston Radio