Column: NBA opens with many questions in the East
The 2013-2014 NBA Eastern Conference is full of question marks and story lines this season. Will anyone challenge LeBron James and the Miami Heat on their way to a third straight NBA championship? Will Derrick Rose be able to come back from injury and return to his former MVP-caliber self? Do the Indiana Pacers finally have enough scoring to get past the Eastern Conference Finals? Should we actually believe the Brooklyn Nets are legit contenders now?
The Heat are once again the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference. Miami returns the same core of players led by the reigning MVP and matchup nightmare LeBron James. However, the injury prone Dwyane Wade will need to stay healthy enough to provide help to James throughout the season. The main weakness of this team is that they lack a consistent post presence. In order to fill this gap, James spent the offseason working on his post game. Miami also struggles to rebound; the Heat finished dead last in boards per game last season. Chris Bosh will have to improve his rebounding efforts this season - his rebounding numbers have declined each year since joining the Heat in 2010. Unless others start to step up to take the pressure off of James, Miami will keep asking him to do more and more which could lead to them being upset this season.
Chicago Bull's point guard Derrick Rose is also making his highly anticipated return after sitting out all of the 2012-2013 season with an ACL injury. The Bull's still competed at a high level last year without Rose. Chicago finished with the five seed in the East and even won a playoff series against Brooklyn, but without Rose, the Bulls were unable to overcome the Heat in the second round. Watching his teammates lose to Miami should provide added motivation for Rose, as there has not been any love lost between both teams. It is likely that the Bulls will have to face Miami in the playoffs if they want to make it out of the East. It will be important for Chicago to post a strong record to gain home court advantage over Miami if they want to have a chance. Rose will also have to quickly find continuity within the offense after sitting out for an entire year. If Rose leads Chicago to the top seed in the Eastern Conference, he could make his case for the MVP award as well.
The Indiana Pacers are another team that has loaded up this year in order to make a run at a championship. The Pacers have been eliminated by the Miami Heat in each of the last two seasons and have made roster changes in order to attempt to get over the hump. Indiana has added C.J Watson, Luis Scola and Chris Copeland in order to bolster their bench. They are also awaiting the return of Danny Granger, who will provide a huge lift if he returns to his old self. Paul George has developed into a legit superstar in the league and once Granger returns he should have enough help to challenge Miami.
The Brooklyn Nets orchestrated a blockbuster trade with Boston to acquire the aging Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry trio this summer. This move screams desperation as the Nets agreed to give up three first round picks, including a pick in the loaded 2014 draft. Brooklyn has abandoned its future to take a win-now approach. The Nets still do not have enough talent to compete with the top teams in the east and there is no guarantee on how long Garnett and Pierce will remain healthy. Let's not forget that Brooklyn decided to hire the inexperienced Jason Kidd as their new head coach. This just does not seem to be a formula for success to win in this conference.
While there are many questions regarding this season what we do know is that if any team wants to take down the Miami Heat and LeBron James, the best basketball player in the world, they will have their hands full. My predictions for the Eastern Conference from first to eighth places: Indiana, Miami, Chicago, New York, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Detroit and Toronto.
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