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2014-15 Phoenix Suns Season Previews: Check out that NBA Eastern Conference

Gregory Shamus

Welcome to Bright Side of the Sun's Season Preview Series. Throughout the next month we will bringing you various pieces to get you ready for the 2014-2015 Phoenix Suns season. We are looking to cover just about everything in the NBA and will have most of this be on the Suns and some additional content on the Western Conference and even more specifically the Pacific Division. Today we start with the least relevant part of the NBA to the Suns and that is the Eastern Conference. Enjoy.

The Eastern Conference might not be the conference the Suns are in and it is absolutely worse than the West, but that doesn't mean we want to ignore those teams. Here is a brief preview of each team with some of my own thoughts and predictions sprinkled in. I'm sure you'll agree with me on all of them. We will go worst to first.

Extremely young and extremely bad

15. Philadelphia 76ers- The Sixers will surely bottom out the NBA this season. They get back a healthy Nerlens Noel, but on purpose they did absolutely nothing in free agency and their first two picks in the draft (both in the lottery) are highly unlikely to even play this season. This is a rebuild unlike anything we've ever seen in the NBA, so much so that the NBA's lottery system could be changing sometime soon and that some fans actually hate the Sixers because of their plan. As for some positives I like the look of rookie K.J. McDaniels, I think Noel is the real deal, and it will be interesting to see what happens with Alexey Shved's career with a plethora of opportunities he didn't really have in Minnesota. That just about ends the buzz though, as a good chunk of the roster is still D-League worthy and that leaves last year's rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams little to work with. The only big news you will hear about from Philly is via trade rumors from the mastermind himself GM Sam Hinkie.

14. Milwaukee Bucks- The Bucks have a very good chance of being a lot of fun this year. Larry Sanders could start playing like before his contract extension, Ersan Ilyasova and Jared Dudley could play like it's 2012, and this could be Brandon Knight's year. The key word there is "could". Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are probably the best youth duo in the NBA and Nate Wolters and John Henson will continue to be underrated. It will be interesting to see how Parker adjusts to the NBA and if Giannis takes another leap, but there's too much here from last year's rough season to indicate any serious changes. Jason Kidd has a lot to work with in terms of talent, it's just a matter of them reaching their full potential and if Kidd is the one to bring it out of them.

13. Orlando Magic- The Magic are the Jazz of the East. They have established a deep core of young players with Nikola "Vucci Mane" Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Mo Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O' Quinn, Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, and Aaron Gordon. The question now is what do they do with it. They responded by making a veteran addition in former Sun Channing Frye. Frye will bring leadership, mentorship, and improvement on the floor to a team that very much needed it. Frye got paid a lot of money over four years to help start the transition out of the cellar. By then he will have to hand if off to whoever comes out of this the leader of a hopefully stacked roster of developed talent. Keep an eye out for Victor Oladipo's second year jump and the dangerous defensive backcourt he forms with BSotS favorite rookie Elfrid Payton.

Is the East bad enough for these teams to make the playoffs?

12. Boston Celtics- NO. The answer is a hard no for the Celtics. Rondo is all but gone and the team has quickly morphed into a slightly older version of the above teams. The dreaded contracts of Jeff Green and Gerald Wallace will still hang over this club and they will definitely look to try to move at least one of them at the expense of Rondo's departure. This team is going to be ugly whenever it is that Rondo leaves. I'm interested to see how Marcus Smart and James Young look in the NBA and Avery Bradley is back, so there's at least something to watch for in Boston. However, Evan Turner is going to play basketball for this team so that might rule out all the positives right away. Rondo being on the roster of a team in the East means that team doesn't deserve to be in the bottom so they barely get into this group.

11. Detroit Pistons- Unless they get rid of Brandon Jennings and get a shock collar on Josh Smith every time he shoots outside the key, no. Stan Van Gundy is so heralded amongst many NBA folks that the Pistons are actually garnering some 8 seed buzz. The reality of this situation though is that Jennings will never work out with this type of roster (or possibly any roster) and Smith needs to stop shooting the damn ball in any sort of jumper form. Van Gundy wants to win now with the kind of money he spent on Jodie Meeks and Caron Butler. I have no idea how he does it with this roster though, so keep an eye out for trades looming especially with Greg Monroe's qualifying offer.

10. Indiana Pacers- It's very hard to see it. The problem for this team has always been offense and with Paul George and Lance Stephenson gone it seems impossible for them to score enough to make the playoffs. George Hill will be much more aggressive in scoring and Rodney Stuckey will try to help out there as well. There's just far too much relying on the very old duo of David West and Luis Scola alongside Roy Hibbert. Call me a homer all you want, but I think Solomon Hill will have a nice year for the Pacers and head coach Frank Vogel has said they are heavily relying on him. They are still going to be incredibly challenging to score on, but that's not enough even in the East.

9. New York Knicks- I have no idea how you could talk yourself into this team. There's too many defensive nightmares in this rotation to confidently pick them to do anything. For all of the flack he gets (particularly on this site) Carmelo Anthony is still a terrific basketball player and could very well carry this team with a little more help. Jose Calderon is going to try to do that and bring balance to the offense, but he along with a couple of other Knicks are quickly approaching their mid 30's trying to be a rotation player on a playoff team. I loved their draft this year with my man Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, both of whom I glossed over plenty during my time in Vegas. Both will be able to contribute, but not with the kind of impact that this team really needs. When in doubt, unleash the Bargs.

We are really old and really glad we play in the East

8. Brooklyn Nets- Joe Johnson is 33, Deron Williams plays like he's 33, and Kevin Garnett wishes he was 33. Paul Pierce is gone, their big addition was 30-year-old Jarrett Jack, and although I like the two players, their influx of youth is Cory Jefferson and Sergey Karasev. That all being said, this team is getting back one of the best bigs in the land in Brook Lopez so they should still squeak into the eight seed.

7. Miami Heat- Sometimes you think the Heat are going to be fine and then you open up their roster and start wondering if they can even make the playoffs. They WASTED a first round draft pick just to try to keep LeBron James in town instead of snagging Dwyane Wade a backup (it's Reggie Williams now! Reggie. Williams.). With the way Wade is going to have to be nurtured this team is one major injury away from tank town. If they can stay healthy though, Luol Deng and Chris Bosh are both very good and I will always believe in McBob. I am very intrigued to see what kind of role Mario Chalmers tries to play because you get the feeling that he could be much better given the extra freedom he gains with Bron gone. All that being said, it's still an old team with injury concerns all over the place and an even older bench. They could finish 12th in the East if this goes badly enough. Time to make that money Erik Spoelstra.

On the rise

6. Charlotte Hornets- I was begging for this team to get an upgrade over Gerald Henderson in the draft and instead they got Lance Stephenson. I wrote about Stephenson for our FA preview and believe that he is going to make this Hornets team very good. Kemba Walker will start to get his proper exposure as a solid NBA point guard and a healthy Jeff Taylor is a lot more important than you think. This is the perfect sort of situation for Marvin Williams to prove that he is just as solid and underrated as everyone thinks he is and I am very high on Noah Vonleh being able to replace him if need be. Al Jefferson is the best post scorer in this galaxy and Cody Zeller was slowly piecing it together last season. They still have two things that need to go right and that's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's offensive game and their bench. I'm not sure either will pan out enough for them to seriously cause problems for the top four teams, but they will still be a great team to watch and will continue to improve over the next couple of years.

Very angry that the Bulls and Cavaliers exist

5. Toronto Raptors- The time I want to take you back to is before we even thought LeBron and Love were possibilities for Cleveland. There was a ton of speculation in the East as to who could possibly be in the East finals if Derrick Rose could never be back at 100%. Could we see a Wizards and Raptors series to decide who goes to the NBA Finals? These were things to be considered before the Cavaliers got those two stars. For the Raptors now, it's just the natural progression from last season. They brought back just about everyone and are hoping that the youngsters in the rotation like Terrence Ross and Jonas Valancuinas can show improvement and catch up to the All-Star caliber play from Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan. Amir Johnson is a solid basketball player and I think this bench was sooooo close to being a legitimate threat. Using a first round pick on a project like Bruno Caboclo was a massive mistake in my opinion as Grevis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, and Lou Williams form a very good bench already. If those two former first round picks can make a considerable leap, Toronto will cruise to a three seed.

4. Washington Wizards- The commitment to now was clear when the Wizards signed Marcin Gortat to that long of an extension. It's a strange move given how they could do whatever they want with John Wall being 24 and Bradley Beal being 21, but hey what do I know. The Paul Pierce arrival is fascinating and his impact along with Nene's will be the two x-factors for Washington this season. Professor Andre Miller will still do this thing off the bench and Wizards fans are crossing their fingers that Otto Porter Jr. and Glen Rice Jr. can give them some pop. Kris Humphries and Dejuan Blair are two good under the radar signings for a team that played Drew Gooden off the bench last year and I think if those young guys can help it gives them a complete bench. Bradley Beal is going to have a monster year and I think they have a serious chance of challenging for the East this year.

3. Atlanta Hawks- Do you know how good Al Horford is at basketball? Are you sure? Be sure to check out that great Matt Moore work via the hyperlink before you answer. I think Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver are two of the most underrated players on the planet and also think that #PLAYOFFTEAGUE could possibly evolve into #REGULARSEASONTEAGUE. They've got some great out of nowhere bench play from the likes of Matt Scott and DeMarre Carroll, and a healthy John Jenkins gives them another lights out shooter. BsoTS' dearly beloved Adreian Payne will give them yet another big who can shoot and they could get two monster pluses to the lineup if Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder decide that this is their year. I'm clearly all in on the Hawks and think that they will be the third best team in the East if everything goes according to plan.

The Contenders

2. Cleveland Cavaliers- I don't think the Cavaliers win the NBA Championship this season. Feel free to barrage me on twitter for that, but first hear me out. Everyone knows about the reasons to get excited, so let me present my case. Anderson Varejao, the man responsible for rim protection when he doesn't necessarily even do that, has not played more than 65 games in a season since the last time LeBron was in Cleveland. Kyrie Irving is averaging 60 games played a season in his career. The bench for this team is 34-year-old Brendan Haywood, Tristan Thompson, 36-year-old Shawn Marion, 33-year-old James Jones, 34-year-old Mike Miller, and Matthew Dellavedova. Remember, this is a team that you are picking to win the NBA Finals probably. Can all that age and injury concern even make it there, and if they do, can young players like Irving, Dion Waiters, Thompson, and Dellavedova even perform well enough when they get there?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't remember any team that won an NBA championship that had at least 3 starters (don't forget Love) or 5 rotation players with zero playoff experience. I think Waiters is the obvious x-factor for this team and if he reaches a certain point in his overall play it won't matter about the rest of those factors. That's a lot to ask for a guy like Waiters though if you get what I'm saying. I am a full-fledged believer in the ability of LeBron James and Kevin Love, but that's way too much for me to confidently predict them to win the NBA Championship or even the East.

1. Chicago Bulls- I think the Bulls win the East even if they get 90% of former MVP Derrick Rose. Tom Thibodeau is the second best coach in the NBA and he's bringing back two All-Defense performers in Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah. Noah's insane playmaking last season will combine a downright frightening ball movement situation down low with Pau Gasol. Thibs slowly morphed Mike Dunleavy Jr. into a useful player and he will hopefully turn into one of the best deep shooters in the league. Remember, Thibs literally played a seven man rotation in the playoffs and had absolutely no depth which almost killed Butler last year. This season that will change.

This all hinges on a lot of new additions and youth of course, but I think the bench will be stacked this year. Taj Gibson is a great two-way player, I think Tony Snell will make an impact this year with his shooting, basketball twitter is rightfully  very excited about Nikola Mirotic, and I think Doug McDermott will be tremendous for this team under the right circumstances (click). Thibs will also have a two guard rotation at point with either Kirk Hinrich or Aaron Brooks (was decent for Denver) and while it's not a significant cushion, it's still a good amount of cover for Rose if they want to watch his minutes throughout the season. This team's problem last year was depth and offense and they vastly improved under both positions. A defensive and rebounding monster like this is a nightmare for a young and old Cavs team and that's why I think they win the East.

What do you think? Can LeBron win one for his city? Could one of those four teams in the middle make an impact? Or do you agree with my prediction for the Bulls? Go on in the comments below.

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