TOK Roundtable – Eastern Conference Top Five Edition

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Every Wednesday at Turn On The Knicks our staff will debate an issue of the week surrounding the team here in Roundtable Format. Make sure to give everybody a follow on Twitter, along with follow the site right here. Let us know if you agree/disagree.

Rank your top five teams in the Eastern Conference as of right now? 

Joe Caporoso - I’m a little bit surprised by the lack of respect some of my peers have for the Indiana Pacers. They are only a small step behind the Miami Heat right now in my opinion and are the Eastern Conference’s clear cut second best team. The Pacers took Miami to seven last year and have since improved their depth and scoring ability substantially by getting Danny Granger back along with adding CJ Watson and Chris Copeland. Miami is still your best team but they won’t run away with the number one seed as easily this season. Dwyane Wade’s knee is a year older and so are Ray Allen and Shane Battier. Miami will miss Mike Miller’s ability to randomly step in and hit five threes in one half when he hasn’t played in two weeks. After the Heat and Pacers, I’d put the Bulls at three. Tom Thibodeau is probably the best coach in the Conference and will be getting his All-World point guard back in Derrick Rose and improved wing scoring from Mike Dunleavy Jr.

The two New York teams will be battling it out for the Atlantic Division title, likely until the final days of the season. Knicks fans are in full blown self-loathing mode and the Nets are receiving plenty of hype. However, Brooklyn still needs to mesh on the court with five of their top eight players being new additions and they don’t have an experienced Head Coach to guide the process. The Knicks still have Carmelo Anthony who is the best overall player among the two teams, and three premier defenders around him in Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert and Ron Artest. They field a talented, deep roster and aren’t going to be left in the dust by Brooklyn.

Chris Celletti - I think most of us are going to have the same five teams, just in different orders. It’s a pretty clear-cut top five; I think you’re going out on a pretty thin, cracking limb if you’re going to predict fringe teams like Boston, Detroit, Atlanta, Cleveland, Milwaukee etc. to finish 5th or higher. Here’s my current Eastern Conference hierarchy:

1. Miami Heat - Anyone who doesn’t rank the Heat as the best team in the East is simply trolling. There have been opinion articles (that I will not link here because they do not deserve the page views, in my mind) that have one of the teams below as having overtaken the Heat as the East’s top dogs. This is insanity. The Heat have a probable Top-5 all-time NBA player, currently at the peak of his prime. Take a look at the history of basketball, and let me know how teams with the clear-cut best in-prime player in the league have fared. That’s pretty much all you need to know.

2. Indiana Pacers - The general consensus is that the Pacers are going to be better since they’re getting Danny Granger back. While I agree with the former sentiment, I don’t necessarily think it’s going to be because of the latter. Actually, if I were running the Pacers, I’d be shopping Granger; this team pushed the Heat to seven games last season, do they really NEED Danny Granger? The Pacers will be better because Paul George should improve, especially offensively, and the fact that this team established a crystal-clear identity in the postseason. If Roy Hibbert gives them anything similar to what he gave them in the postseason, they should be right up there behind the Heat.

3. Chicago Bulls – The Bulls are getting Derrick Rose back, which gives them the superstar you need to be a true title contender. They’d better figure out whatever is going on behind the scenes with Tom Thibodeau and management, because nobody is better at getting the most out of their players. Look at what Thibs has done with somebody like Jimmy Butler, who could be the Bulls’ version of Kawhi Leonard? The Bulls are deep and a lot of that is because of Thibodeau and the excellent defense his teams always play. With Rose back they should be able to score a lot more, and more efficiently.

4. Brooklyn Nets – I’m not sure if people watched the playoffs last year or not, but based on what I saw from the aging Celtics, I wouldn’t be so quick to anoint as champions a team who took on three of their oldest players. Let’s remember that if J.R. Smith kept his elbows to himself, the Celtics likely get swept by a team that the basketball world loves to tell you is terrible, selfish, overrated, probabaly caused AIDS, etc. In that series, remember that Pierce was largely shut down by Iman Shumpert, who made him look ancient, and was also checked quite often by Raymond Felton. Kevin Garnett has aged (in a basketball sense) better than Pierce, since big men transition into their late 30s better than wing players. He’ll give them some much-needed grit, size and defense inside. But being in a frontcourt with Brook Lopez will provide some negative matchup problems for themselves, especially against teams who will go small against them. Jason Terry? Sure.

Also, just remember to be weary about teams who won the offseason. Lately, across all sports, that hasn’t been a good thing. The Toronto Blue Jays and Anaheim Angels in baseball, Minnesota Wild in hockey, and Philadelphia Eagles all recently were big offseason winners that were going to be star-studded behemoths. Each team sucked. To keep it in the sport, how about the Los Angeles Lakers of a year ago? Remember when they got DWIGHT HOWARD IN HIS PRIME (not 3 aging stars) to go along with three other future Hall of Famers? Didn’t work out so well. It probably could have if the Lakers had a big time coach, since coaching in the NBA matters. Good thing the Nets are secure with a proven, winning coach, right?

5. New York Knicks – The Knicks may have improved from last season, but they’ll likely fall a  bit because of the Eastern Conference improving. Still, they should contend with Brooklyn for the Atlantic title and will make the playoffs if healthy. As to why, how, and who will get them there, well, keep reading this site, thanks.

Kevin Smith - I think there are five consensus top teams in the East, and the order they’re ranked in is just a matter of opinion. There’s still some minor tinkering to be done for all of these squads, but here’s how thing are looking now.

1. Miami Heat - I predicted this in 2010.

2. Brooklyn Nets – The Nets can put perhaps the best starting five in the league on the court, but I don’t think that automatically translates to the 2nd seed in the East. The Bulls and Pacers are well-oiled machines, who won’t need any time to integrate new talent, and most importantly, their head coaches aren’t neophytes. This whole experiment hinges on Jason Kidd, but over time it’s hard not to see a group of veterans like this succeeding. The Nets have always rubbed me the wrong way, but at this point I’m rooting for anyone to take down Miami.

3. Chicago Bulls - The defensive minded Bulls will get their offensive minded superstar back. Let’s not dismiss what Rose can do just because he sat out when we all wanted him back. Tom Thibodeau is the best coach in the league not named Gregg Popovich.

4. New York Knicks -  Some may call me pessimistic, but I just call myself a Knicks fan. New York upgraded a 54-win team from last season, but I’m not sure if that translates to 54 wins this time around. They certainly won’t be sneaking up on teams at the beginning this year, and I find it hard to believe they will approach the 18-5 start or 16-2 finish of last year. Still, as long as they stay healthy, they are one of the deepest teams in the league, and well-coached, and can lean on the most complete scorer in the league if the going gets tough. They may not be the best team in New York, but they aren’t as far off as it seems.

5. Indiana Pacers - Sure they’re adding a healthy Danny Granger to the mix, but Roy Hibbert has been horribly inconsistent in the regular season throughout his career, and remember, they finished behind the Knicks in last year’s regular season too. If Hibs plays like he did in the playoffs, my opinion can be swayed, but all the Pacers did in the offseason was lose Tyler Hansbrough and replace him with Chris Copeland. I love Cope as much as any Knicks fan, but Indiana’s bench was thin in the front court to begin with, and the fire and presence on the glass that Hansbrough won’t be easily made up for.

Chris Connolly -   At the present moment I think the East is filled with a lot of “what ifs”. What if Derrick Rose comes back is a MVP candidate? What if the Nets don’t gel? What if Danny Granger doesn’t come back and help the Pacer? Considering all of this, here is my top 5:

1. Miami Heat: Enough said

2. Chicago Bulls: While the Nets went out and added Pierce and KG, the Bulls are essentially adding the best player to their roster with Derrick Rose returning. When you add Rose back with the big men like Noah and Boozer, along with the emerging Jimmy Butler, they will surely be a problem. My main concern for the Bulls would be depth. Regardless, Tom Thibodeau is a great coach and always seems to get the best out of his players. Their length on the defensive end will present problems for just about any team in the league. I expect them to pick up right where they left off before the Rose injury.

3. Brooklyn Nets: I put the Nets in the 3-seed, but I do it with hesitation. It could just be the Knicks fan in me coming out, but I’m not completely ready to be all in on them yet. On paper their team is stacked, but you never know how that will correlate to play on the floor. When you mix the egos on their roster along with a rookie head coach, who is to say that it won’t all back fire? On top of the fact they will need time to gel on the floor, who is to say Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett will stay healthy? Both guys are coming off injury-plagued seasons, and are two key members to this Nets roster. Still with a projected starting 5 of: Williams, Johnson, Pierce, KG, and Lopez, you cannot put the Nets any lower than the 3-seed as of right now.

4. New York Knicks: Before I get started, I think it’s important to remember something. The Knicks were a 54 win team last season and improved this offseason. You can argue that other teams got better, but the Knicks kept in tact the nucleus of last year’s team. That is something that cannot be discounted. I kind of like the fact the expectations for other teams are high. It will allow the Knicks to do what they did last season, prove all the doubters wrong. Also, with the Nets getting all the publicity in NYC right now, I could see Melo taking this to heart and building further what he started last season. I feel Bargnani is going to come in and improve the Knicks on the offensive end, helping to lighten to lighten the burden on Melo on that end. Also, don’t look past the addition of MWP. Metta is crazy, gritty, mentally unbalanced, and everything the Knicks roster needed. He will serve great in his role as Melo’s bodyguard. Let everyone sleep on the Knicks, but I expect them to be right in the thick of things when it matters most.

5. Indiana Pacers: The Pacers are a team that isn’t necessarily going to scare you as much on paper, but a team you do not want to play come playoff time. The emergence of Paul George last season as a potential star has booster their team significantly. If Roy Hibbert can find a way to be a more consistent player they will be in good shape. Hibbert looks like Hakeem one day, and more like Chris Dudley the next. As far as Danny Granger goes, who knows where he fits in with this team and how much he makes them better at this point. They added Chris Copeland as well, who should play a nice role off the bench. I think Lance Stephenson will be an intriguing kind of X-factor for them next season. He is sort of a wild card, in the sense he could either take steps forward or regress as a player.

Chris DiGioia - Over the past decade or so, the Western Conference has made their name being extremely deep, while the Eastern Conference remained mainly top heavy, even when Lebron was in Cleveland. With the arrival of Carmelo in New York, Brooklyn’s blockbuster trades, and the rise of young superstars like Paul George, the East is arguably rounding out to be the deeper conference, finally. So who is the top five teams right now? Highly debatable topic. Here’s my opinion.

1. Miami Heat – NBA Champions for two straight years, and still have the best player in the world on their roster. The Heat remain on top until someone shows me different.

2. Chicago Bulls – With Derrick Rose recently coming out and saying he’s 100 percent, I don’t see any reason why he won’t return back to normal. He’s young, certainly took his time coming back, and wants his hometown of Chicago to succeed. On top of that, Tom Thibodeau’s brilliant defensive mind knows how to rack up wins in the regular season, and I believe that continues.

3. Brooklyn Nets – What can I say? The Nets made a huge splash with grabbing Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from the Celtics, and they finally don’t have to be the best players on the team. They can cap off a championship pedigree to any team they join, simple as that. Brooklyn is flat out stacked, and I expect a huge season out of the still young Deron Williams, and the former All-Star Brook Lopez.

4. New York Knicks – After coming off a 54 win season, the Knicks now know they are capable of making noise in the Eastern Conference. The top five is tough to predict at this point, but I’m going to have to slide them right behind Brooklyn. I like the addition of Andrea Bargnani, and Amare should be coming back for the start of the season, but injuries remain a factor.

5. Indiana Pacers – Danny Granger should be back for the start of the season, but it’s actually still a mystery whether or not he makes this team better. He certainly will provide some offense that they desperately need at times, but will he stunt the growth of Paul George? Only time will tell.

Tim Murray - This should be a great and exciting season for fans of the stronger Eastern Conference teams. The Western Conference has dominated for so many years but now that the power has shifted, this will be the most competitive race for highly sought after playoff positions in the East since the 90′s.

1. Miami Heat – They are back-to-back NBA Champions and as long as they have four-time MVP and back-to-back Finals MVP, LeBron James and their strong supporting cast they will remain the favorite. I believe the Heat will not only finish in first but they also have the potential to win 70 games. They won 27 consecutive games this past season and after the debut of Birdman on January 25, who they will now have for a full season, they went 33-3. I also believe Greg Oden will sign with the Heat so as long as the former first-overall pick remains healthy they will have a strong presence in the paint on the floor at all times.

2. Chicago Bulls - The Bulls constantly threatened the success of Eastern Conference teams all last season. With Tom Thibodeau at the helm and Joakim Noah, a top center in this league on the floor, they have had amazing and consistent success on the defensive end. This season, their greatest offensive threat and the only person to steal MVP Honors from LeBron James in the past 5 years has returned to lead them. Derrick Rose is a superstar and now that he has rested for over a full year and says he is 100% he will be ready to assume his role as their floor general and lead them to take a highly coveted seed in the 2014 playoffs.

3. Brooklyn Nets - Last year, Brooklyn had a nice trio in Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez but it was not enough with Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries to round out their starting rotation. So, what do they do? They go out and bring in cold-blooded veterans and former NBA champions, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett who legitimately seem to have winning it all on their minds and nothing more. The Nets will have the most balanced starting lineup in the NBA but despite the unselfishness of Pierce and Garnett, chemistry will remain an issue. Remember when the Lakers brought in Karl Malone and Gary Payton and were a “lock” to win it all?

4. New York Knicks – The Knicks finished second in the East last season and have gotten better in the offseason. Losing a 2016 first round pick to bring in Andrea Bargnani stings a bit but let’s face it, Camby was finished and if Novak wasn’t busting out the Discount Double Check every few possessions he was just about the biggest liability the NBA had to offer. They also brought in Metta World Peace who although considered retirement is still one of the toughest perimeter defenders in the league and can body LeBron James, Paul George, Paul Pierce, etc… Now that Shumpert should be healthy for a full season the team will absolutely step up their game defensively. The chemistry of their offense, which was an issue at times will also have a full extra year of experience. 

5. Indiana Pacers - I realize the Pacers beat the Knicks in the playoffs last year and Paul George is an emerging star in this league but the Knicks still finished ahead of them last season and are now a better team than they were. The Pacers will have Danny Granger back but he is not going to make the impact that he used to. He can still score but George has passed him as their go-to guy and Granger will compromise George’s play as they are both presences on the wing with identical roles.

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