Heat Nation's 2014-2015 Eastern Conference Power Rankings - Heat Nation
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Heat Nation’s 2014-2015 Eastern Conference Power Rankings

Derrick Rose Against Udonis Haslem

Media day is over and the Miami Heat have begun training camp.

After a long wait and an offseason filled with nonstop questions about how the Heat will cope without LeBron James, the team can finally take the court and put all of the distractions on the wayside. Miami won’t enter the 2014-15 season as championship favorites, but they will certainly have a roster more than capable of leading the team to a fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

The team will be without ‘The King,’ but they will enter a new season with a new cast—Josh McRoberts, Luol Deng, Shannon Brown, Danny Granger and Shabazz Napier are among the fresh faces on the Heat roster this season. Unlike in prior seasons, the team won’t win games through superb individual efforts; it will take an entire team effort if the franchise hopes to remain championship contenders this year.

Head Coach Erik Spoelstra is going into the season with a positive frame of mind. During media day, Spoelstra stated, “The Heat culture, the Heat code, that will remain the same. While things change in the NBA and things change in pro sports, you can count on the Miami Heat.”

During that same press conference, Spoelstra addressed the additions the team made and the fresh start the entire franchise will have going into the season: “I’m looking at this as a blank canvas. Tomorrow we start to put the painting together. We’re looking forward to this challenge. It’s been a very exciting, invigorating and busy summer.”

While the Heat begin a new era, so do several other Eastern Conference powers. The Cleveland Cavaliers not only brought LeBron back to Ohio, but they added Kevin Love during the offseason. The Chicago Bulls return a healthy Derrick Rose with a rejuvenated Pau Gasol. Even the Washington Wizards added former NBA Finals MVP Paul Pierce to their young nucleus.

The power structure in the East is changing. Some teams got better, while others got worse.

Here are the Eastern Conference power rankings from worst to first heading into training camp.

15. Philadelphia 76ers

Michael Carter-Williams against Norris Cole

The Sixers finished with the second-worst record in the NBA last season, as they trudged their way to 19 wins. The 2014-15 season looks to be more of the same story, as the team simply lacks talent across the board. One of the positives of this young squad is Michael Carter-Williams, who averaged 16.7 points, 6.3 assists and 6.2 boards a game in his rookie season. Longtime Sixer Thaddeus Young was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of the Kevin Love deal, meaning Philadelphia will be deprived of a pure scorer this season.

14. Milwaukee Bucks

Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks NBA Summer League

Hey, any improvement is a step forward, right? The Milwaukee Bucks finished with the league’s worst record with a 15-67 mark. But there’s a bright side to this story as the Bucks did bring in Jason Kidd to coach the team and No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker is supposed to be the swingman of the next decade. This squad could surprise some by threatening for a playoff spot in the weak East, but expect more of what you saw from the Bucks in 2014.

13. Orlando Magic

Victor Oladipo and Tobais Harris Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic have been bottom-feeders ever since Dwight Howard took his talents to Los Angeles. In 2013, the franchise’s first year after Howard left, the team finished with 20 wins. Last season, that number improved to 23 wins. This season, expect that number to slightly jump up a bit as the team does have a nice nucleus of young players, but lacks a franchise cornerstone.

Channing Frye will likely be the team’s best player, and yeah, that’s not good for any franchise.

12. Boston Celtics

Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green of the Boston Celtics

Well, more bad news for the Boston Celtics—Rajon Rondo will be out for the next six-to-eight weeks, meaning he could miss the first month of the regular season. Luckily for Boston, they have three guys who can put the ball in the hoop in Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and Avery Bradley. However, even with those three guys the Celtics ranked 26th in the NBA in points per game last season.

Without the playmaking skills of Rondo, this team has zero hope of any sustainable success.

11. Detroit Pistons

Brandon Jennings and Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons

This team has also been in a never-ending rut since trading Chauncey Billups six years ago. In fact, they haven’t made the playoffs since that year. Don’t expect that to change in 2015. The team has solid offensive weapons in Brandon Jennings, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith, but they can’t defend worth a lick—they were 27th in the league in points per game allowed. The Pistons also have to improve their dreadful free throw percentage of 67 percent, which was dead-last in the NBA.

10. Charlotte Hornets

Steve Clifford Coaching the Charlotte Bobcats

While many are expecting the Charlotte Hornets to return to the postseason, I don’t see it. The Cleveland Cavaliers are a lock to enter the postseason, while the New York Knicks are more than capable of making a return after entering as the No. 2 seed in 2013.

Yes, the Hornets return Al Jefferson and added that pesky Lance Stephenson. But they also lost McRoberts to Miami. Who else do they have outside of Kemba Walker? Anybody? Remember, this team wasn’t that good in the first place. They won 43 games last season and overachieved due to superb team defense. Charlotte was 23rd in the NBA in points per game last season.

While Stephenson is a nice piece, he is not a No. 2 option, or even a No. 3 option on a good team.

9. Indiana Pacers

Indiana Pacers Starting 5

The Indiana Pacers are in an absolutely dreadful position. After clinching four consecutive postseason births, the Pacers are doomed entering the season. Their star player Paul George will miss the entire 2014-15 season after breaking his leg at a Team USA Basketball exhibition during the summer. They lost the aforementioned Stephenson, who was the toughest player on an emotionally fragile team.

Oh yeah, they were also just eliminated by the Heat for the third consecutive year in the playoffs. Heads are gonna roll in Indiana, it’s only a matter of time.

8. New York Knicks

Amar'e Stoudemire, JR Smith, and Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks

Yes, just two seasons ago, the Knicks were the second-best team in the East. Behind Carmelo Anthony carrying the offensive load and a stiff defensive presence led by the likes of Tyson Chandler, the Knickerbockers were an elite team very recently.

However, everything fell apart last season, as New York missed the playoffs and head coach Mike Woodson was fired. Anthony returns in 2015 with new head coach in Derek Fisher. Due to more structure within the organization due to proven winners like Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson leading the cause, the Knicks will be a more composed team entering the new season.

7. Atlanta Hawks

Jeff Teague and Paul Milsap of the Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks were an average team last season, and they’ll be an average team this season. In fact, they’ve been an average team for the past four seasons.

The Hawks will win more than the 39 games they won in 2014, as Al Horford returns to form a deadly duo in the paint with Paul Millsap. After that, Atlanta doesn’t have much going for them. While they added Thabo Sefolosha to improve the perimeter defense, guys like Sefolosha make a difference when your team is stacked with talent. The problem is, the Hawks aren’t stacked with talent.

6. Brooklyn Nets

Brooklyn Nets

The Brooklyn Nets lost their veteran leader Pierce during the offseason. However, they do return the nucleus of Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. Oh yeah, Kevin Garnett also returns for a 20th season. Lopez played just 17 games last season, and his return will more than make up for the loss of Pierce.

Having said that, the Nets will be playing versus stiffer competition this season. It’s hard to see the Nets being any better than the fifth or sixth best team in the conference.

5. Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors 2014-2015

In ESPN’s Eastern Conference forecast during the summer, the Toronto Raptors were slotted as the third best team. While it’s nice the team won the Atlantic Division and bring back franchise pieces, Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors don’t match up with the best teams in the conference. They lack an interior offensive presence, which is an ingredient that every elite team has. The Cavaliers have Love, the Bulls have Gasol, the Heat have Chris Bosh and the Wizards have Marcin Gortat and Nene Hilario.

The Raptors are a solid team, but they lack the ingredients of a true championship contender.

4. Washington Wizards

John Wall and Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards

The Wizards will be true threats to the Southeast Division this season. No, it won’t be like 2014 when they finished 10 games behind the Heat for the division crown. This division will be decided by a few games. Washington got better in the offseason, as they added a battle-tested veteran in Pierce. John Wall and Bradley Beal got a year older, which means they’ll be better in 2015.

If there is a single team that is a true dark horse in the East, it’s the Wizards.

3. Miami Heat

Miami Heat new Starting Five

The Heat begin their first season in the post-LeBron era, and while things may not be as sweet as they once were, they’re still pretty sweet. With the exception of James, the entire nucleus from the Heat’s squad in 2014 return. The wear-and-tear on Dwyane Wade has been overstated, as Wade was enjoying his most efficient season in 2014—his underwhelming Finals series overshadowed that accomplishment.

With a solid supporting cast and more assertiveness from players such as Mario Chalmers and Bosh, Miami will be an elite team throughout the season.

2. Chicago Bulls

Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah

The Bulls are a trendy pick to be the next team to beat in the East, but they enter the season with many question marks. Will Derrick Rose be healthy? Even if he is, will he be efficient when he’s on the court? How much gas does Gasol have left in the tank at the age of 34?

While Chicago’s potential is off the charts, their chances of another middling season is pretty high too.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love

Yes, the Cavaliers could very well miss the NBA Finals this season. Yes, LeBron may not bring a championship to Cleveland. And yes, the James-Love-Kyrie Irving trio may never come close to the Heat’s ‘Big Three.’

But the bottom line is the Cavs have the best three-man band in the East right now. As far as potential and dynamic ability is concerned, they trump any other trio in the NBA. When you factor in the offseason additions of veterans like Shawn Marion and the return of solid role players like Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao, it’s hard not to see this team dominating the conference during the regular season.

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