Beasts of the East

In this segment, Magic Illustrated breaks down and ranks the Eastern Conference from worst to first.

Wait ‘till next year (or the year after)
15. Miami Heat- The Heat got old in a hurry. Anyone could see it coming the way last year ended as they were swept by the Bulls. Combine that with losing James Posey, Jason Kapono, and Gary Payton, and they went from a solid team that was too old to an old team with little talent or depth. The good news...Pat Riley recognized that this wasn't just one off year and they were able to deal Shaq's enormous contract. If they can re-sign Shawn Marion, the Heat will have two nice pieces to build with in he and Dwayne Wade.

14. New York Knicks- The Knicks have some talent on the roster, but the inmates are running the asylum, led by Isiah Thomas. They have no chemistry, are cap stricken, and are led by one of the worst GM/coaches in the history of the game. The good news...If they can hold on to their young pieces, in David Lee, Fred Jones, and Jamal Crawford, and Eddie Curry can reach his potential, there could be brighter days ahead in Gothem.

13. Milwaukee Bucks- The Bucks have some solid young pieces in Yi Jianian, Charlie Villanueva, and Bobby Simmons, along with star guard Michael Redd, but they don't have any chemistry and they need a pass first point guard. Milwaukee is a better team on paper than they are on hardwood. The good news...They have some tradeable pieces and they can make a deal to shake things up, which they so desperately need.

12. Chicago Bulls- The Bulls would be the most disappointing team in the league if it weren't for the existence of the team that resides in South Beach. The Bulls have talented pieces, but can't score points. Their season seemed to be derailed from the beginning when the Kobe trade rumors swirled stronger than the gusts off Lake Michigan. The good news...They have the pieces to make a deal, and even with a 21-31 record, they are just a game and a half out of the final playoff spot in the east.

11. Charlotte Bobcats- Bob Johnson's Cats seem to have adopted the culture of losing that begins with most expansion franchises, despite having talented guys on the roster. Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace are playing at a near all-star level, but they still can't win ball games. The good news...If Emeka Okafor and Raymond Felton can play up to their draft status, and Adam Morrison and Sean May can come back next year from injuries, they have the pieces to turn the losing locomotive right back around.

10. Indiana Pacers- Larry Bird's bunch can't play defense of any kind. The Pacers give up the most points in the Eastern Conference, and the third most in the NBA. The team is stagnant and needs a shakeup that should involve Jermaine O'Neal and Jamaal Tinsley. The good news...Indiana can build around forward Danny Granger who looks like the real deal, and should be able to move O'Neal and his contract for some kind of solid young player. More good news...Indiana is only two games out of the final playoff spot with a 21-32 record.

Maybe Next Year
9. Philadelphia 76ers- The Sixers are over-achieving right now despite their 23-30 record. The team buys into playing defense, but they don't have a good enough offense in the half court to contend. The good news... Philly has some nice young pieces in Louis Williams, Rodney Carney, and Thaddeus Young, and some tradeable parts in Andre Iguodala and Andre Miller. The Sixers can compete sooner than later.

8. Atlanta Hawks- Atlanta has a wealth of young talent, due to them drafting in the top 5 nearly every year since the first Bush administration. Atlanta would probably be fighting for a Southeast title if they had selected Chris Paul over Marvin Williams, but why cry over spilled milk? The good news...The Hawks have an athletic frontcourt with Josh Smith and Al Horford, and a very good guard in Joe Johnson. If Acie Law can develop into an NBA point guard, this team could be good for years to come. None of the big boys in the east want to face the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs.
7. New Jersey Nets- The Nets currently have three great offensive players, yet they can't score. New Jersey is buried in Vince Carter's contract and they are soft in the frontcourt. The good news... When the Kidd deal is completed, they'll have more pieces to assemble a team for next season.

6. Washington Wizards- The Wiz had been playing above their heads with Gilbert Arenas hurt, but they've come back to earth quickly in a tough West Coast trip. Washington has two all-stars plus Arenas, but Brendan Haywood isn't good enough at center, and Antonio Daniels doesn't seem like the right fit at point guard. The good news...When Arenas gets back, they'll have three guys who command double teams, and they can absolutely score points when healthy.
Real Contenders
5. Toronto Raptors- The Raptors play an up tempo style of basketball and they have a lot of young talent. Bosh is a legitimate all-star big man, and Bargnani, Moon, and Calderon can all play. Toronto is one veteran scorer away from challenging. The good news...No real bad contracts, and the young guys are only going to get better. They should be a team to be reckoned with for the next few years.

4. Orlando Magic- The Magic have star power in Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu, and they can score in the halfcourt. Unfortunately, they are soft up front, they don't play consistent defense and they take too many three point shots. The good news...Orlando has plenty of expiring contracts and tradeable parts to get one more key player to make a legitimate run.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers- LeBron James' supporting cast isn't fantastic, but they can be on certain nights. James may be the best player in the Eastern Conference and he single-handedly willed the Cavs to the NBA Finals last year. This year will be tougher with an improved Detroit team as well as Boston, but whose to say he can't do it again? The good news...They have LeBron and the other teams don't.
2. Boston Celtics- I know they have the best record in the NBA, but they are an older team and they don't have great depth. The Celtics have played well with Kevin Garnett injured, but without him I don't think they can beat Cleveland or Orlando in a series, and maybe not Toronto. The good news...Garnett will be healthy and they have a great, hungry three-headed monster in Garnett, Allen, and Pierce.

1. Detroit Pistons- The Pistons appear to be stronger than ever, and they throw waves of players off the bench that can really play. They have the best starting five in basketball, and can score and defend all over the court. If Billups goes down for any significant amount of time, the Pistons will have some trouble, but it's not extremely likely that he'll go down. The good news...Their starting five may be getting on in years, but Maxiell, Prince, Brezec, Johnson, Stuckey, and Afflalo appear ready to step in if needed. Get used to hearing the annoying chant of De-troit-bas-ket-ball in opposing arenas for quite some time as the Pistons will continue their winning.

Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of, and a regular syndicated contributor to, Sirius Radio, MySpace Sports and Charlie is also a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.

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