Sizing Up the 2014-15 Eastern Conference’s Potential
Who is the favourite to win the Eastern Conference next season? Many experts can’t answer this question. Where do the Toronto Raptors fit into everything? It’s hard to answer this question, too.
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Everybody has a chance. Well, mostly everyone does… perhaps omitting Milwaukee from the conversation, but even they must be more excited than last year (but everything is relative, right?). But “mostly everybody” has a strong case for their team. Maybe we should review every team starting with how they finished last year?
This column will be a regular feature, looking at the NBA’s Eastern Conference and projecting where each contending team will finish. It begins at the top of the standings from 2013-14 and looks at the conference from the perspective of the Raptors.
Miami: Well, like the opening article about the Indiana Pacers, it’s hard to say the reigning conference champions don’t have a chance. And I’m not going to do that, but maybe I should – and I will do it more so for the Heat than the Pacers. It’s virtually impossible to make the wager that they will win the Eastern Conference again after losing LeBron James, the consensus best player in the league.
Jun 15, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) calls a play during the first quarter against the San Antonio Spurs in game five of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
I know, I know… all of those stats on Chris Bosh when James doesn’t play (reports have Bosh at 23.2 PPG, which is 5 PPG above his usual output while hitting 45% from three-point land, which is an astounding 15% above normal), but I don’t care about that. Haven’t you heard the line that stats show a little, but they don’t show everything? (Katy Perry is a reasonable example, but we can see she’s beautiful… the Heat without James? I think it’s apples and oranges.) I know, Michael Smith, numbers never lie… and they don’t. But what your show doesn’t say is they they can still deceive. And these stats won’t ultimately be positive for the Heat’s win/loss total… I promise you that.
The potential bad: It’s hard for me to write “potential” here, but that’s how I did it with the first article… so it’s all about continuum in style. The reason why it’s hard to write “potential” is because this news is just bad… drop the “potential” from it. James left to go back to Cleveland, and he’s the best player in basketball. The Heat cannot do it without James… let’s be serious. Forget the points (27.1), the rebounds (6.9), the assists (6.3), all of which were team-highs, but just him and his presence made the Heat hot.
Feb 16, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Eastern Conference forward Chris Bosh on the bench during the 2014 NBA All-Star Game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
The potential good: Again, I’ve said the potential good – Bosh can step out of the shadow of James. But this isn’t just a shadow – it’s a friggin’ eclipse! Even if Bosh returns to Toronto Raptors form – which is unlikely because he’s a fair bit older and still arguably has more of a supporting cast around him then he did in Toronto – how can he put up stats that offset the truck of numbers that James backed out of Miami with? No chance, I say. We haven’t seen the killer instinct in a long time, and one must wonder if his time being the man in Toronto is possible to recreate. But there is that potential anyway…
The good news is Bosh stayed in Miami. He opted to take less money than was offered to him in Houston (a max contract, nonetheless) to stay in southern Florida, even though it appears the team is a sinking ship all due to one player leaving (never mind his following “spacers” ). Bosh is joined by Dwyane Wade (still), who opted out of his deal and will receive less money for it, but still signed with the team (which wasn’t a real surprise). Wade, too, can be a superstar again… with about the same rationale I used for Bosh.
Jun 13, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat president Pat Riley and his wife Chris Riley watch during the fourth quarter of game four against the San Antonio Spurs in the 2013 NBA Finals at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Also good is that Pat Riley was still able to recruit players to come play in Miami. Luol Deng, a great player – a first-team NBA Defensive player – was likely targeted by several teams this off-season, but impressively, it was the Heat who landed him. Miami also landed Danny Granger, who was an all-star once upon a time… However, one could argue this is severely past tense (and they would probably win that argument). The Heat also drafted Shabazz Napier, after James encouraged picking him, calling him something like “the best point guard out there” (no worries, Mario Chalmers). Then, of course, when James left, Napier famously unfollowed him on Twitter (Napier probably won that battle… right).
May 20, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (24) gets hit in the head by Miami Heat guard Dwayne Wade (3) during a scramble for a loose ball in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Miami defeats Indiana 87-83. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
More potential bad: Wade was a good player. I don’t mean to be hard on the guy because I like him, but he is not the same player he used to be. He’ll get the ball more, yes, and perhaps he can fill the stat sheet like old times. But he can’t do that while he’s hurt… and the last few years – with less of a burden on him with two other superstars around him to pick up the slack – he seems to be hurt as much as he plays. Wade played just 54 games last year and over his career is averaging just north of 60. And when he plays, there is often little doubt he is playing hurt. And a not 100% Wade means he, too, is more or less a spacer on the floor. But now, a spacer for Bosh, a power forward with a lacking killer instinct? That tactic probably won’t work like it did when James was a part of things.
Last year’s Eastern Conference regular season rank: 2nd place
This year’s potential pre-season FS rank: 8th place
Mar 30, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Luol Deng (9) runs during a game against the Indiana Pacers at Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland won 90-76. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
It’s just so hard for me to think that Miami can rebound (and score) without James in their lineup. I don’t think they can lean on the decaying Wade, or that Bosh will re-emerge as a bona fide superstar – I just don’t see it in them. Deng will help, and I had the Heat at 6th – a more conservative pick – but I think Charlotte’s young legs (and new team name) may emerge this year. And Brooklyn, especially with Brook Lopez back healthy, has more proven players in this time than Miami does. Trusting Bosh and Wade is tough. Deng maybe their most timely player… and it’s tough to remember what team he last played for even. That says a lot about the Heat…
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