We have been waiting for this year of free agency to come for quite some time (and now gone), and it lived up to the hype. Though there is a lot of offseason left, we can size up the contenders in the Eastern Conference now that the big free agents have chosen their destinations. The focus on the East is being emphasized because it is the Wizards conference, but also because the power has shifted to the East in a shocking series of events in free agency. At the end of this article I will evaluate the and projected roster, and then I will analyze the field. By analyzing both of these categories we can estimate what spot in the Eastern Conference the Wizards have a good shot of obtaining.
First and foremost, we are witnessing a large power shift to the Eastern Conference. The Lakers are the cream of the crop in the NBA based on recent history, but the quality of teams has shifted to the East. As horrible defensively as Amare Stoudamire is, his departure will deal a blow to the Suns offense which most of their high standing in the Western Conference is predicated off of. The Nuggets are in coaching limbo and can't seem to find their identity. I honestly see most teams besides the Lakers in decline, but there are two teams I see on the rise. One is the obvious pick of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the other being a wild card in the Sacramento Kings. had a monster rookie campaign, and the drafting of Cousins should build a strong nucleus. Every team in the Eastern Conference has seemed to get a little better over the last few weeks, specifically and obviously the . I am still in shock that a team in a market like Miami could ever end up having three of the top ten picks of one of the greatest drafts ever all in their primes all on the same team. It is fascinating but also signals the death of competitive balance in the NBA as we know it. If this sets a precedent, then ten years from now there will be five powerhouse teams in the league with two dozen different versions of the 2010 . Financially for the league its great, but as a fan I dont want to see three alpha males teaming up. Fans want to see the best of the best beating each other up and holding disdain for one another. I can't wait for the pictures of the Bosh/Wade/Lebron sleepover and pillow fight to leak to the media. The Knicks are solidifying their identity as a run and gun team, and Boston has retained its core. Though I think the "Big 3" is very out of its prime, the continuing improvement of Rajon Rondo and the addition of Jermaine O' Neals out of shape and older lookalike (also known as Jermaine O'Neal) can fill some cracks for Boston.
Apparently the owner of the Atlanta Hawks was robbed while balancing his checkbook at "basketball-point" by someone with a Joe Johnson jersey and a ski-mask on. Really? The highest paid free agent of 2010 was ? will be nothing but a consistent #4 seed who will get bounced out of the playoffs in the 1st round (2nd round if they keep getting pitted against teams like Milwaukee and Charlotte). With in full bloom and the addition of Carlos Boozer (the worst free agent consolation prize in history, if we are calling Lebron 1st prize) the Bulls should move up from being the recent 8th seed in 2010. Rumor is Lebron didn't want to leave Ohio for Chicago because he didn't trust Carlos Boozer. He thinks he is "disloyal" for what he did to the Cavaliers in 2004. So to teach him a lesson, he reenacted it and went to what he referred to as the Utah of the East Coast; Miami. Art imitating life, what do ya know? In terms of free agency, I won't take too much time to discuss the other teams because I don't deem the moves they made as detrimental or significantly positive to warrant a mention.
So if we have 8 spots in the Eastern Conference, and we anticipate that some teams will drop and some teams will rise, we can do some mixing and matching to get an accurate depiction of the 2011 in the East. Before we do that, we have to evaluate the moves the Wizards have made in the last few weeks.
Though I haven't exactly included draft picks as free agency moves in the article thus far, I have to incorporate the selection of John Wall into the evaluation of the Washington Wizards. Wall should solidify the point guard position immediately, and set the stage for the rest of the Wizards upcoming free agency moves and contract discussions with their current players. Though I wont express too much of an opinion on whether should stay and leave, from a talent standpoint I can not discount the impact he has on the team offensively. is in talks with the Miami Heat and the opportunity to win a championship ring and play with three superstars might be too much to pass up. It is safe to say that Mike Miller will not remain a Wizard, As bad as Washington was in 2010, their starting 5 for the 2011 season is very promising. McGee at center isn't fully solidifying the position, however he is a freak of nature athletically and he is working on his core strength by putting on some weight. Blatche showed he can put up numbers last season when he had to anchor most of the scoring load last season, regardless of his tiff with . Thornton is set at small-forward, and should complement Arenas and Wall very well at the guard positions. Though I do think the starting 5 needs some shaking up, the talent is definitely there. However...talent can only get you so far. The current makeup of the team sets the table for a squad that will play hard and beat some good teams, but struggle blowing out inferior opponents. Then again, thats how the Wizards have always played. They gave Boston fits, cut down big Laker leads to create games late in the 4th quarter, and put Lebron on his ass whenever they got a chance. The beauty of that is that they know how to play hard. Now all they have to do is schematically manipulate the right pieces to surround an already hard-working John Wall. The speed of the two guards will kill opposing defenses if they mesh well, but the 5,4, and 3 positions will have to play extremely hard to keep up with the size of other teams. Fortunately for the Wizards, most teams in the East excluding Orlando, don't have elite defensive talent in the center and power forward position. Amare's game is predicated off of athleticism, Bosh is a finesse power forward, and Boozer and Noah are very undersized for their positions.
In spite of Dan Gilberts bold prediction, Cleveland's current roster doesn't warrant a playoff spot. Not saying that they won't make it, but I owe it to the reputation of as a game changer to take them out of the running for a spot. Orlando is practically a lock for a top 3 seed. Boston, Miami, and Chicago are locks. That makes 4 already. Charlotte and Atlanta should make it. That leaves two spots, and still some talented teams left. Philadelphia, Indiana, or Milwaukee has to fill one of those spots. With one spot remaining, it is going to be between the Wizards, New York, and New Jersey. Toronto lost its only hope, and is just a very misguided team right now. I would not be very surprised if Washington is out of the playoffs again next year, but that doesn't mean that they dont have the talent to do it. The shift of quality big men to the Eastern Conference paves an easy road for the Lakers to the Finals, but a much harder one for the Wizards. However, the Wizards will be better off because of it. Arenas is going to have find his touch back. Wall is going to have to become a defensive point guard who can facilitate. The rest of the team is going to have to hustle for every loose ball and crash the boards on every play. The Wizards can't outscore everyone. If Arenas puts up 30 and hes guarding Wade who puts up 30, then he's accomplished nothing. John Wall can't outscore every point guard in the East, and he won't. This team has to adopt a defensive mentality and try to shut teams down, not outscore them. Defense wins championships across the board in every sport. Just listen to what the fans chant in the 4th quarter and follow their lead.