It took the Boston Celtics 20 games to get out of the Eastern Conference last season. The competition has only gotten tougher this summer. The battle in the East is no longer between the Celtics and Detroit Pistons. These are five teams looking to cause problems next season.
Since basketball is a game with 5 players a side, having an all-star on your team gives you a decent chance of winning. Having one of the best players in the NBA take the court for your team every night gives you a great chance at being a playoff contender. The Cleveland Cavaliers will go as far as LeBron James carries them. Two seasons ago, they proved they were the cream of the crop in the Eastern Conference, making it to the Finals. Last season, they nearly beat the World Champion Boston Celtics in 7 games. After doing acquiring Mo Williams and drafting the talented J.J. Hickson in the offseason, the Cavs are that much stronger and that bigger of a threat in the East.
Don't be fooled by the Detroit Pistons exit from the Eastern Conference Finals last season. This team still has a core of veteran players who can be dangerous at any point down the stretch. But since 'Sheed and Co. can't stick around forever, the Pistons are already grooming the next wave of talent in the Motor City. Rodney Stuckey is poised for a breakout sophomore season and it is only a matter of time before the rest of the league takes notice of Jason Maxiell's post presence. The Pistons have been a dominating force in the East for years and they are not going away any time soon.
It took the Magic five years to finish over .500 and now success is expected in O-Town. Their 52-win season was a glimpse into this team's future, which looks promising thanks to boundless potential of Dwight Howard. Superman, Rashard Lewis, and Hedo Turkoglu have one postseason run together under their belts and while their abrupt exit was frustrating, this hard-learned lesson will help the Magic mature into a contender next season. The Magic know they have to beat the best to be the best, so expect them to go hard after Eastern Conference frontrunners.
The acquisition of Elton Brand is going to pay immediate dividends for the Philadelphia 76ers. Aside Andre Iguodala, one of the most athletic shooting guards/small forwards in the Eastern Conference, and Andre Miller, who proved last season that his is still a premier point guard, Brand gives the Sixers an impressive low post presence who has led a team to a berth in the Conference Semifinals. The Sixers' young talent, including the likes of Thaddeus Young and the newly acquired Marreese Speights, are also poised to make an impact on this team with their vim and vigor. Brand's health will be a lingering question all season, but as long as he is on the court, the 76ers will build on last season's surprising rise and continue to be one of the feistiest competitors in the conference.
Gilbert Arenas's blog has been awful quiet. And DeShawn Stevenson hasn't done much trash talking lately. Maybe the Wizards realized they can be legitimate contenders if they focus solely on playing basketball. The Wizards might have had a better record last season without Arenas, but the verbose point guard is a former all-star and capable of scoring 50 points against anyone on any night. His presence alone makes this team a serious threat in the East. Like the 76ers, health will be a constant concern for the injury-plagued Wizards, but if they stay healthy (and focused) the trio of Arenas, Antawn Jamison, and Caron Butler is talented enough to challenge any team.
The Toronto Raptors will also improve their record next season but until Jermaine O'Neal proves he can stay healthy, it is too soon to put them on this list. Any of these five teams could make deep postseason runs and pose serious problems for the defending NBA champions. Given this talent, don't be shocked if a new team emerges from the East.