Commenter 'REB' sent this in to me, and although I don't like the exercise of making far-to-early predictions, with no real news around what's wrong with speculating a bit:
Just because it's Mid July and the NBA season doesn't start for more than 3 months is no reason not to predict the East playoff picture. So here's one reader's fearless prognostication.
Definitely in the playoffs (3):
Miami (57-25), Indiana (56-28), Detroit (53 -27)
These three are definitely the cream of the East and anyone of them could end up the 1st seed. I'm going to go with Miami despite my concern about how often Shaq will actually play before the playoffs. I expect Miami will find another role player to improve the current roster. I'll put Indiana ahead of Detroit because they have more depth and are less likely to suffer from a significant injury than Detroit. The Pistons may be the better team head to head but Indiana is likely to do a better job of beating up on the weaker teams. Of course all bets are off if Steven Jackson grabs a pipe and actually does try to beat up some team.
Absolutely not in the playoffs (3):
Atlanta (23-59), Charlotte (22-60), Toronto (27-55)
These are awful teams and not worth talking about. Atlanta does have some young potential (Smith, Williams and Harrington) and chance to develop into a decent team in a couple of years if they use this years cap room wisely, but nothing is going to get the Hawks into the playoffs this year.
Most likely out (3):
Milwaukee - A new coach and lots of new players and major ifs with Bogut and Ford. They may be playing well enough in April to get the cheese heads excited for 2006-7 but they should be no better than (36-46) for the season.
New York (36-46) - If Brown can turn this mismatch of players into a playoff team he's the Second Coming. More likely to be seen is Brown with a gun to his head while watching Crawford and Marbury pretend to run plays and play defense.
Orlando(34-48) - I don't see, except for Dwight Howard's development, where this team has gotten any better. Grant is a shadow of what he once was and Stevie Franchise can't seem to recognize his teammates. I will be surprised if they match last year's record.
That leaves 6 teams fighting for 5 playoff slots
3rd seed New Jersey (50-32) - 42 wins last year and coming fast once Carter arrived and Kidd got healthy. Now Jefferson is back. There weak up front and I'm not a fan of Abdur Rahim but if Kidd holds up, they should have a 50 win season. They may have a major trade of Jefferson or Carter before they get too far into the season.
5th seed Chicago (46-36) - Last year only 5 wins separated Chicago at 3rd best record and Cleveland at 9th. This year I expect much the same look to the playoff race. I'm giving the Bulls this spot because they will be a year more experienced and will have no major players to break in. Of course if Curry can't play they could drop out of the playoffs because Davis is only good for 10-12 minutes a game. I expect Chandler and especially Deng to be the most improved, but I'm concerned that Gordon won't always be able to duplicate those 4th quarter heroics of last season. One less win than last year.
6th seed Cleveland(46-36)- Adding Hughes, Marshall and a competent point guard (still to be named) makes the Cavs a solid playoff team, and a threat to pull an upset in the first round of the playoffs. Getting rid of an inept coaching staff and Jeff McInnis is also a plus.
7th Seed Philadelphia (44 - 38) - This is a definite reach but I expect Philly's experience and a new coaching staff to get these guys one last playoff spot. I also expect this to be Chris Webber's last decent season. This will be the 76ers last trip to the playoff for a few years as there saddled with Webbers and Iverson's contracts. I like Iguodala a lot and I think he is the player Paxson was hoping to draft at #7 last year, but Deng being still on the board was a happy surprise.
8th Seed Washington (42 -40)- The loss of Hughes hurts but Daniels will play well for them. Arenas and Jamison will make them a respectable team. They still have needs but they will be just good enough to beat out Boston.
Boston(41-41) - This is a team on the come but they have a mismatched roster. Ainge is going to want to play a style that gets the most out of his young players and that isn't what suits Pierce and Walker's talents. I'm not a Doc Rivers fan and I think he will not be very successful getting his veterans to play the way he wants to play with all the young talent. I expect them to be up and down all season. Here's a team that may undergo major changes by mid-season.