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Eastern Conference Preview, Part 1: The Non-Contenders

Eastern Conference teams like the Bobcats and Nets will likely finish the 2011-12 NBA season without a trip to the playoffs. (sportslogos.com)

With the NBA season less than a week away, Sports of Boston will be previewing the entire Eastern Conference. In part one, let’s look at the teams that should finish in the lower half of the conference and miss the playoffs.

Toronto Raptors

Last season, Toronto finished with the third-worst record in the NBA. With the fifth pick in the NBA draft, they selected center Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas could be a good player, but we will have to wait to find out, as he will not join the Raptors until next season due to a buyout clause.

The Raptors are a long ways away from contending in the East. They have some good players in DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani, but until they put more talent around them and find a few players for their bench, they’ll continue to be at the bottom of the East.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland finished with the worst record in the East last season and were rewarded with the first and fourth picks in the draft. They selected Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson. While I am not overly high on Thompson, I believe that Irving will be a great point guard and someone they can build a team around. The Cavaliers will be better than their 19-63 record from a year, but how much better has yet to be determined.

Washington Wizards

Washington was another team that struggled last year, but unlike the first two teams has a bright future. John Wall is already one of the top point guards in the NBA and will only be better in his second season. Jordan Crawford steps into the starting lineup because Nick Young is a free agent and still has not signed. If they re-sign Young, that’s great because, he can score from anywhere. But if they decide that his $9 million price tag per year is too high, they have a more than capable replacement in Crawford.

The Wizards’ front-court also looks promising: Blatche and McGee provide them with size and scoring, and by drafting Jan Vesely they added a young, athletic wing player to run alongside John Wall.

New Jersey Nets

If New Jersey doesn’t land Dwight Howard, they are in a lot of trouble. Deron Williams is a free agent at season’s end and will bolt if this team stays as is. Brook Lopez is a nice young center, but he’s a terrible rebounder.

Right now, the Nets lack talent and depth. The move to Brooklyn is great, but so far it has not been enough to lure top free agents. Right now they are one of the worst teams in the East, and they could find themselves moving to Brooklyn without Dwight Howard and Deron Williams.

Detroit Pistons

There’s a new sheriff in Detroit, as Lawrence Frank takes over as coach. Known for defense, Frank should help what was the third-worst defensively efficient team last season. And despite how bad the Pistons were defensively last season, there’s some promise in good, young players in Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight. Knight was taken with the eight pick in the draft and should do well with Ben Gordon as his running mate.

Tayshaun Prince re-signed – a curious move that might cost Austin Daye playing time – but Monroe is the key. If he can build on his rookie season, the Pistons could surprise some people.

Charlotte Bobcats

The bad news for Charlotte fans is that they are terrible. This is one of the best draft classes in a long time, but where will the scoring come from? Kemba Walker will come off the bench, but Bismack Biyombo is stuck overseas and won’t play till next year.

This could be a really long year in for the Bobcats. Right now, the Bobcats are my favorite to finish with the worst record in basketball.

Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee is a fringe playoff team. Their problems are they can’t score (dead last in the NBA last season) and they are awful on the road (13-28). Still, they have Brandon Jennings, who is going into his third season and showed improvements in Year Two.

The Bucks also have Andrew Bogut, one of the best centers in the NBA, and Stephen Jackson. They have one of the best home-court advantages in the NBA and, if they can stay healthy, they could sneak into the playoffs.

Check back later this week for Part 2 of Sports of Boston’s Eastern Conference preview!

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