HOT TIMES IN THE EAST
I'll skip the Nero comparisons - Joe Dumars doesn't play the fiddle and he's wise to wait and see what develops in the trade market - but there's a lot of smoke emanating from the Eastern Conference. In order for the Pistons to reach the conference finals for a whopping seventh consecutive time next season, they'll have to put out a lot of fires.
Virtually every team in the conference has made a significant improvement during this offseason. No question, lottery winners Chicago (Derrick Rose) and Miami (Michael Beasley) are more formidable after getting the two prized possessions of an otherwise weak draft.
Others have helped themselves through trades or free agency. Toronto looks a lot scarier with Jermaine O'Neal and Chris Bosh joining forces upfront, easily the best power forward/center combo in the conference. Ex-Pistons executive John Hammond solved Milwaukee's small forward problem by acquiring one of the best - Richard Jefferson.
Philadelphia stunned the basketball world by pilfering Elton Brand, giving the Sixers a much-needed scorer. Orlando upgraded its shooting guard spot by signing Golden State free agent Mickael Pietrus. Washington owner Abe Pollin overpaid Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison to keep them in D.C. but the Wizards should be a perennial playoff team with Arenas, Jamison and Caron Butler.
Coaching changes have also changed the landscape. The Knicks' roster is a complete mess but Mike D'Antoni will turn them around once he gets enough players who can work within his system. And even though I've bashed Larry Brown many times for his antics, he's undeniably a huge upgrade over Sam Vincent in Charlotte.
Oh, have I mentioned that Boston is the defending NBA champion?
Yes, the Pistons will find it much tougher to remain one of the conference's top two teams, whether or not Dumars makes that long-awaited big trade.