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Who has the best future in the East?

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By Kevin Sawyer

The Western Conference is scintillating right now, but with all the hot deadline action, has the East put itself in a position to catch up? Not at all. Nonetheless, I thought it would be fun to look ahead to the next 2-3 years, and rank potential future of each club.

1. New Jersey
Devin Harris just turned 25, and celebrated by dropping in 21 points in his two games in NJ. What once was an old, fading team suddenly has a bright future. Sean Williams, Diop, Krstic and Boone are all under 26, so the well Nets appear on the front line, and Jefferson and Carter should continue to provide semi-star caliber performance at the wings. They have enough pieces to make another big trade, or simply wait for LeBron and move to Brooklyn.

2. Detroit
The biggest question mark for the Pistons was the age of the front line, but the emergence of Amir and Maxiell seems to solve that problem. Billups, Hamilton and Prince seem like the sort of guys who play well into their mid-thirties, and Stuckey’s emergence should continue to take the heat off the backcourt. Sheed is a bit of a wild card. He could grow into a Sam Perkins type role, or he could retire early and take his family to Japan.

3. Toronto
Calderon to Bosh is a combined 49 years old, and if Bargnani can figure it out, this team is set for a decade. T.J. Ford is an interesting question mark. He has no trade value, at present, but if he can figure out a way to play with a gimpy spine, what do they do with him? If nothing else, it’s impossible to go wrong when you have a great PG, a great big, and a smart GM at the helm.

4. Orlando
Tough to put them any lower when Dwight Howard is on the team. That said, Lewis and Turkoglu are having solid years, and this team isn’t a contender yet. How do they upgrade their mediocre backcourt? Then answer might be to hold their breath, make Jameer Nelson the PG of the future, and find a 2 who can put some points on the board.

5. Miami
Remember when David Robinson went down, and the Spurs were terrible that one year? How’d that all work out, anyway?

6. Chicago
They dodged a bullet when the Cavs decided to mortgage their future, taking Ben Wallace off their hands. Now, they are right back where they started, which should be good for some unspectacular playoff runs over the next few years. At present, they run nine deep with decent players under 30, Noah and Thomas could be their big men of the future, and the door isn’t shut on the possibility of their consolidating their young guys into a star player. Things could be worse.

7. Washington
Tough to see Arenas landing max dollars to play elsewhere, given that he has suffered major injuries in back to back seasons. If healthy, he and Butler should be enough to get them to the playoffs. The guy to watch is Andray Blatche, who is reasonably comparable to Amir Johnson (foul trouble and all). If he unearths some of that talent in the next couple of years, this team could vault a bit.

8. Cleveland
I think he LeBolts, don’t you? Cleveland’s ownership has stacked this team with win-now 30-somethings, but I don’t see how they get past Boston, even if they are able to sneak past Detroit again. And this team, as presently constituted, is slated to become the New York Knicks by 2010. On the flip side, they still have LeBron. The mere hope of his continued presence on the Cavs keeps them out of my hypothetical lottery.

9. Boston
Mostly tacking two years onto the Celtics aging Big Three, and factoring in the possibility that one or more of them moves on. This is a two-year window team. Big Baby and co. are nice pieces, but this team will be lottery fodder at some point in the next three years.

10. Atlanta
I don’t really like the Bibby move at all, future-wise. This team has promising pieces, but all that promise wants delivery-type compensation. And it appears as though the Hawks are prepared to sever ties with arguably their most effective young guy in Josh Childress (they should really be peddling Marvin Williams, who has more trade value and less ability). On paper, this team should be a playoff team next season. In reality, management doesn’t know what it’s doing.

11. Milwaukee
The NBA’s unlikely mecca of multi-culturalism serves as an example of why you don’t throw max money at semi-star players. The Bucks have been too loose with the purse strings in general, which could cost them the ability to resign Bogut, who might actually be worth the money he is commanding. This team looks locked and loaded for an extended bout of 50 loss seasons.

12. Charlotte
I can’t figure out why this isn’t a playoff team in the East. Wallace, Richardson, Okafor and Felton seem like a good core to me, but it hasn’t even been close enough to hope that Sean May’s return will reverse their fortunes. Even though they totally Darkoed on Adam Morrison, I still think the Bobcats built up the right way, storing draft picks, and parlaying their financial flexibility into a strong player in Richardson, and sprinkling in veterans. Guess not.

13. Philadelphia
They are riding Andre Miller to a playoff run for no good reason. How is getting swept by Detroit or Boston going to benefit them? Other than that, this team looks pretty hopeless. Locals are high on a couple of their young guys, notably Thad Young, but remember that this is a franchise that is in LOVE with Willie Green. I don’t see a future here.

14. New York

15. Indiana
Like New York, but without the deep pockets that might one day yield a superstar. Indiana also has a potential semi-star problem on their hands with Danny Granger, who looks to have hit his ceiling, but will be looking for a big payday. Even if they could get some real value for Jermaine O’Neal, I don’t see many players on this roster who are going to play a major role for a contender. Plus, they have just enough talent to win 35 games per year, which will keep them out of the top ten in the draft. Doldrums-city.