A look at the NBA Eastern Conference teams as they head into the 2004-05 season, in predicted order of finish by division:
New York Knicks
Last season: 39-43, eliminated 4-0 by New Jersey in first round of playoffs.
Coach: Lenny Wilkens, first full season with Knicks, 23-19; 32nd season overall, 1,315-1,133.
Added: G Jamal Crawford, F Jerome Williams (trade with Bulls), F Trevor Ariza (draft, No. 43, UCLA).
Lost: C Dikembe Mutombo, F Othella Harrington, G Frank Williams (traded to Chicago), G DerMarr Johnson (free agent, Denver).
Better or worse?: Improved in the offseason by dealing three non-contributors with expiring contracts for Crawford, who will begin the regular season as the starting shooting guard due in part to Allan Houston's slow return from knee soreness. Will be suspect defensively and small in the middle, especially if Kurt Thomas supplants Nazr Mohammed in the pivot and Michael Sweetney moves into Thomas' old spot at power forward.
Last season: 33-49, missed playoffs.
Coach: Jim O'Brien, first season with 76ers; fifth season overall, 139-119.
Added: C Brian Skinner (free agent, Bucks), F Kedrick Brown, G Kevin Ollie (trade with Cavaliers), F Corliss Williamson (trade with Pistons), F Andre Iguodala (draft, No. 9, Arizona).
Lost: G Eric Snow (traded to Cleveland), F Derrick Coleman (traded to Detroit); G Greg Buckner (free agent, Denver), C Zendon Hamilton (free agent, Milwaukee).
Better or worse?: Depends on whether Iverson can make a successful switch from shooting guard to point guard, a tricky proposition for a player who hasn't played that position since his rookie season. Williamson is an upgrade over Coleman, but Snow's defense and leadership will be missed. Iguodala was picked to start at small forward over Glenn Robinson, and Marc Jackson edged out incumbent Samuel Dalembert to start at center.
Last season: 36-46, eliminated 4-0 by Detroit in first round of playoffs.
Coach: Doc Rivers, first season with Celtics; sixth season overall, 171-168.
Added: G Gary Payton (trade with Lakers), F Tom Gugliotta (free agent, Jazz), F Al Jefferson (draft, No. 15, Prentiss (Miss.) H.S.), G Delonte West (draft, No. 24, Saint Joseph's), G Tony Allen (draft, No. 25, Oklahoma State).
Lost: G Chucky Atkins, F Jumaine Jones, C Chris Mihm (traded to L.A. Lakers), F Brandon Hunter (expansion draft, Charlotte).
Better or worse?: If Raef LaFrentz is able to recover after knee surgery caused him to miss a majority of last season, the Celtics should at least contend for a .500 record. Paul Pierce remains one of the league's best shooting guards, but what was Danny Ainge thinking when he sent three players to the Lakers for Rick Fox, who retired, and Payton, who has little left?
Last season: 33-49, missed playoffs.
Coach: Sam Mitchell, first season.
Added: C Rafael Araujo (draft, No. 8, BYU), G Rafer Alston (free agent, Heat), C Loren Woods (free agent, Bobcats).
Lost: C Corie Blount (free agent), G Dion Glover (free agent), G Rod Strickland (free agent), F Michael Curry (free agent).
Better or worse?: Until they figure out a long-term solution to the question of whether Vince Carter will be part of the team's future, it's difficult to see this franchise moving forward. Rob Babcock has been brought in to replace Glen Grunwald as general manager. Alston is an upgrade over Alvin Williams, whose career it appears will be cut short by a knee injury.
New Jersey Nets
Last season: 47-35, eliminated 4-3 by Detroit in conference semifinals.
Coach: Lawrence Frank, first full season, 25-15.
Added: G Ron Mercer (free agent, Spurs), G Rodney Buford (free agent, Kings), C Nenad Krstic (rookie, Partizan Belgrade, Serbia), G Travis Best (free agent, Mavericks), F Eric Williams (free agent, Cavaliers), G Jacque Vaughn (free agent, Hawks).
Lost: F Kenyon Martin (traded to Denver), G Kerry Kittles (traded to L.A. Clippers), G Lucious Harris (free agent, Cleveland), F Rodney Rogers (free agent, New Orleans), F Tamar Slay (free agent, Charlotte).
Better or worse?: Definitely worse, having traded Kenyon Martin and Kerry Kittles for draft picks. Jason Kidd begins the season on the injured list, and if he comes back healthy after knee surgery, he should be a prime candidate to be dealt before the Feb. 24 trading deadline. Same goes for Alonzo Mourning, who is attempting a comeback after a kidney transplant.
Last season: 54-28, won NBA title 4-1 over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Coach: Larry Brown, second season with Pistons, 54-38; 22nd season overall, 933-713.
Added: F Antonio McDyess (free agent, Suns), F Derrick Coleman (trade with 76ers), G Carlos Delfino (rookie, Skipper Bologna, Italy), G Ronald Dupree (free agent, Bulls).
Lost: F Corliss Williamson (traded to Philadelphia), F Mehmet Okur (free agent, Utah), F Tremaine Fowlkes (free agent, New Orleans), G Mike James (free agent, Milwaukee).
Better or worse?: Improved throughout the final two months of the regular season and during the course of the playoffs last season after acquiring Rasheed Wallace, and now will have a year of experience under Brown's leadership. McDyess could be a valuable addition, but the Williamson-Coleman deal made little sense from a talent standpoint.
Last season: 61-21, eliminated 4-2 by Detroit in Eastern Conference finals.
Coach: Rick Carlisle, second season with Pacers; fourth season overall, 161-85.
Added: F Stephen Jackson (trade with Hawks), C David Harrison (draft, No. 29, Colorado), G Eddie Gill (free agent, Trail Blazers).
Lost: F Al Harrington (traded to Atlanta), C Primoz Brezec (expansion draft, Charlotte), G Kenny Anderson (free agent, Atlanta).
Better or worse?: Lost some of their depth by dealing the unhappy Harrington to Atlanta, but added a much-needed outside shooter, Jackson, who will move into the space soon to be vacated by Reggie Miller. Tinsley is a cut below the league's best point guards, and Jonathan Bender and Austin Croshere need to become productive -- especially with Jeff Foster out for the first six weeks of the season -- if the Pacers are going to approach 60 victories.
Last season: 35-47, missed playoffs.
Coach: Paul Silas, second season with Cavs, 35-47; 10th season overall, 321-370.
Added: F Drew Gooden (trade with Magic), G Eric Snow (trade with 76ers), G Sasha Pavlovic (trade with Bobcats), F Luke Jackson (draft, No. 10, Oregon), F Robert Traylor (free agent, Hornets), G Lucious Harris (free agent, Nets), F Anderson Varejao (rookie, FC Barcelona), F Scott Williams (free agent, Mavericks).
Lost: F Carlos Boozer (free agent, Utah), F Eric Williams (free agent, New Jersey), C Tony Battie (traded to Orlando), G Kevin Ollie, F Kedrick Brown (traded to Philadelphia), F Jason Kapono (expansion selection, Charlotte), F Lee Nailon (free agent, New Orleans).
Better or worse?: Gooden is nowhere near the talent Boozer was at power forward, but Snow is a key addition to the backcourt, Pavlovic and Harris will open up the court for LeBron James with their outside shooting, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas might just be the conference's second-best center behind Shaquille O'Neal, at least from an offensive standpoint.
Last season: 23-59, missed playoffs.
Coach: Scott Skiles, first full season with Bulls, 19-47; fifth season overall, 135-126.
Added: G Ben Gordon (draft, No. 3, Connecticut), G Andres Nocioni (rookie, Tau Ceramica, Spain), F Luol Deng (draft, No. 8, Duke), F Othella Harrington, G Frank Williams (trade with Knicks), G Eric Piatkowski, F Adrian Griffin (trade with Rockets), F Gary Trent (free agent, Timberwolves), G Chris Duhon (draft, No. 38, Duke).
Lost: F Scottie Pippen (retired), G Jamal Crawford, F Jerome Williams (traded to New York), G Ronald Dupree (free agent, Detroit), F Linton Johnson (free agent, San Antonio), F Marcus Fizer (free agent).
Better or worse?: Now in their sixth consecutive year of rebuilding, the Bulls may actually be on the verge of some real improvement. Eddy Curry shed 30 pounds over the summer to get fit for his contract year, Kirk Hinrich has been fantastic during the preseason, Nocioni will be a pleasant surprise, and Gordon can flat-out play.
Last season: 41-41, eliminated 4-1 by Detroit in first round of playoffs.
Coach: Terry Porter, second season, 41-41.
Added: C Zendon Hamilton (free agent, 76ers), G Mike James (free agent, Pistons), C Jelani McCoy (free agent, Cavaliers), C Zaza Pachulia (trade with Bobcats), G Maurice Williams (free agent, Jazz).
Lost: G Damon Jones (free agent, Miami), C Brian Skinner (free agent, Philadelphia), G Brevin Knight (free agent, Charlotte).
Better or worse?: The continued absence of T.J. Ford because of a spinal cord injury, along with the departure of Damon Jones via free agency, gives Milwaukee some serious questions in the backcourt. One of the league's surprise teams before losing 14 of their final 22 games, that success may have lulled them into a false sense of security that produced nothing resembling an upgrade over the offseason. The center position is weaker, with Skinner gone and Daniel Santiago and Dan Gadzuric trying to step in.
Last season: 42-40, eliminated 4-2 by Indiana in second round.
Coach: Stan Van Gundy, second season, 42-40.
Added: C Shaquille O'Neal (trade with Lakers), C Michael Doleac (free agent, Nuggets), G Damon Jones (free agent, Bucks), G Keyon Dooling (free agent, Clippers), F Christian Laettner (free agent, Warriors), G Wesley Person (free agent, Hawks), F Dorell Wright (draft, No. 19, South Kent (Conn.) Prep).
Lost: F Lamar Odom, F Caron Butler, F Brian Grant (traded to L.A. Lakers), G Rafer Alston (free agent, Toronto), F Samaki Walker (free agent, Washington), C Loren Woods (expansion draft, Charlotte).
Better or worse?: It's impossible to acquire O'Neal and get worse. The Heat were able to pull off the rare feat of acquiring a dominating center before he's past his prime, and Van Gundy will unleash him on an array of Eastern Conference centers with no hope of stopping him. This could be the first time in O'Neal's college or pro career that he averages 30 points. On the downside, the trade severely depleted the Heat's depth. Dwyane Wade will be asked to play point guard rather than shooting guard, where he seems more comfortable.
Last season: 21-61, missed playoffs.
Coach: Johnny Davis, second season with Magic, 20-51; third season overall, 44-111.
Added: G Steve Francis, G Cuttino Mobley, F Kelvin Cato (trade with Houston), F Dwight Howard (draft, No. 1, Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy), C Tony Battie (trade with Cavaliers), G Jameer Nelson (draft, No. 20, Saint Joseph's), F Hedo Turkoglu (free agent, Spurs), F Michael Bradley (free agent, Hawks), F Stacey Augmon (free agent, Hornets).
Lost: F Tracy McGrady, F Juwan Howard, G Tyronn Lue, G Reece Gaines (traded to Houston), F Drew Gooden (traded to Cleveland), C Steven Hunter (free agent, Phoenix), F Britton Johnsen (free agent, New Orleans), F Zaza Pachulia (expansion selection, Charlotte).
Better or worse?: Undoubtedly better, and could be the sleeper team in the East. General manager John Weisbrod was able to bring in plenty of talent in exchange for McGrady, who becomes the first player since Bob McAdoo in 1976 to be traded in the year after he won the scoring title. The playoffs are very possible if Grant Hill manages to keep playing on his repaired and re-repaired ankle, and if Dwight Howard can make a contribution while learning the pro game.
Last season: 25-57, missed playoffs.
Coach: Eddie Jordan, second season with Wizards, 25-57; fourth season overall, 58-121.
Added: F Antawn Jamison (trade with Mavericks), F Samaki Walker (free agent, Heat), F Michael Ruffin (free agent, Jazz), G Anthony Peeler (free agent, Kings), C Peter John Ramos (draft, No. 32, Puerto Rico).
Lost: G Jerry Stackhouse, F Christian Laettner (traded to Dallas), F Lonny Baxter (expansion selection, Charlotte).
Better or worse?: The franchise felt it could not move forward with malcontents Stackhouse and Laettner in the locker room, but the Wizards may have given up too much when they packaged them with the No. 5 pick to acquire Jamison. Gilbert Arenas promises to be more mature, and everyone is still waiting for Kwame Brown to develop into a steady contributor.
Last season: 28-54, missed playoffs.
Coach: Mike Woodson, first season.
Added: F Antoine Walker, G Tony Delk (trade with Mavericks), F Al Harrington (trade with Pacers), G Kenny Anderson (free agent, Pacers), G Jon Barry (free agent, Nuggets), C Kevin Willis (free agent, Spurs), F Donnell Harvey (free agent, Suns), C Peja Drobnjak (trade with Bobcats), G Josh Childress (draft, No. 6, Stanford), F Josh Smith (draft, No. 17, Oak Hill (Va.) Academy).
Lost: G Jason Terry, F Alan Henderson (traded to Dallas), G Stephen Jackson (traded to Indiana), G Bob Sura (free agent, Houston), F Wesley Person (free agent, Portland), C Joel Przybilla (free agent, Portland), G Jacque Vaughn (free agent, New Jersey), C Zeljko Rebraca (free agent, L.A. Clippers).
Better or worse?: It's time for more rebuilding, but don't count on Walker sticking around for the whole thing. Atlanta could try to move him to a contender at the trading deadline. Childress should be the starter at shooting guard, but the point guard job could fall to a player -- Anderson -- who was the third-stringer in Indiana last season.
Last season: Inaugural season for league's first expansion franchise since the Raptors and Grizzlies joined the NBA in 1995.
Coach: Bernie Bickerstaff, 11th season, 338-348.
Added: C Emeka Okafor (draft, No. 2, Connecticut), C Primoz Brezec (expansion draft, Indiana), C Jahidi White (Phoenix), F Theron Smith (Memphis), F Brandon Hunter (Boston), F Jamal Sampson (Lakers), F Jason Kapono (Cleveland), F Melvin Ely, G Eddie House (trade with Clippers), F Tamar Slay (free agent, New Jersey), G Jason Hart (free agent, Spurs), G Bernard Robinson (draft, No. 45, Michigan), G Brevin Knight (free agent, Bucks), G Steve Smith (free agent, Hornets).
Lost: C Peja Drobnjak (traded to Atlanta), F Zaza Pachulia (traded to Milwaukee), F Sasha Pavlovic (traded to Cleveland).
Better or worse?: In the case of an expansion team, it'd be hard to do worse than the 0-17 start by the Miami Heat in their inaugural season of 1988-89. As the season drags on, another fitting standard of comparison might be the worst record in NBA history, 9-73 by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1972-73.