Despite the cream of the crop Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls keeping up appearances, the Eastern Conference is still inferior. Throw in the Hawks, Heat and Wizards and that’s as far as the NBA depth chart will take you on any given night. Toronto will have its moments of grandeur but are not a serious contender. Same with Milwaukee.
Like their Western contemporaries, a few coaches in the East are already being talked about in whispers as possible one-and-done’s and you can blame the inordinate mediocrity of the East as a whole. The perception of weakness translates into thinking a coach should do well in the East because the conference isn’t dominant from top to bottom. There should be a lot of easy in-conference wins in the East- or so the thinking goes- because of the mediocrity. But, even if teams skate by in the East, it still won’t erase the scrutiny of a few coaches who will be criticized, pilloried and denounced all season long as their in game maneuvering is put through a microscope.
David Blatt: What could go wrong? Just about everything. The Cavaliers are expected to make a return trip to the NBA Finals. Anything less than June games at the Q and Blatt’s the fall guy. Blatt has to get better in his second year. You can forgive last year’s mistakes as belonging to a rookie (calling a timeout in a playoff game when he didn’t have any timeouts and getting saved by Tyronn Lue is his low point). Simply, Blatt’s arrogance in thinking he could waltz into the NBA and bestow his magical brand of strategic offense and everything would just fall into place was his undoing.
Real world Cav problems still exist. His relationship with LeBron James is fragile and could take a turn for the worse. Kyrie Irving’s health is always problematic. Kevin Love is coming off a shoulder injury and he is under more pressure since signing a max free agent deal. Does Blatt have the versatility to figure out how to maximize the duality of Love at power forward, a scorer and rebounder, or is he insistent on turning Love into Kyle Korver 2.0.? Blatt’s plate is full and it may become empty if the Cavs are watching the Bulls or Heat represent the East in the Finals.
Randy Wittman: It’s always en vogue to predict the last year of Wittman in D.C. The Verizon Center crowd has never been Wittman-friendly and any screw up by the Wizards or injuries is open season on Wittman’s brand of basketball. The Wizards are a talented crew but have not been able to get out of the second round and if they fail again during this playoff season, particularly when they are trying to woo Kevin Durant, Wittman may find himself on his way out. The fact is, as a coach, Wittman has never guided a team farther than where he has taken the Wizards. Perhaps this is as good as it gets.
Dwayne Casey: It’s put up or shut up time for Casey and the Toronto Raptors. Their roster is loaded at every position with All-Star talent that has no business losing in the first round of the playoffs. You can’t fire the players so that means Casey is ultimately responsible. Kyle Lowry has yet to dominate in the playoffs. DeMar DeRozan had an off year last year, nothing close to his All-Star campaign the year before. But the Raptors went out and signed DeMarre Carroll to a contract that raised a lot of eyebrows ($60 million) hoping his defense and toughness and offensive efficiency will be a sparkplug and will pay off in the end. If it doesn’t, if the Raptors are a 4 or 5 seed and bounce in the first round so will Casey. Bounce.
photo via llananba