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Eastern Conference

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

New Jersey Nets

Coach: Byron Scott (127-119 in three seasons, all with New Jersey)

2002-03 season: 49-33, won Atlantic Division, lost to San Antonio in the Finals.

Big offseason pickups: C Alonzo Mourning, G Zoran Planinic (rookie)

Key offseason losses: C Dikembe Mutombo

In a perfect world ... : Mourning, who missed virtually all of last season battling a kidney ailment, will give the Nets the active inside presence that has doomed them in the past two Finals, Richard Jefferson adds a jump shot to his growing offensive repertoire and Jason Kidd stays injury-free.

Nightmare scenario: Kenyon Martin smarts over not getting a contract extension, no consistent outside threat reveals itself, and everyone discovers that former assistant Eddie Jordan, now in Washington, really was running things.

Likely outcome: The Nets have enough to win a weakened Atlantic Division, but don't have the horses to knock off Detroit or Indiana, and Scott gets fired.

Philadelphia 76ers

Coach: Randy Ayers (first NBA season)

2002-03 season: 48-34, second in Atlantic, lost to Detroit in conference semifinals.

Big offseason pickups: F Glenn Robinson, C Marc Jackson

Key offseason losses: F Keith Van Horn

In a perfect world ... : Robinson becomes the long sought-after second scoring option behind Allen Iverson, Todd McCulloch finds a miracle cure to his foot ailment and gives the Sixers an inside presence and no one - least of all Allen Iverson - misses Larry Brown, who left for Detroit.

Nightmare scenario: Robinson not only dogs it defensively, but also clashes with Iverson for shots, Derrick Coleman isn't the answer at center and Ayers is no Brown.

Likely outcome: Another playoff appearance, but another quick departure.

Orlando Magic

Coach: Doc Rivers (170-158 in four seasons, all in Orlando)

2002-03 season: 42-40, fourth in Atlantic, lost to Detroit in first round.

Big offseason pickups: F/C Juwan Howard, G Tyronn Lue

Key offseason losses: None

In a perfect world ... : Howard mans the middle, allowing Drew Gooden to blossom at power forward, Gordan Giricek continues to develop at shooting guard and Tracy McGrady becomes the best player in the league.

Nightmare scenario: Howard, who didn't want to play center in Washington, doesn't want to play center in Orlando, and McGrady's back problems flare up all season.

Likely outcome: Rivers may need to make the second round of the playoffs to keep his job, and the Magic don't seem capable of going that far.

Washington Wizards

Coach: Eddie Jordan (33-64 in two seasons in Sacramento; first season in Washington)

2002-03 season: 37-45, tied for fifth in Atlantic, missed the playoffs.

Big offseason pickups: G Gilbert Arenas, F Jarvis Hayes (rookie)

Key offseason losses: G Michael Jordan

In a perfect world ... : All the Wizards' young talent - especially Kwame Brown - matures quickly, Jerry Stackhouse's knee problems aren't chronic, and the center by committee gets Washington 12 points and eight rebounds a night.

Nightmare scenario: Brown is revealed as a bust, Stackhouse's knee doesn't respond and his leadership qualities never arrive and Jordan is another head coach better suited to be an assistant.

Likely outcome: A playoff berth in the mild, mild East is a distinct possibility.

Boston Celtics

Coach: Jim O'Brien (117-95 in three seasons, all in Boston)

2002-03 season: 44-38, third in Atlantic, lost to New Jersey in conference semifinals.

Big offseason pickups: C Raef LaFrentz, G Mike James

Key offseason losses: F Antoine Walker, G Tony Delk

In a perfect world ... : Without Walker's questionable shot selection, the Boston offense flows more freely, LaFrentz becomes the serviceable center in the East that he couldn't be in Dallas or Denver and Marcus Banks becomes the next great point guard.

Nightmare scenario: Without Walker's offensive gifts, Paul Pierce gets double-teamed right out of the dressing room, Vin Baker's rebirth as a power forward goes the way of the dinosaur and O'Brien goes on the hot seat.

Likely outcome: New general manager Danny Ainge has started the rebuilding process, and it could go on for a couple of years.

New York Knicks

Coach: Don Chaney (322-470 in 11 seasons; 57-88 in two seasons in New York.)

2002-03 season: 37-45, tied for fifth in Atlantic, missed the playoffs.

Big offseason pickups: F Keith Van Horn, C Dikembe Mutombo

Key offseason losses: F Latrell Sprewell

In a perfect world ... : Van Horn finally becomes the quality offensive player people thought he would be in New Jersey, Mutombo gives the Knicks a low post threat and Antonio McDyess returns from his knee surgery.

Nightmare scenario: The booing for Van Horn can be heard in upstate Poughkeepsie, McDyess never recovers and Mutombo shows his true age.

Likely outcome: A new coach takes over before the All-Star break and Spike Lee finally heads across the Hudson to get on the Nets bandwagon.

Miami Heat

Coach: Stan Van Gundy (first NBA season)

2002-03 season: 25-57, last in Atlantic, missed the playoffs.

Big offseason pickups: F Lamar Odom, G Dwyane Wade (rookie)

Key offseason losses: C Alonzo Mourning

In a perfect world ... : Caron Butler continues to develop at small forward, Wade is a sleeper Rookie of the Year candidate and Odom becomes the player that the Clippers thought he would be.

Nightmare scenario: Wade struggles at point guard, Eddie Jones continues to drift and Odom becomes all too familiar with the South Beach nightlife.

Likely outcome: The only question is what took Pat Riley so long to jump ship. The only race the Heat will be in this year is for most ping-pong balls in next June's draft.

Central Division

Detroit Pistons

Coach: Larry Brown (879-685 in 20 NBA seasons; first year in Detroit)

2002-03 season: 50-32, won the Central Division, lost to New Jersey in conference finals.

Big offseason pickups: F Darko Milicic (rookie), C Elden Campbell

Key offseason losses: C Cliff Robinson, G Jon Barry, F Michael Curry

In a perfect world ... : Tayshaun Prince continues to shine at small forward, Milicic gives solid minutes as he learns and Richard Hamilton has a breakout season.

Nightmare scenario: The Detroit veterans tune out Brown, Ben Wallace isn't the offensive prospect that Brown thinks he is and the Pistons discover that they should have taken Carmelo Anthony second instead of Milicic.

Likely outcome: With a little more offense and the best rotation in the East, the Pistons should supplant New Jersey as conference champions.

Indiana Pacers

Coach: Rick Carlisle (100-64 in two seasons; first year in Indiana)

2002-03 season: 48-34, second in Central, lost to Boston in first round of playoffs.

Big offseason pickups: C Scot Pollard, G Kenny Anderson

Key offseason losses: C Brad Miller, F Ron Mercer

In a perfect world ... : Reggie Miller has one more potent shooting year left in him, Pollard, who came east from Sacramento in a three-way deal that sent Brad Miller to the Kings and Mercer to San Antonio, gives Indiana an active defensive center, and Jermaine O'Neal gets even better.

Nightmare scenario: The wrong Miller left town, Ron Artest finally implodes and O'Neal sulks all year regarding the firing of Isiah Thomas as coach.

Likely outcome: Indiana is good enough to reach the conference semifinals, and maybe the conference final, but too streaky to get past Detroit or New Jersey.

New Orleans Hornets

Coach: Tim Floyd (49-190 in four seasons; first year in New Orleans)

2002-03 season: 47-35, third in Central, lost to Philadelphia in first round.

Big offseason pickups: G Darrell Armstrong, F David West (rookie)

Key offseason losses: C Elden Campbell, G Courtney Alexander (injury)

In a perfect world ... : Baron Davis' back and knee hold up for the full season, Jamaal Magloire takes the next step from unknown center to polished product and Jamal Mashburn stays healthy.

Nightmare scenario: The undersized Armstrong has to play major minutes for Davis, Courtney Alexander's absence lessens their versatility and Floyd looks more like the coach he was with the Bulls than the one he was at Iowa State.

Likely outcome: The Hornets have never advanced to the conference final, and with Floyd at the helm, it's not likely to happen this year either.

Toronto Raptors

Coach: Kevin O'Neill (first year in NBA)

2002-03 season: 24-58, seventh in Central, missed the playoffs.

Big offseason pickups: F Michael Curry, F Chris Bosh (rookie), F Jerome Moiso

Key offseason losses: G Lindsey Hunter

In a perfect world ... : Vince Carter shakes the soft label, Curry gives Toronto some badly needed leadership, and Antonio Davis returns to his Indiana form.

Nightmare scenario: Neither Carter nor Davis play as expected, Bosh needs more time to develop and the Raptors don't cotton to O'Neill's defense-intensive setup.

Likely outcome: A halfway decent season from Carter could get the Raptors into the seventh or eighth Eastern playoff spot. Don't hold your breath.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Coach: Paul Silas (286-323 in eight seasons, first year in Cleveland)

2002-03 season: 17-65, last in Central, missed the playoffs.

Big offseason pickups: G/F LeBron James (rookie), G Kevin Ollie, G J.R. Bremer

Key offseason losses: None

In a perfect world ... : James is everything the hype says he is, Ricky Davis continues to blossom and Darius Miles joins the two as the most active backcourt in the league.

Nightmare scenario: James has a normal rookie year, Davis and Miles chafe at the attention given to James, and center Zydrunas Ilgauskas has another injury-marred season.

Likely outcome: The Cavaliers will be a lot better than last season, but not quite good enough to crash the playoffs.

Chicago Bulls

Coach: Bill Cartwright (47-90 in two years, both in Chicago.)

2002-03 season: 30-52, sixth in Central, missed the playoffs.

Big offseason pickups: F Scottie Pippen, G Kendall Gill, G Kirk Hinrich (rookie)

Key offseason losses: G Jay Williams (injury)

In a perfect world ... : The Bulls continue their roll from the end of last season, Eddy Curry becomes an elite center, and Jamal Crawford has an All-Star-level season at point guard.

Nightmare scenario: Williams' leg injuries can't be made up for, Pippen continues to age before everyone's eyes, and Tyson Chandler continues to be a bust.

Likely outcome: The Bulls are on their way back, but it may not be soon enough for Cartwright to keep his job.

Atlanta Hawks

Coach: Terry Stotts (24-31 in one season)

2002-03 season: 35-47, fifth in Central, missed the playoffs.

Big offseason pickups: F Stephen Jackson, G Boris Diaw (rookie)

Key offseason losses: F Glenn Robinson

In a perfect world ... : Jason Terry continues to improve as a point guard, Shareef Abdur-Rahim returns from back surgery and new ownership uses the Terrell Brandon salary cap slot obtained in the Robinson trade to get quality talent.

Nightmare scenario: Terry struggles and rookie guard Diaw can't pick up the slack, Abdur-Rahim continues to play listlessly and Stotts, the longtime assistant in his first full season as the head coach, looks overmatched.

Likely outcome: Another long season in Buckhead.

Milwaukee Bucks

Coach: Terry Porter (first year in NBA)

2002-03 season: 42-40, fourth in Central, lost in first round to New Jersey.

Big offseason pickups: G T.J. Ford (rookie), F Joe Smith

Key offseason losses: G Sam Cassell

In a perfect world ... : Tim Thomas crisply moves into the starting lineup, Michael Redd continues as one of the league's best three-point shooters, and Joel Przybilla and Dan Gadzuric give them some solid center play.

Nightmare scenario: Ford is too small and becomes a defensive liability at point guard, Desmond Mason doesn't make people forget Ray Allen and the defense is dreadful.

Likely outcome: It's a good thing Porter shaves his head or he would start pulling the hairs out. The Bucks are easily the worst team in the East, and will struggle to win 15 games. -

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