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East Looks Less Pathetic

Is the Eastern Conference really that bad anymore? With the Kevin Garnett-to-Boston deal expected to be completed soon, I have to ask myself that question because the East doesn't appear to be so wretched - on paper, at least - when I take a look at the player movement this summer.

Only a few months ago, I begged for many of the low-level, all-star caliber talents in the Western Conference to switch conferences to improve the balance of power and looky here - the East has welcomed Zach Randolph, Ray Allen, Jason Richardson, Rashard Lewis, possibly Garnett and Smush Parker (Okay, I'm kidding about Smush). I have to remind myself that I'm only looking at a list of names on paper, because these players have yet to actually hit a basketball court and blend with their new teammates.

Plus, I've been down this road before; expecting the East to deliver on promise and potential only to get more slop come April. But this time, an improved East appears tangible. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and Gilbert Arenas are leading the youth movement and steadily improving. And, the surprising NBA Finals run of the Cleveland Cavaliers has given every team in the conference hope, "If LeBron can there by himself, we can get there, too - especially if we have more than one all-star!"

That being said, what does all of this player movement mean for the Washington Wizards? Well, to me, it means that simply punching a ticket to the playoffs just got a bit harder for the local five. Boston, Orlando, New York, Milwaukee, and even Charlotte - teams that finished with inferior records records to the Wizards last season - have made improvements this summer, while the Wizards have added two rookies and re-signed DeShawn Stevenson.

Arenas and Caron Butler are both coming back from injuries, Antawn Jamsion is on the wrong side of 30, and word on the street is that general manager Ernie Grunfeld hasn't received anything resembling a legitimate offer for Juan Carlos Navaro (i.e. nothing but second-round picks and excess foliage). Since the team is walking the tightrope with the luxury tax and has yet to sign Andray Blatche, the Wizards' chances of vastly improving are limited.

Unless Arenas comes back with a "Takeover:The Remix" Season, the Wizards will be hardpressed to stake their claim among the East's elite.

If we assume that Boston is a legitimate contender in the East with Garnett, which playoff team is booted from the top eight this season? Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago should still be in the hunt. New Jersey is expecting to have Nenad Krstic back with Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson. Toronto didn't get any worse. Miami's success hinges on the health of Wade - and it's looking like it may take awhile on his recovery from surgeries on his knee and shoulder. Orlando will be interesting since it essentially traded Grant Hill and Darko Milicic for Lewis.

So, where would you rank the Wizards in the East right now? Are they worse than seventh? Higher than fourth? Somewhere in the middle?

By Michael Lee  |  July 31, 2007; 11:25 AM ET
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