Where do the Brooklyn Nets Now Rank in the Eastern Conference?

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On Tuesday we took a look at how the big signing of Dwight Howard by the Houston Rockets impacts the makeup of the Western Conference. The other big splash in player movement occurred with the Brooklyn Nets trading for two-thirds of the old ‘Boston Big Three’, acquiring Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The question becomes realistically where that now puts the formerly moribund Nets franchise in the Eastern Conference next season. On paper and based on last year, we think this moves still leaves the Nets as the fourth best team in the Eastern Conference again. Who is above them?

Miami Heat

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If you ever watched NWA wrestling in the 1980s, you would see Ric Flair in a glittery robe and probably wearing a large gold championship belt. Every interview, Flair would spell out the nature of competition to the world. In Flair’s estimation “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.”

However you may feel about the Miami Heat right now, they are the two-time defending NBA Champions. More importantly, since LeBron James signed with the Heat, they have never missed an NBA Finals. They lost to the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 but promptly won the next two. If there has not been a different Eastern Conference Champion since 2010, you can not really put any team above the Heat until it is proven on court.

The Heat are returning almost their entire core. They will also fill out their roster with veterans who only want to put a ring on their résumé. Beyond the Big Three, there is an emerging Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, and Chris Andersen has been embraced by the South Beach Community. This is not a guarantee that the Heat will be back again, but a preseason prediction of the Nets above them does not seem very plausible.

Indiana Pacers

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If you watched their series the last two seasons, you could have reasonably believed that the Pacers would be able to beat the Heat and advance. In the 2013 playoffs, the Pacers pushed the Heat to the limit in the Eastern Conference Finals. In the coming year, the Pacers seed should match their ability. Everyone is re-signed and they have managed to get Chris Coleman from the New York Knicks. More importantly, they did that with Larry Bird taking a year off from being the Pacers President. Bird has returned.

Barring another historic win streak by the Miami Heat, the Pacers know the value of home court advantage and the Heat may well be looking up at the Pacers in the playoff seeding. Yes, the Pacers are good enough to steal the number one seed away from the Miami Heat. That leaves very little room for the Nets in the two-step dance at the top of the Eastern Conference.

Chicago Bulls

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First of all, you could reasonably make the argument that the Nets would fall to fourth in the Eastern Conference underneath the Chicago Bulls even without the return of Derrick Rose at point guard. However the people with the paychecks that Derrick Rose really cares about (the endorsers) are pushing him to return. Rose may be able to ignore fans, his own teammates, and the front office: he will not ignore his shoe deal. Everything in our society is quickly forgotten. If Rose does not return to Rookie of the Year or MVP form, someone might start putting Kyrie Irving in a commercial. Therefore, Rose will be back next year as soon as possible.

This may not make the Bulls the class of the Eastern Conference. However, it is almost impossible to argue that they are not in the top three. So even with the big move by the Brooklyn Nets, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where they finish any higher than they did this past season, fourth in the East.