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Afternoon Thought - How "Expert" Are ESPN.com's Recent Conference Predictions?

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With the NBA regular season around the corner, Franchise takes a quick look at the first of what likely will represent a bunch of interesting projections regarding the Eastern Conference Standings...

Yesterday I got talking with one of our followers on Twitter regarding a recent ESPN.com piece.

As most of you probably will have seen by now, this piece, an amalgmation of individual "expert" predictions, has the Raptors finishing in ninth spot next season, just outside of the playoff picture.

To most fans, with the moves made this off-season, a ninth place finish seems out of the question.

My point via Twitter, was that there are still so many questions about not only the Raps, but also clubs like Washington, Miami, Philly and Chicago, that it's nearly impossible to accurately forecast what the final Eastern Conference standings will look like.

Let's start with the Raptors.

To me on paper, as I argued last month, this team looks to be locked into not only a playoff spot, but perhaps even as high as a fifth or (gasp) fourth seed. Realistically I think the team's defense will have them finishing in the 6 or 7 spot but in any event, a playoff birth will be theirs.

However there really are no guarantees.

As much of an upgrade as there appears to be talent-wise going into the season, this team still needs to prove that the new pieces all fit, that they can play defence and rebound the basketball, and that they can stay reasonably healthy.

On top of that, for things to go really well, players like Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan need to take their games to another level (or a first yet surprisingly "better than expected" level in DeMar's case), and it would be nice for additions like Amir Johnson and Marco Belinelli to provide major boosts as well.

So in short, a lot still has to go right.

Remember, going into last season, many felt that the Raptors were a playoff lock even if Jermaine couldn't stay healthy.

We all know how that turned out.

And then again, the Raptors aren't the only ones immune to these types of questions.

-If Mr. Wade gets hurt, does anyone actually think the Miami Heat have a hope in hell of making the playoffs?

-Forget the Raptors, can the Wizards play D and can Gilbert Arenas return to his pre-surgery self?

-How about the Bulls? Year-after-year the NBA is filled with clubs who make playoff noise and who look to build on that the following season, yet fall flat on their faces. The Bulls have done that already a few seasons ago, will it happen again this year?

-And who knows what to expect from Philly!? The Elton Brand experiment blew up last season as badly as the Jermaine O'Neal one did (arguably worse considering the hefty price still attached to the former Clipper) and now there's no Andre Miller running the show.

The point here is that maybe more than any season I can remember in the past few, after Orlando, I have no idea what to expect out of the East. I mean, I think that Cleveland and Boston will line-up behind Orlando standing-wise but can anyone say for certain that the Shaq and Rasheed experiments will work either?

Furthermore, the ESPN predictions end up looking a bit strange because of the projected games won by each team. Will a 39 game winning team make the playoffs in the East this year? I doubt it, but according to ESPN, two teams that hit that mark will be in the playoff final picture however the Raps, also a predicted 39 game winner, will not.

Really, this piece from ESPN.com, much like others I expect to emerge over the next few weeks, are simply fodder for discussion. As it stands, one could argue that teams like Chicago, Miami, Toronto, Washington, Philly and maybe even Detroit finish anywhere from fifith to tenth, and I could probably find myself nodding in agreement to some extent...

...and it probably won't be until March or later that we'll really get a good idea of how the playoff picture in the East should shake out.

FRANCHISE