The first half of our super duper early Eastern Conference forecast looked at those teams that reached the playoffs this season. Now we examine those currently thinking about the draft lottery.
Indiana - GM Larry Bird didn't have enough resources to replace the massive amount of wing production lost following All-Star Paul George's leg injury and Lance Stephenson leaving in free agency. Yet this tough-minded group battled throughout, coming up just shy of reaching the playoffs. The organization made it clear they prefer a future without hulking center Roy Hibbert, who is something of an oddity in this era of free-flowing offenses. How they handle this delicate scenario likely determines whether the Pacers can compete for a fourth Eastern Conference finals appearance in five seasons or not. Expect a return to the playoffs regardless
Miami - The Heat never had the chance to incorporate point Goran Dragic with their main group because of Chris Bosh's season-ending blood clot situation. Should Miami keep Dragic and fellow free agent Luol Deng, return a healthy Bosh, nurse Dwyane Wade through another campaign and add help inside, this squad could be a scary good next season. Plenty of ifs, but sincere top-4 potential as well. Miami keeps its top-10 pick if they aren't jumped in the lottery. Otherwise, Philadelphia gets the selection.
Charlotte - Injuries across the roster -- and the disastrous first season with Stephenson -- ultimately torpedoed the Hornets' hopes of a second straight postseason berth. Whether they retain potential free agent Al Jefferson (player option) determines whether Charlotte rebuilds or reloads. Mo Williams is an unrestricted free agent while fellow guard Gerald Henderson has a player option. Head coach Steve Clifford is the right man for the job. Knowing which lineup he can use for any given game would be helpful.
Detroit - Greg Monroe played out the final year of his contract. Now the former Georgetown star becomes one of the most coveted free agents this summer. Maybe he returns, maybe not, but expect the skilled power forward to test the market. Restricted free agent Reggie Jackson is another offseason priority. Center Andre Drummond anchors the middle and shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope provides plenty of perimeter punch.
Orlando - From Victor Oladipo to Elfrid Payton to Nik Vucevic, there is young talent throughout the roster. Another high pick comes this season. The issue has been taking the next step. The Magic's coaching search will be among the most interesting in the league. Their plan with restricted free agent Tobias Harris bears watching as well.
Philadelphia - Good luck projecting the future here, at least not until management begins making moves for the present. Still, don't dismiss the plan. Philly has tons of assets, including big men Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid plus a likely top-5 pick this season. Don't expect a dramatic rise in wins, but don't discount their long-term plan either.
New York - Here's a breakdown of the Knicks' assets: Carmelo Anthony, a top-5 pick, cap space, Phil Jackson's reputation and the lure of the Big Apple. Maybe with the right moves they contend for the playoffs. We'll get back to you on that.