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Analysis: Fluid East landscape for Nets

7/11/2014

There’s been a seismic shift in the Eastern Conference with LeBron James' move to Cleveland.

How does this affect the Brooklyn Nets? Let’s take a look at the immediate landscape in the East for the Nets:

Cleveland rocks: LeBron's move back home makes the Cavs instant contenders. But things are still fluid. Reports are the Cavs are going to make a run at trying to trade for Kevin Love, which would certainly make Cleveland the obvious front-runner to win the East and the hot team to pick to win it all.

But let’s say the Cavs don’t get Love and add just a few more veterans such as a Ray Allen-type to fill out the supporting cast. If that’s the case, the Cavs, Bulls and Pacers are likely the top three teams in the East.

We have to see how things shake out for the Bulls. If Carmelo Anthony ends up in Chicago, the Bulls could leapfrog the Cavs (assuming Love doesn’t end up with James). Also, we have to keep an eye on where Pau Gasol ends up. If Gasol winds up with an East team like the Bulls or Knicks, that is an upgrade for that team as well.

If the Knicks keep Anthony and then are able to find a way to add Gasol, the Knicks would move up. And you can’t forget about a young and up-and-coming Washington squad as well.

The Truth for the Nets: If Love doesn’t end up with the Cavs, the Nets have perhaps one thing going for them –- maybe this is where their experience will pay off. The Nets would need a lot of breaks. But if Cleveland enters the season with James, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao and their No. 1 picks Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, the Cavs could still have some growing pains. Even LeBron admitted as much in his essay in Sports Illustrated on tempering championship expectations for this season.

As great as Irving is, he and young talents like Waiters still must learn how to win, although they'll certainly benefit from James' help.

If the Nets find a way to re-sign Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett comes back for one more season, Brooklyn's roster would go into this postseason with two full seasons playing together. The Nets may not be favorites in the East, but they can remain in the discussion if the Bulls and Cavs don't make any more significant additions.

Deron and Brook: Brooklyn will hope Deron Williams and Brook Lopez will come back stronger and healthier from surgery.

They have to learn a new system, but with Lionel Hollins coaching vets such as Joe Johnson, and Jarrett Jack perhaps being a key contributor, the Nets could be a threat. In many ways, the Nets did not have a healthy and confident Williams in the playoffs last season. And Lopez was lost for the season back in December.

The Bulls (especially if Melo stays with the Knicks and Chicago doesn't make any major upgrades) still have to see if Derrick Rose can come back healthy. The Pacers have their flaws. The Cavs have LeBron but also have tantalizing but unproven young talent. The Wizards and Raptors, both young teams, also have to take another step forward. The road to the Finals, though, doesn’t run through Miami anymore.

Window closing: If anything, LeBron’s move might make it more imperative for the Nets to keep Pierce in the fold and pay him. Remember, Brooklyn created basically a two-year window to contend when it dealt for Pierce and Garnett last summer. Cleveland’s future looks incredible. But for this season alone, the Nets’ experience could pay dividends while the Cavs learn how to win.

The Nets just have to hope Love doesn’t end up in Cleveland and that Anthony doesn’t go to Chicago. The next week or two of free agency will likely define exactly where the Nets stand in the East.