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Cleveland Cavaliers : Five Sleepers To Watch In The East

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Five Teams To Keep An Eye On In The Eastern Conference.

NBA
Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

With the start of the NBA season three weeks away, there are various teams who—through a combination of free-agency and the 2012 NBA Draft—may make the leap from doormat to contender.

Teams in the Eastern Conference such as the Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers would make marquee acquisitions such as Joe Johnson, Andrew Bynum and Marquis Daniels.

While the Bucks, Sixers and Nets are expected to contend in the East. The five sleeper candidates featured in this slideshow have a combination of youth, talent, hunger and will most likely be under the radar for a majority of the season.

The term “sleeper” has various connations depending on how it is used, while these five teams may—or may not—contend for a playoff seed in the East, due to their upgrades made in the off-season, do not be surprised if these prospective teams have a say in who comes out of the Eastern Conference in 2012-13.

Another element that each team has is a quality backcourt—and/or—a front court that has potential to be both dominant and disruptive, while they may—or may not—be able to match up every night with the “big dogs” of the East in Miami, Brooklyn, Philadelphia or Boston, these teams also possess veteran players who will be able to guide these teams to a playoff birth.

One last trait that these sleepers possess is veteran coaches, with two of the teams having coaches that have taken teams to the NBA Finals. Teams with veteran coaches—and young talent—have the potential to be very dangerous if taken lightly, especially over a 82-game season.

With that in mind, here are the five sleepers to watch in the NBA’s Eastern Conference in 2012-13.

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Cleveland Cavaliers (21-45, 4th in the Central)

Cleveland Cavaliers
Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

Cleveland, who would lose veterans in Antwan Jamieson and Ramon Sessions in both free agency and trade, would draft talent on the wing in shooting guard Dion Waiters fourth overall out of Syracuse and trade for the rights to former North Carolina center, Tyler Zeller.

In addition to addressing the wing and front court, the Cavs would add interior depth in claiming Jon Leuer off waivers, sign rookie power forward Kevin Jones, sign free agent swingman C.J. Miles, and provide depth behind Kyrie Irving in Jeremy Pargo.

Led by former “Showtime” point guard and NBA champion, Byron Scott, look for the Cavs to get out on transition more in 2012-13 and with a promising frontcourt of second-year power forward Tristan Thompson, Alonzo Gee and Brazilian center Anderson Varejao, do not be shocked if the “Wine And Gold” battle for the eighth seed in the East right down to the last day.

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Toronto Raptors (23-43, 4th in the Atlantic)

Toronto Raptors
Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Thanks to the off-season acquisitions of Landry Fields, Kyle Lowry, and the selection of former University Of Washington shooting guard, Terence Ross, the Raptors—along with the fore-mentioned Cavaliers—have a legitimate shot of contending for a playoff spot in the East.

Toronto, who would land Fields form the New York Knicks and Lowry from the Houston Rockets, add to a well-coached high-flying and athletic roster that contains DeMar DeRozan, Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon.

Perhaps the biggest x-factor for Toronto is a player who did not even play last season : Jona Valanciunas

Valanciunas, who would be drafted fifth overall in the 2011 NBA Draft out of Lithuania, had to wait one year before joining the Raptors due to his contract with Lithuanian basketball club, BC Lietuvos Rytas.

During his time with Rytas, Valanciunas would win various honors such as Lithuania Basketball Player Of The Year, FIBA European Young Player Of The Year and Eurocup Rising Star as he would average 10.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.

Valanciunas would also shot 63.4 percent from the field in helping lead Rytas to a third place finish in the Lithuanian Basketball League.

If Valancuinas’ Euro game translates well to the NBA, look for the Raptors to be a very dangerous opponent.

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Washington Wizards (20-46, 4th in the Southeast)

Wahington Wizards
Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

If there is any team amongst this list that may have the best starting five at each position, it is the Wizards.

The Wizards—in my opinion—have the best backcourt in point guard John Wall and rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal out of Florida.

Washington also boasts the best frontcourt, which is a combination of veteran grit and championship pedigree in Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza.

The Wizards depth is probably their biggest strength—and will be tested in Wall’s absences—as they have quality talent in Chris Singleton, Jordan Crawford, Shelvin Mack and Jan Vesely.

Wall, who will be out for eight weeks due to a patella injury, will most likely go with a backcourt of Crawford and Beal.

Once Wall returns, the potentially deadly backcourt duo of him alongside Beal and Washington’s underrated—yet dominant—front court, will enable the Wizards to challenge for the sixth seed.

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Detroit Pistons (25-41, 4th in the Central)

Detroit Pistons
Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

While not as talented as Washington, Toronto and Cleveland, The Detroit Pistons, thanks to the off-season pickups of Corey Maggette, Vyachelsav Kravstov and the solid drafting of Andre Drummond, Khris Middleton and Kim English, Detroit may be the very definition of “sleeper”

The Pistons have both veteran leadership in Charlie Villanueva, Tayshaun Prince and a veteran coach in Lawrence Frank, who has taken teams to the NBA Finals—much like Cleveland’s Scott.

The key to whether or not the Pistons will make a run in the East is Drummond and whether or not he pans out by living up to his his draft slot or becomes the second coming Hasheem Thabeet.

Blessed with a deep bench that includes Austin Daye, Will Bynum, Jason Maxiell along with Middleton, Villanueva, Kravtsov, Singler and English.

It would be wise to not sleep on the Pistons.

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Charlotte Bobcats (7-59, 5th in the Southeast)

Charlotte Bobcats
Sam Sharpe-US PRESSWIRE

Before reading, I am sure that if you have made it to this slide, you are wondering, “How in the heck are the Bobcats a sleeper?” right?

That is a very good question and to answer that, let me first say that last year is last year, and that while the Bobcats would set a NBA record for worst winning percentage (.106), 2011-12 looks much brighter for Charlotte.

In looking at the projected starting lineup for the Bobcats, one can see hope and potential, while this may not translate into wins or a playoff birth, The Bobcats have—perhaps—one of the most underrated backcourts in the NBA in Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon.

Charlotte also boasts a—very—underrated front line that has size, strength and athleticism in second year power forward Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood and No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Consider this : Last years team used 29 different lineups. The most common had :

PG : D.J. Augustin

SG : Gerald Henderson

C : Bismack Biyombo

PF : Tyrus Thomas

SF : Corey Maggette

With head coach Paul Silas being fired and former St John’s assistant Mike Dunlap named new head coach, word out of Charlotte is that Kidd-Gilchrist is already asserting his dominance and new players such as Gordon, Sessions, Haywood and Desagana Diop are making their presence felt.

Based on this and their off-season additions, the Bobcats lineup should look something like this:

PG : Ramon Sessions

SG : Ben Gordon

C : Brendan Haywood

SF : Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

With these new players and coach, Charlotte may make the best case for addition thru subtraction.

One must also consider that with that with the exception of the defending NBA champion, Miami Heat, Joe Johnson going to the Brooklyn Nets and Dwight Howard going to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Southeast Division is perhaps the most wide open division in the NBA.

A team as young and as hungry to redeem itself after a seven win season as the Bobcats makes for a deadly opponent.

While it may be easy to dismiss and snicker at the notion of the Bobcats being a sleeper, Charlotte may not contend for a playoff sport in 2012-13, but if teams are not careful and overlook them as a “easy W”, it could be the Bobcats getting the last laugh in the win column.

Robert D. Cobb is the NBA Network Manager for Rant Media Network, Featured Writer of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Featured Columnist for the Cleveland Browns and Arsenal Gunners.

In addition to covering the NBA, I also cover MLB, NFL, NHL and Champions League soccer news, rumors and opinions, please follow me on Twitter at @RobertCobb_76