Steinmetz: Celtics’ trio the class of the East

There may be a few more transactions trickling out of free agency this summer, but for the most part, the NBA landscape is set for the 2008-09 season.

Last week, we ranked which teams in the Western Conference had the best cores moving forward.

This week, the Eastern Conference:

1. Boston: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen. This threesome has another year left, two tops. After that Danny Ainge will need to give Kevin McHale another call.

2. Cleveland: LeBron James. General manager Danny Ferry has done an awful job of filling in around James. But the nice thing about James is that all it will take is one right move to be in business. Maybe Ferry should call McHale.

3. Washington: Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler. Conventional wisdom is that this trio won’t be good enough to get the Wizards to the Eastern Conference finals. Not so fast.

4. Philadelphia: Elton Brand, Lou Williams, Andre Iguodala. Obviously, Philly has to re-sign Iguodala, but if/when it does, the Sixers will be set for the next half-dozen years. But they need to do more.

5. Orlando: Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu. Until Howard becomes a dominant force on offense, the Magic will linger here.

6. Detroit: Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton, Jason Maxiell, Rodney Stuckey. The Pistons are transitioning, no doubt. It’s been six consecutive seasons making it to the Eastern Conference finals or beyond. That’s too tough to maintain.

7. Miami: Dwyane Wade, Michael Beasley. Wade looks pretty good on Team USA. If he’s all the way back, the Heat have one of the best cornerstones in the Eastern Conference.

8. Toronto: Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon, Jermaine O’Neal. Bosh is solid and Calderon is becoming a factor. But unless O’Neal has four or five years left at a high level, the Raptors don’t have enough.

9. Atlanta: Joe Johnson, Al Horford, J.R. Smith. Obviously, the verdict is still out about whether Smith is a part of the team’s foundation. If he is, the Hawks might have a little something. A big if.

10. Charlotte: Emeka Okafor, Jason Richardson, Gerald Wallace. This isn’t a bad core at all. And it’s going to look a lot better playing under Larry Brown.

11. Milwaukee: Andrew Bogut, Richard Jefferson, Michael Redd, Mo Williams. That’s a middle-of-the-pack core, at best, in any league.

12. Chicago: Luol Deng, Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon. We’ll see about Gordon, but with the exception of Rose, there doesn’t seem to be anything special here.

13. Indiana: Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy Jr. The Pacers are poised to have some flexibility, which should allow them to add to this twosome. But for now … ?

14. New Jersey: Vince Carter, Devin Harris, Yi Jianlan, Brook Lopez. If Carter is your team’s best player, particularly at this stage of his career, you’re in big trouble.

15. New York: Danilo Gallinari, Jamal Crawford, David Lee. Good luck, Donnie Walsh.

Matt Steinmetz is the NBA insider for Warriors telecasts on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. E-mail him at msteinmetz@sfexaminer.com.

basketballGolden State WarriorsNBAsports

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