A preview of the weak NBA Eastern Conference. Which teams will continue to be in the cellar of the conference? Which teams will make that leap into the playoffs, and become contenders? And which team walks away with the number one seed?
15. Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets have consistently been bottom feeders of the Eastern Conference, and that was with All-Star Kemba Walker running the show. Now that Walker escaped Charlotte and now in Boston, the Hornets roster is anemic and void of any impact players. The roster is full of over paid players with at best average NBA talent, and the other half unproven kids who have shown very little promise of developing into impact players. When the best player on your team is Terry Rozier, the season is going to be brutally awful. Outside of watching to see the development of Malik Monk, Miles Bridges, and PJ Washington, there is nothing for Hornets fans to look forward to. Expect more years looking up at the rest of the NBA.
14. Cleveland Cavs
I’m not too sure what, if any direction the Cavs are going with their current roster and building blocks. They are currently stuck with the recently extended Kevin Love who has been in steady decline for years now. When LeBron James was apart of the team, Love made all the sense in the world, but in a rebuilding stage, Love is useless outside of being a mentor.
As for the building blocks, I don’t see the two guards being an ideal fit. Colin Sexton and Darius Garland both have potential to grow into good guards down the line, but for the time being, there’s going to be a lot of rough outings. This Cavs team got destroyed by essentially the Celtics Gleague team in the preseason. There was a point they had more turnovers than made shots. If you need a snapshot of what to expect this season, look no further than that preseason game.
13. New York Knicks
The Knicks in the lottery again? Missing out on top free agents after promising the fan base 2max free agents? Ending up with five power forwards? Yeah things are normal here in the NBA this season.
But seriously speaking the Knicks struck out this offseason on the top tier guys, but they brought in some talented vets to lead the way for the young guys. Julius Randle was a sneaky good move. He had a break out season with New Orleans and should only get better as the number one option in Madison Square Garden. Look for Randle to have a 23-10-3 stat line. Other vets like Marcus Morris, Wayne Ellington, Taj Gibson, and Reggie Bullock will help bring a toughness and bully ball mindset back to New York. Even though the talent is lacking, the Knicks won’t get embarrassed with this veteran leadership and mindset.
The year is really about developing RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. If any of those young core players can show glimpses of all star potential I think the Knicks front office and fans will be happy.
12. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks will be among the teams who make the largest leap in record from the season prior. They have two very good young building blocks in Trae Young and John Collins who both should take another step in their development this season. I like the incoming rookies too in De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish. I feel like both players but particularly Hunter can be impact players for them this season. The additions of Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe brings even more veteran leadership to go with the ultimate veteran Vince Carter. The addition of Jabari Parker could be a big one if he can stay healthy. They are still a year away from being a playoff team but I like the direction of the franchise.
11. Washington Wizards
Bradley Beal is in such an impossible situation. He accepted the 2 year- $72 million extension because why not, but his team is not going anywhere this season, mainly due to his co star John Wall’s injuries. Beal is going to be one of the few, if not the only all star in the East to not make the playoffs. The front office is handcuffed by the Wall contract so getting talent around Beal has been impossible and there is only so much one man can do. The Wizards will win games off the greatness of Beal but eventually fall short of the playoffs. Who knows Beal could be dealt mid-season.
10. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls very easily could find themselves in the playoffs with the team they have constructed. A lot of young talent with Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter and rookie Colby White leading the way. My only issue with the roster is the lack of veteran leadership who has been there done that in a playoff push. Outside of Thad Young, there’s not much veteran presence on the team. But if LaVine takes that next step to being an all star they can surprise some people and sneak into the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference.
09. Orlando Magic
The magic found their way into the playoffs a year ago, and may have gotten better this season, but I feel like they come up just short this season as teams who were behind them a year ago have improved immensely. They still have most of the team in tact with the headliners being all star big Nikola Vucevic, and Aaron Gordon at the forward spot. They should be fighting for the 8th seed all year, but I think will fall short.
08. Miami Heat
The move by Pat Riley to swoop in and get Jimmy Butler in free agency might be the reason the Heat return to the playoffs this season. Butler, Riley and coach Erik Spolestra are all about winning so there should be no issues along the way. Rookie Tyler Herro looks to be the steal of the draft so far, putting on a show during the preseason. With Dragic, Justice Winslow, and Bam Adebayo as supporting cast, Butler should get the Heat into the playoffs.
07. Detroit Pistons
I really like the Pistons roster this season. The inside is anchored by Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, two potential all star bigs who showed they can co-exist last season. The move that really puts the Pistons over the top for me is the addition of Derrick Rose. Rose is coming off an impressive year, a resurgence if you will. He had one of the most memorable performances last year when he dropped 50 in a game.
The rest of the team is filled out with good to average role players like Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, and Markieff Morris. In this conference I expect those role players in combination with Griffin, Drummond and Rose to make the playoffs.
06. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets made two huge splashes this offseason when they landed Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. The expectations for Nets will be minimal with Durant missing the entire season rehabbing his Achilles. But with the winning culture head coach Kenny Atkinson has developed, along with the returning players from a year ago, the Nets have a solid foundation for Irving to join. I expect Irving in the bright lights of Brooklyn to ball out like its Rucker’s park, putting on a show nightly for the hometown crowd. The real work begins next year when Durant returns.
05. Boston Celtics
The Celtics are in for a year of transitioning and change. Losing Kyrie Irving and Al Horford in a single offseason is a tough thing to over come, but the Celtics weathered the storm. Replacing Irving with Walker saves the Celtics a bit. Sure Walker is not as good as Irving, but it’s not a drastic drop in production. The bigger issue is the lose of Horford, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
For the Celtics, the growth of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will determine how good the Celtics will be. Tatum who took a step back last season, needs to develop into that go to scorer, to go along with Walker. Brown needs to step up and play like a $30 million caliber player. And it’s going to be important that the Celtics see Gordon Hayward, a full two years after his injury, get back to being a two way, efficient player.
04. Toronto Raptors
The defending champion Raptors will forever be in the good graces with the Canadian fan base. The rise of Pascal Siakam into an all star is something the Raptors will need to have happen if they plan on contending. The whole team outside of Kawhi Leonard, returned so the continuity and team game will be in tact. But the loss of Leonard is something no team can withstand without seeing a drop off in success. With that said, they performed great without Kawhi in the regular season so I expect them to accumulate wins. Lowry, Ibaka, Gasol, and Siakam are more than enough to get through the regular season and finish a top 4 seed.
03. Indiana Pacers
The Victor Oladipo injury a season ago may have made people forget about the Pacers, but Oladipo is back, and the team around him got stronger in his absence. This offseason the Pacers made an under the radar move by signing former Bucks guard and rookie of the year Malcom Brogdon. Brogdon is a good playmaker and shooter but what he really brings to Indiana is elite defense. The defensive backcourt of Oladipo and Brogdon will lock down perimeter players night in and night out, even giving the best of offensive players problems. Myles Turner and Domontas Sabonis man the front court, creating a good balance between guard and big play. Head coach Nate McMillan has his guys play with effort and hustle every game, which is all you need in most regular season games. The Pacers will surprise a lot of teams on their way to become a true Eastern Conference contender.
02. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers are on the short list of teams who legitimately have a chance to win the NBA championship this season. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are two of the top 20 players in the league and will get the 76ers to the playoffs strictly off talent. Then you add the scoring threat of Tobias Harris, the defensive prowess of Josh Richardson and Al Horford, the 76ers are the most talented team in the East. Shooting will be a concern come playoff time, but the 76ers will run through the East during the regular season with ease. Expect Embiid to miss games as his health is the priority, and for Simmons to show some what of a jump shot. Philly will end with one of the best records in the league.
01. Milwaukee Bucks
The reigning number one seed of the Eastern Conference, Milwaukee Bucks will pick up where they left off. On his way tearing through the Eastern Conference, Giannis Antetokounmpo will look to repeat as league MVP, and likely finish amongst the final vote getters. His right hand man Khris Middleton is back with his max extension and should continue to get better as the second option. The Bucks will miss Brogdon come playoff time, but they’ll get through the the regular season with ease.