NBA Preview: The East

Eastern Conference:

  1. Boston Celtics- 55-27

The Celtics appeared to be a team on the upswing following a loss to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, rather than run back the same team that was humiliated by the Cavaliers, they completely revamped their roster, only returning 4 players. Over the course of the offseason they most notably signed Gordon Hayward, traded for Kyrie Irving and Marcus Morris, and drafted Jayson Tatum. There is little doubt that the Celtics will be a more talented team than last season, but with so many new players, it may take the roster time to gel. A projected starting five would likely include Irving, Morris, and Hayward, as well as either Jaylen Brown, who figures to improve after a limited though promising rookie year, or defensive specialist Marcus Smart, as well as veteran big man Al Horford, who shined in last year’s playoffs. The Celtics figure to roll to the top of the Eastern Conference for the second straight season, but fans of the green know best that the regular season is not what counts.

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers- 53-29

The Cavs look to get back to the promised land of a championship after being dominated by the Golden State Warriors in last year’s finals. Their season will likely hinge on whether new addition Isaiah Thomas can recover from his hip injury in time to contribute; luckily for Cleveland it will face little pressure to succeed in the regular season in a weak Eastern Conference. He will have large shoes to fill in Finals hero Kyrie Irving, but he isn’t Cleveland’s only addition: Derrick Rose and Jae Crowder both figure to contribute, while veterans like Jose Calderon will add to the bench’s depth. Cleveland faces two tough tasks in the coming season: beating the Warriors, and convincing Lebron James to stay past the end of his contract. Both seem unlikely at the moment, but then again, so did beating the winningest team in NBA history.

  1. Washington Wizards- 53-29

The Wizards have locked up their core of John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter after Wall signed the $201 million “supermax” extension. The question remains, though, of whether that core will ever be good enough to contend for a championship. Washington made few changes to their roster, but they finally managed to pick up a passable backup point guard in Tim Frazier, a place where they were exposed in last season’s playoffs. Overall, the Wizards figure to improve if only because of a weakened Eastern Conference, and they seek to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1979.

  1. Toronto Raptors- 47-35

The Raptors managed to return their two star free agents in Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. However, they lost much of their depth, as Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker walked during the offseason. They figure to keep declining from their peak in the 15-16 season, as Demar Derozan’s inefficiency becomes an increasingly large problem. Their starting lineup projects to be Lowry, Derozan, Ibaka, Jonas Valencuinas, and new addition CJ Miles. Last year showed that the Raptors pose little threat to the top teams in the conference in the playoffs, and this year will not likely show much of a difference.

  1. Milwaukee Bucks- 46-36

Giannis Antetokounmpo is already one of the best players in the NBA at only 22 years old, giving the Bucks plenty of hope both now and in the future. They start several more talented players, including Rookie of the Year point guard Malcolm Brogdon, shooting guard Khris Middleton and power forward Jabari Parker. However, they still are very young, and don’t have a whole lot of depth off the bench. Last year showed that the Bucks’ defensive prowess makes them dangerous against contenders in the playoffs, and Giannis gives them the star power to compete with the best. Even if they don’t advance past the first round of the playoffs this year, their future is bright for Milwaukee.

  1. Miami Heat- 45-37

After an 11-30 start seemed to predict that the Heat would be at the top of the lottery last season, a combination of health, luck, and exceptional play propelled Miami to a 41-41 finish, barely missing the playoffs. It may seem that the newfound success will continue with the health and emergence of Dion Waiters, but the success also coincided with many of the rest days that plagued games throughout the second half of the season. The Heat plan to start Waiters, Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, Justise WInslow, and James Johnson, with additions Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo coming off the bench. They should be more consistent next season, but the Heat figure to not be more than a mid-tier playoff team in the coming year.

  1. Charlotte Hornets- 42-40

After disappointing season last year, Charlotte figures to return in the coming year. They notably return borderline all-star point guard Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, a solid, though overpaid shooting guard Nicolas Batum, and defensive specialist Michael Kidd-Gilchrist . They acquired Dwight Howard before the draft; another solid albeit overpaid player. They also managed to draft Malik Monk with the 11th pick, which many considered to be a steal. With this core, Charlotte should be able to easily make the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference, but most likely caps out at that.

  1. Detroit Pistons- 38-44

The Pistons had a multitude of unfortunate circumstances last season, Reggie Jackson’s injury and Andre Drummond’s struggles chief among them. They acquired one of the best on-ball defenders in the league in Avery Bradley, and draft pick Luke Kennard gives them a strong young shooter for the coming years. Combined, these factors should allow them to squeeze them into the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference.

  1. Philadelphia 76ers- 37-45

The Philadelphia 76ers have one of the brightest young cores in the league, with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz all being drafted as a result of “The Process.” However, none of them are older than 23 years old, and they have played 32 combined professional games. They are supplemented by J.J. Redick, on a 1-year $23 million deal, and several other young players, including Dario Saric. However, the Sixers’ young players will likely have a hard time playing against seasoned veterans across the league. Additionally, their core has not shown that it can stay healthy, or even that it is effective at an NBA level at all. They figure to be decent this season, but their true potential will figure to be tested in future ones.

  1. Indiana Pacers- 34-48

The Pacers continued their decline to a fringe playoff team last year, and traded Paul George for a very disappointing return of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. They will likely struggle in the coming year, as so much of their core is very young and admittedly not as promising as that of many other similar teams like Philadelphia. Myles Turner appears to be turning into a franchise cornerstone, but Oladipo hasn’t made the leap that his contract would indicate, and he faces another situation where he probably won’t be the primary option- as of now, that appears to be Lance Stephenson- and at some point his situation is less of a problem than he is. Altogether, the Pacers will be a playoff sleeper for next season, but also risk picking in the top ten of the draft for the first time since 1989.

  1. Atlanta Hawks- 32-50

Atlanta looks to finally miss the playoffs this season, for the first time since 2007. They have several strong players, including Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore, but after losing Dwight Howard in a draft day trade, do not have the depth nor the talent to contend for a playoff spot. After the mismanagement of several free agents, including Paul Millsap, who they reportedly didn’t even make an offer to, their descent from a magical 60 win season just a few years ago has been swift and brutal. They figure to start Schroder, Bazemore, Taurean Prince, Eryan Ilyasova, and Dewayne Dedmon, nowhere near a good enough lineup to contend for a playoff spot.

  1. Brooklyn Nets- 29-53

The Nets will finish the final season of their nightmare trade with the Boston Celtics this year. They finally have hope for the future, acquiring former 2nd overall pick D’Angelo Russell and receiving multiple draft picks to take on DeMarre Carroll’s contract. This year they start a group of reasonably talented, though overpaid, players (Carroll, Timofey Mozgov, and Allen Crabbe), which will be enough to propel them out of the bottom of the conference (much to the chagrin of the Cavaliers), and their future has a direction, much more than could be said of their last few years.

  1. Orlando Magic- 27-55

The Magic completed another terrible season in 2017, and figure to do the same in the coming year. However, first round draft pick Jonathan Isaac gives them hope as a future superstar player, while Jonathan Simmons gives them an elite wing defender. Other than those, they have very few talented players, but a multitude of failed draft picks, including Mario Hezonja and Elfrid Payton, and even in a very weak Eastern Conference, they will struggle in the coming year.

  1. New York Knicks- 27-55

The Knicks finally seem like they are set up well for the future, after drafting Frank Ntilikina and retaining Kristaps Porzingis (despite Phil Jackson’s wishes). They will likely trade Carmelo Anthony, even if it isn’t for quite the return they are hoping for, which will set them up to acquire another young player in the draft to supplement Ntilikina, Porzingis, and Willy Hernangomez. They did make another blunder in the offseason, vastly overpaying Tim Hardaway Jr., but like the Nets, the Knicks seem to have found a direction, and unlike the Nets, they have the young talent to capitalize on it.

  1. Chicago Bulls- 23-59

Chicago has gone into full-on tank mode following a .500 season, trading away star Jimmy Butler for a seemingly tiny return of Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. None of them appear to be promising prospects at this point. A buyout of Dwayne Wade will drop the Bulls even further down the standings, and they will play a variety of mediocre players, including Bobby Portis, Robin Lopez, Dunn, and new acquisition Quincy Pondexter among others. These factors will push the Bulls into last place in a weak Eastern Conference, priming them for a top draft pick.

by Will Henshon

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