With the NBA season less than a month away, I will be breaking down both the Western and Eastern Conference. I will be going over major off-season moves, team projections, playoff seeding, and conference awards (MVP, DPOY, MIP, ROY, Coach of the Year, and Sixth-Man)
The Eastern Conference lost many former All-Stars to the West this offseason including Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Paul Millsap, Carmelo Anthony, and Jeff Teague. Not to mention the few signings and trades from teams such as the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics who are ultimately gearing up for one another. The East will not be a cake walk (yet), but seeing many of the stars taking their talents to the West makes the path to the finals a little less challenging. None the less, who will be the beast(s) of the East this season?
EASTERN CONFERENCE TEAM BREAKDOWN
Projected Record: 52-30
Key Off-Season Moves/Signings: Traded Kyrie Irving to Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Signed Derrick Rose, Jose Calderon and Jeff Green
How do you make an already deep roster loaded with veterans, shooters, and of course LeBron James even better? More depth! The Cavaliers are absolutely loaded this season, by shipping out rising superstar Kyrie Irving to Boston, the Cavs acquired the “King of the 4th” Isaiah Thomas, who when healthy is proven to light up defenses and score at will, Jae Crowder is an awesome on and off-ball defender, not to mention the signing of former MVP Derrick Rose and veteran Jeff Green, the Cavs are ready to rock in Cleveland and battle the likes of the Celtics and eventually the Golden State Warriors. LeBron will be LeBron, expect James to have his usual 25-27 ppg, 7-8 rpg, and 7 apg.
Projected Record: 27-55
Key Off-Season Moves/Signings: Traded Jimmy Butler to Minnesota for Zac Lavine, Kris Dunn, and Lauri Markkanen, bought out Dwyane Wade, and signed David Nwaba
The Bulls have lost their identity in the past few seasons. Chicago has shied away from their once hard-nosed defensive prowess led by Tom Thibodeau, and have been trying to play with a faster more up-tempo pace of Fred Hoiberg. The problem with Hoiberg’s philosophy is not his schemes; it is his personnel that do not match. The Bulls are in full re-build mode and are truly looking to the future with Zac Lavine and Kris Dunn, although the Bulls are in prime position to secure a top-5 pick in this upcoming draft, it will be a long, long season for Chicago and its fans.
Projected Record: 46-36
Key Off-Season Moves/Signings: Drafted D.J. Wilson
The Bucks have one of the most exciting and interesting teams in the entire NBA, led by Coach Jason Kidd, the Bucks went from lottery to playoff contenders. This season the Bucks are going to be battling for a top-4 seed in the East and with Giannis Antetokounmpo shooting for an MVP after winning the Most Improved Player award, the young Bucks look dangerous. Now one of their biggest concerns is the health of Jabari Parker, who was having a sensational year before another devastating knee injury. With a healthy Jabari, and the development of big man Thon Maker to go along side Giannis and Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, the Bucks have potential to make a huge splash this season.
Projected Record: 36-46
Key Off-Season Moves/Signings: Traded Marcus Morris to Boston for Avery Bradley, Drafted Luke Kennard
Dee-Troit Basketball! Not quite your fathers Pistons led by legendary point guards such as Isiah Thomas and Chauncey Billups, but these Pistons sure have potential to clinch a playoff spot as they did two seasons ago. Led by rebounding machine Andre Drummond and a collection of young pieces, the Pistons can compete night in and night out against their Eastern Conference peers. Reggie Jackson and Avery Bradley make up a pretty solid backcourt, although I cannot see them win 40 games, expect them to battle for that coveted 8th seed in the East.
Projected Record: 34-48
Key Off-Season Moves/Signings: Traded Paul George to OKC for Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, signed Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic, and drafted T.J. Leaf
After losing their franchise star Paul George and veteran point guard Jeff Teague, the Pacers are focusing their attention to their athletic center, Myles Turner. But will the Pacers have enough to battle for an 8th seed this season? The answer is yes, especially in the east where sub-40 wins can earn you a ticket to play in April. The Pacers have an interesting group, Lance Stephenson is poised to have a breakout year as the lead guard, I projected the Pacers at 34 wins but don’t be surprised if the “Pace Show” goes for 38 wins.
Projected Record: 51-31
Key Off-Season Moves/Signings: Traded Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Ante Zizic for Kyrie Irving, traded Avery Bradley for Marcus Morris, and signed Gordon Hayward, Drafted Jason Tatum
With power moves including the acquisitions of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, Boston is looking like a real threat to LeBron and the Cavs reign of the East. Irving brings exactly what IT4 did for the Celtics, a scoring point guard who is lethal in crunch time, pair that with an All-Star wing in Gordon Hayward, and the schemes of Brad Stevens, Boston has the right pieces to contend for a title. Now, comparing them to the West powers of the Warriors, Thunder, Rockets, and Spurs, Kyrie and Hayward might not be enough. Thankfully the Celtics have enough to at least make it to the Eastern Conference Finals/NBA Finals. I see the Celtics having another 50-win season.
New York Knicks-
Projected Record: 32-50
Key Off-Season Moves/Signings: Traded Carmelo Anthony to Thunder for Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott, Signed Tim Hardaway Jr. and Michael Beasley, Drafted Frank Ntilikina
Ah, the Knicks. The New York Knicks are a mess at the moment, by trading away Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis takes the helm as the go-to-guy in the Big Apple. With international rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina and Tim Hardaway Jr. playing his second stint in N.Y., the Knicks will be a 30-36 win team. The positive out of this scenario for New York, is that management finally made a move on the Carmelo Anthony situation by finding him a suitor for trade.
Projected Record: 29-53
Key Off-Season Moves/Signings: Traded Brook Lopez to Lakers for D’Angelo Russell, Signed DeMarre Carroll, and Allen Crabbe
The Brooklyn Nets have found a piece to finally build around in guard D’Angelo Russell. Pair Russell with Jeremy Lin, and the Nets have some formidable guards. But the lack of size and rebounding will desperately hurt Brooklyn this season. The Nets will be much more competitive this season, but unfortunately will not win more than 30 games. Look for Russell to showcase his talent and potentially go for a Most Improved Player award along the way.
Projected Record: 45-37
Key Off-Season Moves/Signings: Signed C.J. Miles, Re-Signed Kyle Lowry, Drafted OG Anunoby
The Raptors are back with a very similar core, minus DeMarre Carroll. All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have to step up once again, in order for the Raptors to even sniff the second round of the NBA Playoffs this upcoming season. C.J. Miles will provide some better outside shooting and rebounding, while Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas will protect the paint as the Raptors defensive anchors. While the top teams in the East such as the Cavs, Celtics, and Wizards improved, the Raptors stayed content and did not get any better than they were last season.
Projected Record: 35-47
Key Off-Season Moves/Signings: Drafted Markelle Fultz, signed J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson
Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, and Markelle Fultz headline a very promising and youthful Sixers squad this season. As Embiid exclaims “Trust the Process!” we have to see if these four can stay healthy all season long, Philly has potential to make a run at the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. With a good mix of veterans to mentor the young guns, the Sixers will compete with some of the league’s best teams. The lack of experience is the Achilles heel of Philly. But if they can get a good mix of Simmons-Fultz-Embiid, I don’t see why they could not make some noise.
Projected Record: 48-34
Key Off-Season Moves/Signings: Signed Mike Scott, re-signed Otto Porter Jr., and signed Jodie Meeks
The Wizards led by point guard John Wall are looking to make another deep run into the playoffs and finally crack the Eastern Conference Finals. Although the Wizards bring back the same starting five as last season, chemistry is at an all-time high and with a healthy Bradley Beal the Wizards have enough shooting and fire power to get the job done. The only weakness I see in the Wizards is their lack of bench play when Wall and Beal are sitting. During the playoffs last season, the Celtics exposed the Wizards bench during stretches. But I see Wall and Co. finishing in the top-3 in the Eastern Conference.
Projected Record: 42-40
Key Off-Season Moves/Signings: Signed Kelly Olynyk, Drafted Bam Adebayo
The Miami Heat were scorching hot in the second half of the season last year. The Heat finished 30-11 and were a few games out of clinching a playoff spot. Hassan Whiteside leads the heat this season with a similar supporting cast of Dion Waiters, Goran Dragic, and Justise Winslow. By signing Olynyk and drafting Kentucky center Bam Adebayo, the Heat now have better depth and size to compete. I see the Heat clinching a playoff spot this season. (6th-7th seed)
Projected Record: 43-39
Key Off-Season Moves/Signings: Signed Dwight Howard and drafted Malik Monk
The Hornets have a very solid team on paper this season by signing Dwight Howard in free agency and drafting an absolute scorer in Malik Monk. Charlotte has enough rebounding and fire power to compete in the East. Kemba looks to be as dynamic as ever and with a good supporting cast, look for Walker to be much more efficient. I see Charlotte finishing anywhere from 5th-7th in the East this season.
Projected Record: 30-52
Key Off-Season Moves/Signings: Drafted Jonathan Isaac and Signed Jonathan Simmons
Orlando has a young, exciting roster that features high-flyer Aaron Gordon and point guard Elfrid Payton, but the lack of experience and expectations of Frank Vogel are not going in favor of the Magic’s way. By drafting FSU’s Jonathan Isaac, the Magic have another asset to work with and by signing Jonathan Simmons, the former Spur brings hustle, heart, and grit to the team. I do not expect much from the Magic this season, but baby steps are better than no steps at all.
Projected Record: 24-58
Key Off-Season Moves/Signings: Drafted John Collins, Tyler Dorsey and Signed Dewayne Dedmon
After losing Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard, Mike Budenholzer’s Hawks are relying solely on team play and defense. Anchored by point guard Dennis Schroder, the Hawks will be scratching and clawing all year for victories. Expect the Hawks to be in the Lottery and potentially have one of the top picks in the 2018 NBA draft.
PROJECTED PLAYOFF SEEDING
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Boston Celtics
- Washington Wizards
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Toronto Raptors
- Charlotte Hornets
- Miami Heat
- Detroit Pistons
Outside Looking in- Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers
EASTERN CONFERENCE AWARDS
MVP: LeBron James (CLE)
DPOY: Avery Bradley (DET)
Most Improved Player: Myles Turner (IND)
Rookie of the Year: Ben Simmons (PHI)
Sixth Man of the Year: Robert Covington (PHI)
Coach of the Year: Jason Kidd (MIL)
Written by: Daniel Malakismail