Another NBA Season is upon us! While there was some notable events last year (Warriors breaking the single season record, retirements of Kobe, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett), there was a lull in action before the All Star break. There wasn’t a lot of great basketball being played and it was boring at times. I think this season will be much different with a surge in talent across the league.
With that in mind, let’s delve into my preseason rankings for the NBA Eastern Conference.
15. Brooklyn Nets
The “star” acquisition this summer was point guard Jeremy Lin. Yes, that Jeremy Lin! Aside from the creative hair styles, he offers nothing in regards to actually leading a basketball team. Center Brook Lopez has continued to struggle to stay healthy. Coach Lionel Hollins is gone. Insert coach Kenny Atkinson who I had to Google to find out who he is. There is not one player that could vie for All-Star recognition. This team is an instant dumpster fire. Tanking isn’t even an option as the team may have surrender it’s first round draft pick to the Celtics.
14. Philadelphia 76ers
Another year of “The Process.” The team has an overload of young big men and no point guards. They are still paying Elton Brand to play basketball at his advanced age. There is some excitement around the arrival of power forward Ben Simmons. However, it will be a few months before he will be on the court due to injury. The team must decide which big man (Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, or Jahlil Okafor) they can package in a trade to get some backcourt help. It should be a slight jump in wins for this team but anything above 25 wins would be remarkable. Another top 3 lottery pick awaits.
13. Milwaukee Bucks
This is the team of intrigue. Head coach Jason Kidd has brought in guys so tall that if they stood on top of one another they could possibly touch the ceiling of the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Long wingspans and crazy height across the board on this roster. The projected starting point guard is 6’11” Giannis Antetokounmpo. The question is how do all these players mesh together? The team drafted relative unknown Thon Maker in the first round of the draft. They still have to find a role for former first round pick Jabari Parker. There are trade rumors around center Greg Monroe. This team may have a lot of intriguing talent but no clear direction.
12. Orlando Magic
My gut is telling me that this team should be lower in my rankings. The only reason I have them this high is because of Head coach Frank Vogel. I truly believe he’ll maximize the talent that’s currently on the team. Power forward Serge Ibaka should be a great veteran addition on a young team. Point guard Elfrid Payton has to make a quantum leap in production for this team to be successful.
11. New York Knicks
Phil Jackson should be to blame for this team’s failures, but I will start by shifting the blame to the former regime for poor salary cap management. When they inked Amar’e Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony to lucrative contracts they also ensured that the team could not obtain good free agents or bring on young talent to mold. Now with a new coach in Jeff Hornacek, should we expect the triangle offense or the three guard sets he ran in Phoenix? If he does run three guard sets, how effective will it be with ball dominant point guard Derrick Rose in tow?
10. Charlotte Hornets
Simply put, this is point guard Kemba Walker’s team. They will go as he goes. Beyond that, they don’t really have an identity. Can Roy Hibbert return to All-Star form? What is the role of former number two overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist? Will head coach Steve Clifford survive the entire season? This is definitely a sleeper pick for the playoffs but also a team that could tank its way to a top pick in next year’s draft. Low floor and low ceiling here.
9. Atlanta Hawks
Head coach Mike Budenholzer has done a great job with this team in two seasons on the job. Led the conference in wins in year one and playoff berth in year two. Even with the loss of center Al Horford, this team will be in contention for a playoff appearance. The team also let point guard Jeff Teague go, handing the keys to the franchise to Dennis Schroder. This team could be a non-playoff team or a division leader.
8. Miami Heat
Team President, Pat Riley, seems hell bent on rebuilding this team. First, there was the departure of Dwayne Wade to the Chicago Bulls. Now, he is not allowing Chris Bosh to play for the team because of concerns with blood clots. There are even rumors of a trade involving Goran Dragic. Riley clearly wants to go younger and build through the draft. Shooting guard Josh Richardson shows promise, Small Forward Justice Winslow is still developing, and Center Hassan Whiteside is emerging as one of the league’s best big men.
7. Chicago Bulls
This is a team that has a great mix of young and veteran talent. The issue is that head coach Fred Hoiberg does not look equipped to handle the job. Sure, you have future Hall of Famer Dwayne Wade, perennial All-Star Jimmy Butler, and facilitator Rajon Rondo on your roster. The problem for Hoiberg is how do you generate enough offense with such poor three point shooters in your starting lineup?
6. Detroit Pistons
It’s been a while since the Pistons were regarded as a top-tier team but the time has come. If the talent surrounding All-Star center Andre Drummond can fulfill their responsibilities then this team could be dangerous. Team president and head coach Stan Van Gundy’s style fits Drummond’s strengths. The team is loaded with catch and shoot players that will allow Van Gundy to deploy the same system he used when he coached a young Dwight Howard to the NBA Finals.
5. Toronto Raptors
The league’s best overachieving team. Last year, they pushed their way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Two wins against a stacked Cleveland Cavaliers team might make you believe that they could possibly be destined for the Finals this year. However, despite having All-Stars and Gold Medal Olympians Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan, they did little to upgrade their roster in free agency. It will be hard to for the team to duplicate the success they had last year with playoff breakout star Bismack Biyombo defecting to the Orlando Magic. Unless there is a great trade in the works during the course of the season, the team is a second round playoff team at best.
4. Washington Wizards
The team will fare well with a coaching change from Randy Wittman to Scott Brooks. Brooks does not get the credit deserved for handling the egos in Oklahoma City for so long. John Wall and Bradley Beal seem to genuinely like one another and play well off of each other. There’s a lot of hype around the emergence of small forward Kelly Oubre Jr. This team is set at the backcourt and just need solid frontcourt play to be contenders for the Eastern Conference Finals.
3. Indiana Pacers
With all respect to Kawhi Leonard, I believe small forward Paul George is the third best 3 behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The fact that he moonlighted as a power forward makes George an even better player. The knock on this team has been the fact that they have never had a traditional point guard during George’s tenure. The team acquired former All-Star point guard Jeff Teague. Teague has tons of playoff experience to help this roster. Furthermore, center Myles Turner is becoming one of the best versatile big men. Add in proven vets Al Jefferson and Monta Ellis, and this team has enough scoring at all positions to push the number 1 team out of the playoffs.
2. Boston Celtics
There are a few teams that can leapfrog the Celtics but with head coach Brad Stevens, this team has been on the rise. The addition of center Al Horford will solidify an already great lineup. Moreover, the team brought in Gerald Green for more scoring and added versatile player Jaylen Brown through the draft. I believe that this team is LeBron’s kryptonite. This is the only team I feel can ELIMINATE the Cavaliers in a playoff series.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron + Six straight NBA Final Appearances + A Healthy Kevin Love + The “Ankletaker” (Kyrie Irving) = Another Championship?
There you have it for the SBS preview of the Eastern Conference of the NBA. Stay tuned for the Western Conference preview coming soon.