NBA basketball is three weeks away. The Lakers have the crown, but the eastern conference of the NBA is loaded, unlike previous years. Three of the best five teams coming into the season resides in the east. The conference has ten teams with realistic hopes for the playoffs. But at the end of the day, only eight teams can make the playoffs. These are predictions for what the final playoff seeds come to the end of spring.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
The future of the Bucks looks very uncertain. The biggest move this offseason was to trade for All-Star level point guard Jrue Holiday. The move was executed to give Giannis Antetokounmpo some needed help in hopes of signing him to an extension. Kris Middleton is a fine player but not a star at the Greek Freaks level. Bringing in Holiday bolsters the team’s already elite defense. Holiday brings in a new dimension to the offense he can facilitate, create his shot off the dribble, and. The botched trade of Bogdan Bogdanovic leaves them with one less shooter to become the favorite for the title. But they bring back enough of a core that was the top seed last year, and adding Holiday makes them the team to beat in the east. The Buck’s starting lineup got better but their depth could be an issue in the playoffs.
2. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets need to stay grounded. Assuming there is no rumored trade for James Harden, the Nets are a championship contender as the current construction. The NBA regular season is a grind; the depth of Nets is an edge with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving’s return from injury. The start of the season may be rough as the team learns how to play together. Last year the Nets received All-Star level play from Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris Levert, and Joe Harris shoot 42% from three. Those three lead the Nets to a playoff run. Will the reduced minutes affect their play? But this team has two top 15 players and too much talent. The Nets will be championship contenders.
3. Boston Celtics
The team has reached the eastern conference three times under Brad Stevens. While the Boston Celtics lost Gordon Hayward this offseason, it was addition by subtraction. The small forward/ wing position was overcrowded with Jayson Tatum, Jalen Brown, and Hayward. The young duo can grow even more and bring more responsibility to their games. Danny Ainge shook things up by bringing in Jeff Teague to run the second team, and Tristan Thompson to rebound and has championship grit. The Celtics also addressed shooting woes by selecting Villanova’s snapper Aaron Nesmith. Marcus Smart is the X-factor with his defense and mental toughness.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers went to a total rebuild around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. The pressure is off of Simmon’s jump shoot with the acquisitions of sharpshooters Danny Green and Seth Curry. Also, versatile wing player Josh Richardson is on board. Somehow Philly traded the contract of Al Horford and provided more floor space for Simmons to attack. Horford’s departer allows Tobias Harris to work on the block more along with stretching the floor. Philly now has speed and shooters, unlike last year. The season now hinges on Joel Embiid and Ben Simmon’s relationship. The Dwight Howard signing brings defense and energy that were vital in the Lakers championship run. New head coach Doc Rivers now has to prove himself as one of the best coaches in the NBA with the talent the team has this year.
5. Miami Heat
The reigning Eastern Conference Champions shocked the basketball world by reaching the NBA finals. While the Heat overachieved in the bubble, they had a relatively quiet offseason. The Heat re-signed Goran Dragic and extended Bam Adebayo. The real moves will be made next season for a better free-agent period. Mostly the entire roster returns; the young players should improve after a deep playoff run. The Heat has brought in Avery Bradley to add depth at the guard position. His defensive play will add to what was already one of the best defenses in the league. Jimmy Butler took a step into superstar territory in the playoffs but can he once again will the team past their talent?
6. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors have been the most consistent team in the east outside of the Lebron led Cavs. Their run seems to be coming to an end. They fell to the Boston Celtics in the second round with good luck. Serge Ibaka, who had one of his best seasons, is now with the Clippers. Former defensive player of the year Marc Gasol is now with the Lakers.
The Raptors did resign Fred VanVleet to a 4-year extension. Vanvleet will take some of the responsibility off of Kyle Lowery, who be 35 next year. Pascal Siakam came up small in the playoffs. Now that he is the best player on the team, the team will be on his shoulders. Aaron Baynes brings in averages of eleven ppg, five rpg, and is a great replacement for the big men that departed. In 2019-2020 he shoot 48% from the field and helps provide open space to the rim.
7. Atlanta Hawks
Outside of the Lakers, the Hawks had the best offseason of the year. The Hawks added depth and starters. With these new acquisitions, they can play multiple styles of basketball. Trae Young can run a high pace; face break offense. Rajon Rondo signed a two-year contract; he brings championship pedigree and the ability to handle the team in half-court sets. The Hawks added shooters, playmakers, and defense. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, and Kris Dunn bring in over 41 points between the three and will be vital to the development of the younger Hawks. A starting line up of Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, John Collins, and Clint Capela is too much talent not to make the playoffs.
8. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers are a solid team, but teams in the east have passed them. It seemed the team was going into a complete rebuild. Rumors of trading Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner ran ramped, but no deals were made. The Pacers relived head coach Nate Mcmillan after first-round exits in his four seasons. The team made limited moves outside of the coaching change. If lockerroom friction doesn’t cause issues, this is a team that has played together the past few years and know each others strengths and weakness.
Washington Wizards have a top 5 backcourt with newly acquired PG Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal. But can the Wizards learn how to play with Westbrook?