NBA basketball is back y'all !! If you didn’t know, during the offseason the entire NBA has gotten flipped upside down; and by upside down I mean the Eastern Conference is now in the West. With talks of parity in the NBA at an all-time high, we legitimately had questions as to whether or not teams were going to tank until the Golden State Warriors blew themselves up. However, to our (or at least my) pleasant surprise, teams have decided to reload and go right back at the Warriors which has created a whole new buzz and excitement around the league.
With that being said, I'm sure you all want to know how each of the conferences will pan out to end this season, so for today, I'll let you know how the Eastern Conference is going to shape out going into the postseason.
TRUST THE PROCESS (of the Eastern Conference becoming as weak as it's been in years and your team growing healthy for the first time in years.) I guess timing is everything huh? The Philadelphia Sixers are going to sneak into the playoffs this season y'all. Now, being the last playoff seed in this iteration of the Eastern Conference doesn't say much about your team honestly. As a matter of fact, this is exactly why people are calling for reseeding of the two conferences once the playoffs start. Either way, the Sixers with Joel Embid and Ben Simmons finally healthy to start a season are looking like they finally have a young solid core in place to develop and build around. Joel Embid seems like he can fit the mold of the new school big man that can do a little bit inside and outside. Ben Simmons is the big point forward that can rebound and start the fast break which is also becoming crucial in this NBA. With the addition of number one pick Markelle Fultz, if the Sixers can remain healthy this season, off of raw talent alone they should be able to squeak into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
The Charlotte Hornets missed the postseason last year, but that will not be the case this season. With all-star point guard Kemba Walker, the Hornets have guaranteed production coming from the point guard spot. The team added Dwight Howard this offseason, who for all the talk about how he's lost it, is not as bad as the reputation that has followed him the last couple of seasons. The team also added shooting guard Malik Monk in the draft. While I am not telling you to place any of the team's playoff expectations on his young shoulders, he is the exact type of unconscious streaky scorer that the Hornets need in their backcourt with their struggles to score over the past few seasons. The Hornets have been on and off in the playoffs the last few seasons, but we have to believe that Kemba Walker and Coach Steve Clifford can get the Hornets into the playoffs with this iteration of the Eastern Conference.
Miami started the season off rather slowly last year, but they finished the second half of the season with one of the better records in the NBA. I believe that they will ride that momentum and get off to a much better start this season. The team has a pretty solid core intact with Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, and Hassan Whiteside. Hassan Whiteside has always been a defensive stud, if he could bring his offensive production up another notch, it would take his game to all-star level in the Eastern Conference. Dion Waiters finally earned his big payday this offseason. We must pay attention to Waiters' performance this season as he wanted to become the franchise player for a team and he may very well have that opportunity this season. It will be interesting to see if he can make the next progression in his game or if he will become complacent after finally getting paid.
Toronto has been a perennial playoff team in the Eastern Conference, and they solidified that by staying pact and retaining Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka this offseason. Lowry and Derozan make up one of the better backcourts in the NBA and in the Eastern Conference that will be more than enough to bring you to the playoffs this season. One of the quieter moves this offseason was small forward, CJ Miles, coming to Toronto. This is a big signing for the team that desperately needed more offensive production from the small forward position to take some scoring pressure off the backcourt. Miles is a player that can shoot the three and is capable of carrying the offense on certain nights when he gets hot.
The Wizards have been flirting on and off with the upper tier of the Eastern Conference for the last few years. John Wall is a top-5 point guard in the NBA without a doubt. Bradley Beal is arguably a top-5 shooting guard himself. So with no new roster upgrades coming to the Wizards this offseason, this prediction is banking all on good health and the continuous development of Otto Porter Jr. Last season, Porter Jr. developed into one of the better three-point shooters in the NBA. Unfortunately, in this new NBA that is not enough. Porter needs to continue his development and continue rounding out his game so that he can serve as the 3rd piece to a Big 3 in Washington. It is the only way that the Wizards will be able to take that next step up in the conference.
Yup. I believe that Milwaukee will take that next step into the upper tier of the Eastern Conference this year. Giannis Antetetunkompo has progressed each of the last three years, and the young superstar will continue to do so this year by joining the MVP conversation. Milwaukee has a real length factory, as they have made it a point to draft long, rangy, versatile wing players. It is going to be a nightmare to play against all the different looks the Bucks can throw at teams on a nightly basis. They will be able to turn their defense into offensive opportunities. Coach Jason Kidd has done a phenomenal job in teaching the game to this young Bucks roster since he has joined the team, and this is the year that they enter the upper tier in the Eastern Conference.
Boston was the number one seed in the Eastern Conference last year, and I had predicted them to be the number one seed before Gordon Hayward’s gruesome ankle injury opening night. The argument can be made that after all of their offseason moves, that this year's team is better than last year's. In addition to THAT, the conference has gotten incredibly weaker so by simple mathematics they should remain one of the top 2 seeds even without Hayward for what may be the whole season. They have more than enough talent on paper to remain one of the top two seeds in the conference. This new infusion of youth means that the Celtics will be hungry and starve at the bit to get out and prove that they are now the power of the Eastern Conference. Now, Gordon Hayward’s absence means that Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum get a slightly shorter learning curve period as they will both have to move into increased roles for the Celtics. Kyrie Irving wanted to be the man, and it costs to be the boss. The new face of the Boston Celtics already had the most pressure out of any star that moved this off season, and his workload has already doubled with Hayward getting injured. He was the player that dared to leave LeBron James (who was always healthy), and everybody will hold him accountable for doing so if he does not show up. Now, saying that does not say much because Kyrie has already proven himself on the biggest stage possible. With that said, he has never won without LeBron James in his NBA career, so this will be an entirely new challenge for him. I expect Kyrie to rise to that challenge this season and help lead the Celtics to the #2 seed in the East.
The top two seeds in the Eastern Conference will include the same two teams as last season. However, due to Gordon Hayward’s unfortunate injury, the Cleveland Cavaliers will finish first in the Eastern Conference. After a third straight trip to the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers also had a roster overhaul this offseason. They traded away their budding superstar point guard to their inter-conference rival. In return, they added two quality pieces in Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder that helped improve their roster depth and flexibility. If Thomas can return to his former self after his hip injury, then he can get at the MINIMUM, approximate Kyrie Irving's production on the offensive end of the floor. Crowder allows them a versatile "3 and D" wing player that can play any position from the 2-4, which is CRUCIAL for their ultimate goal of trying to beat the Golden State Warriors small ball attack. In free agency, the team added Jeff Green, another versatile wing that they can plug in off the bench to spell for LeBron. They got Derrick Rose for a BARGAIN, who even at this stage in his career, is lightyears better than Deron Williams as a backup point guard. Lastly, but certainly not least, they added LeBron James' partner in crime, Dwayne Wade. Yes, Wade is in the final stages of his career; but he is by no means a slouch. He is still a top 10 shooting guard in the NBA at this point in his career. Paired with LeBron James and this Cleveland roster, Wade will be the fourth option at times on the floor which is scary for any team to defend. The Cavaliers will coast through the regular season as LeBron will be trying to preserve as much energy as he can for what would be his 8TH STRAIGHT, NBA Finals appearance. Luckily for the Cavaliers, off of talent alone and unfortunate injuries early in the season for their biggest competitor in the conference, the Cavaliers can fall backward into the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference this season.