The NBA is a players’ league, no doubt.
The East is wide open this season, with numerous teams vying for the top seed and a place in the NBA finals.
While the Western Conference standings seem difficult to predict, the Eastern Conference standings are even more challenging. While the Milwaukee Bucks seemed unstoppable last season and the Toronto Raptors won the Larry O’Brien trophy, both teams suffered losses to their championship calibre squads over the off-season.
The Eastern Conference was wide open last season, and the race to become Eastern Conference champions will be just as open this season, with free agency changing the game for many of the competitors in the East.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
While the Bucks lost some key players during the free agency period, such as Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic, the rest of the team stayed intact. They still have the current MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will only get better and win the award once again if Steph Curry is not able to lead the Warriors anywhere higher than fifth this season.
They also managed to retain Kris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and make some solid pickups for the frontcourt in Dragan Bender and Robin Lopez. I expect them to be the favourites to make it out of the East.
2. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers are young and will only keep getting better. They have had a brilliant couple of seasons, with the core of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid playing well together and both players constantly pushing their games to another level. If Simmons develops a jump shot, he will be unstoppable.
They managed to keep Tobias Harris and attain the services of Al Horford during free agency, which are both major moves to help the pursuit of a championship. While they lost Jimmy Butler, they managed to recover and this team is poised to battle for the championship this season.
3. Indiana Pacers
This position for the Pacers could change, solely depending on whether Victor Oladipo is able to recover completely from his devastating injury. Before Oladipo went down last season, the Pacers were one of the top teams in the East.
The team has only gotten better over the offseason, adding Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb. While the team has lost Thaddeus Young, Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic, the team is arguably better than last season, and with the continued development of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, the Pacers will secure a home-court advantage during the playoffs.
4. Boston Celtics
It was difficult to decide whether the Celtics should go fourth or whether I should place the Nets here. However, I decided on the Celtics, as even though they lost Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, they are still a solid team. They managed to attain the services of Kemba Walker, who is arguably just as good as Kyrie Irving, and he comes without all the baggage.
The team also managed to sign Enes Kanter and still have their young core in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. While the Celtics may not win the East, they will still be competitive this season.
5. Brooklyn Nets
Although the Brooklyn Nets had a terrific offseason, signing Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and DeAndre Jordan, I feel like this is the best position for them this season. While Kyrie Irving is a better player than D’Angelo Russell, he has yet to prove that he is a good leader, with his tenure at the Celtics as leader being heavily criticised.
With Kevin Durant also out for the season, Nets fans will have to wait until next season to see their team competing for the title.
6. Toronto Raptors
While it may seem disrespectful to put the defending champions this low in the standings, I could not justify placing the Raptors any higher than the teams above them in the standings. They lost both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in the free agency and did not acquire any one of major impact to round out the roster. Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam would need to step up big time to give the Raptors a competitive chance this season.
7. Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic surprised me last season by sneaking into the playoffs, however, I feel like they will do so again this season. They have a promising young roster led by Nikola Vucevic, which features Aaron Gordon and Mo Bamba and they will sneak into the playoffs once more.
8. Miami Heat
The eighth position for me was a flip of the coin between the Miami Heat and the Detroit Pistons. However, I believe the Heat will manage to just slip into the top eight.
The addition of Jimmy Butler will either make or break the team. Butler is without a doubt a terrific player, an all-star calibre player and can be an effective leader. However, his stint with the Timberwolves has proven that Butler can also be an issue in the locker room.
Butler’s intensity for the game and passion to win made him difficult to work within the Timberwolves, which has resulted in the subsequent trade to the 76ers and the collapse of the Timberwolves. If Butler does not work in Miami, the Heat could plummet down the standings.
However, if he works, I feel like the Heat will have a nice squad. They managed to discard Hassan Whiteside, giving Bam Adebayo a chance to develop. I also really enjoy Goran Dragic’s style of play, and with the addition of promising rookie Tyler Herro, the Heat have a team with the ability to slip into the playoffs.
Although, they will not make it far into the postseason.
9. Detroit Pistons
I originally had the Pistons placed as the eighth seed, however, I feel like they will narrowly miss out. Although they have a solid team in Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose and Reggie Jackson, the team has been stagnant for a couple of years.
While the signing of Derrick Rose is an interesting move, a backcourt of Rose and Jackson will arguably not work, and the depth beyond those four players is lacking.
10. Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks, based on their play in the latter half of the 2018-19 season, will have a promising season and continue to develop. Trae Young is a superstar in the making and will continue to develop into an efficient and elite point guard in this league.
The rest of the team is also nice, with players like John Collins who are looking like they will develop well. I also enjoy the addition of Jabari Parker who, if he remains healthy, could be an excellent addition to the youthful roster. The team also picked up veteran leaders as they re-signed Vince Carter for his final season while also adding Evan Turner and Chandler Parsons.
While those two names are not superstars, they are individuals who can help with youth development.
11. Washington Wizards
The Wizards were once a team with so much promise, however, the team has been plagued with injuries and rumours. The Dwight Howard experiment did not work out last season, and it is almost a guarantee that either John Wall, Bradley Beal or both will move on from the team, with the player likely being Bradley Beal after John Wall’s recent comments about wanting to create a legacy in Washington and his enormous contract both being factors in Wall staying with the team.
While this team seemed like a contender a couple of years back, their window has now passed and it is time to reshape the team.
12. New York Knicks
The Knicks have become a laughing stock for fans of the league. While they are one of the biggest markets in the entire NBA, the team has not been able to attain the services of any major free agents for a long time. This offseason was also seen as a disappointment, with the team trading Kristaps Porzingis earlier in the season for practically nothing.
However, while it would be easy to write off the offseason as a total failure, I feel that the Knicks will move up the standings next season. They managed to attain the services of some talented young players in Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Marcus Morris and Elfrid Payton, all of who can be solid contributors. The team also has rookie RJ Barrett, who will have a terrific season and quickly become the star.
The team also still has the services of Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and Dennis Smith Jr, who are all talented young players that will continue to develop together, giving the Knicks a nice young core to develop around.
13. Cleveland Cavaliers
There is not much to talk about with the Cleveland Cavaliers. With a quiet offseason and playoffs far from their sights, the team will continue to develop and build throughout the draft. The only notable thing I see them doing this season is potentially trying to trade Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson in order to free up some cap space and give the team some room to grow in the post-LeBron era.
14. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls had a terrible offseason, with the team making no real moves towards playoff contention. The team will continue to focus on developing the players they have and will drop down the standings due to other teams making some solid moves in the offseason. They managed to sign Thaddeus Young, but other than that the Bulls did nothing to show that they deserve to be placed any higher.
15. Charlotte Hornets
Without a doubt, the worst offseason award goes to the Charlotte Hornets. While Michael Jordan was the GOAT of basketball on the court, as an owner he is anything but. The team would not offer Kemba Walker the max and lost him for nothing.
They picked up Terry Rozier, who is a solid player, however, he was overpaid and is nowhere near the calibre of talent that Kemba Walker is. The roster is depleted, with the best player on the team arguably being Cody Zeller (if you use the NBA 2K19 ratings as an indicator), which leaves the team at the bottom of the standings and facing a rebuild after achieving nothing but disappointment during the Kemba Walker era.
The Eastern Conference, much like the Western Conference, is wide open and it will be interesting to see how this season of the NBA shapes out, with teams from the number one seed to the fifth in the standings arguably all competing for a spot in the NBA Finals.