The annual battle to decide who will fall to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference finals begins this week as the NBA’s regular season tips off. With that, our own Nick Wilson predicts the fate of the East’s top teams.
1) Cleveland Cavaliers- The only way I can see the Cavs being anything less than the top seed is if they struggle with injuries or if they take their foot off the gas to conserve for the playoffs. Las Vegas has the Cavs with a surprisingly low win prediction for a reigning champion which could be easily bested if they continue to properly utilize Kevin Love as they did down the stretch last season.
2) Boston Celtics- Al Horford and Jaylen Brown are the two big additions for Boston. One of the best coached teams in the East, they should be the surprise 2-seed.
3) Toronto Raptors- Toronto returns most of the team that took 2 games from the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals but the East has gotten better while the Raptors did little to boost their roster and lost Bismack Biyombo to free agency.
4) Indiana Pacers- Pacers Basketball Guru Larry Bird sought a makeover after a disappointing season and boy did he get it. Thad Young, Jeff Teague & Al Jefferson are among the new faces in Indiana. Bird desired a team capable of an up tempo offense which he seemingly achieved yet they are a giant defensive question mark. Still, Paul George is arguably the second-best player in the East and impossible to bet against.
5) Detroit Pistons- This young Pistons team showed a lot of fight against the Cavs in the playoffs. Their young core got necessary experience and can only grow from here as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Stanley Johnson improve with age. Will Stan Van Gundy be patient enough to let them grow into a monster over the next few years?
6) Atlanta Hawks- Dwight Howard’s redemption or final failure is upon us. After a disappointing stint in Houston, Superman (or whats left of him,) turns to Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer to revive his career. The Hawks also hand the point to electric but undersized Dennis Schroder and may need rookies to step up before they are ready.
7) Washington Wizards- John Wall and Bradley Beal with either quiet chatter about chemistry concerns under new head coach Scott Brooks or they will be parted from each other’s company in the next 12 months. I believe in Brooks and the fact Wall understands his legacy is listing into irrelevant territory. Plus the Wizards are too talented to completely fail.
8) Milwaukee Bucks- The most interesting team in the NBA considering their youth and size/athleticism, the Bucks are boom or bust to their core. Khris Middleton suffered a potentially season ending injury before camp and his scoring production will be missed. Yet Middleton is not the world’s most efficient player and if they can get efficient production from the 2-guard, might not be as lost as most people expect.
9) Orlando Magic- I really like Frank Vogel. That sums up my thoughts on placing the Magic at 9. The team is replete with youth & athleticism but questions about Elfrid Payton’s ability to play the point and Aaron Gordon’s true position and worth plague this team. Well that and overall talent questions.
10) Chicago Bulls- The Bulls might be the most interesting super team in the NBA going into the season. Adding Dwyane Wade & Rajon Rondo alongside Jimmy Butler seems like a chemistry experiment doomed to succeed or fail spectacularly. Another interesting issue will be health for Chicago. All 3 superstars have significant injury histories with Wade & Rondo on the wrong side of 30. Plus, no one is sure if Fred Hoiberg is the right man for the job.
11) New York Knicks- Phil Jackson’s potential final stab at resuscitating the Knicks strikes me as desperate and foolish. Instead of building around Kristaps Porzingis this offseason, Jackson brought in the ghosts of Derrick Rose & Joakim Noah to make the best out of the downside of Carmelo Anthony’s career. He also hired Jeff Hornacek, a coach who has no experience running the triangle offense, a system that the Zen Master owes his many championship rings to. What could go right?
12) Charlotte Hornets- Love Steve Clifford but even his genius can’t make up for this team. The rest of the East got better and the Hornets are relying on Frank Kaminsky to take a step forward.
13) Philadelphia 76ers- This “improvement” is predicated on the Sixers dealing their depth inside for play-making help at some point this season AND the health of Joel Embiid. So a lot of reason to feel good about it.
14) Miami Heat- If the Heat tank and no one shows up to see it, does anyone really care? Consider Goran Dragic the Russell Westbrook of the East. Hassan Whiteside and Dragic are going to be excellent fantasy assets as they wrack up asinine stats on a meaningless franchise. Pat Riley still has amazing hair though.
15) Brooklyn Nets- Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez are the Nets greatest hope. This franchise has been destroyed by the mega deal that brought them Paul Pierce & Kevin Garnett. They won’t have their own draft pick until 2019. The upside? A lot of affordable tickets can be had at the brand new Brooklyn based arena.