The NBA Season starts on Tuesday and I can’t wait! Shout out to Bart Scott. It promises to be another exciting season as we’ve had player move here and there. There’s been a lot of chirping from all over the League. We’ll get to see how it all plays out over the next 8 months. Today I’ll layout the moves made in the NBA’s Eastern Conference and share a few thoughts on each team. The teams are listed in the order in which they finished at the end of the 2015-2016 regular season. At the end I’ll list who I think the 8 playoff teams will be.
Cleveland Cavaliers – While winning the NBA Finals, LeBron James re-established himself as the best player in the League. Fully expect them to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals again this season. The Cavs will coast through the regular season. Look for improved play from Kevin Love.
Toronto Raptors – Finished 2nd in the Eastern Conference – the most successful season in team history – after taking the Cavs to 6 games in the Eastern Conference Finals. They were able to re-sign DeMar DeRozan and acquire Jared Sullinger via free agency. In the draft they snatched the 7-footer Jacob Poetl (9th overall from University of Utah). He’ll be needed to sure up the loss of Bismack Biyombo and Luis Scola. The Raptors also need Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll to stay healthy if they want to replicate last season’s success.
Miami Heat – Are you ready for Waiters County? This team has a lot of questions to answer. Dwyane Wade walked to Chicago during free agency and Chris Bosh’s career is in limbo due to complications from blood clots. Dion Waiters took a gamble on himself and took a one year deal in hopes of cashing out next summer. Miami dished out big contracts to Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson. Whiteside’s new deal was expected but no one and I do mean NO ONE saw the Heat matching Brooklyn’s 4 year – $50 Million dollar offer to Johnson. The Heat will be much younger after seeing Joe Johnson, Loul Deng, Amare Stoudemire, and “Birdman” Chris Andersen leave. Newcomers include Wayne Ellington, Derrick Williams, James Johnson, and Luke Babbitt. Holdovers Justise Winslow, Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, and Udonis Haslem round out an interesting squad.
Atlanta Hawks – During free agency the Hawks brought in Dwight Howard and saw Al Horford fly north to Boston. They handed the team over to the charismatic point guard Dennis Schroder after trading Jeff Teague to the Indiana Pacers. Atlanta will need role players to step up (hello Kent Bazemore, Mike Scott, and Tim Hardaway, Jr) while a few vets – Millsap(knee) and Tiago Splitter(hamstring) –deal with injuries. Kyle Korver will need to improve on his sporadic Playoff shooting. I don’t look forward to the survivor’s remorse that comes with Dwight Howard shooting jump shots.
Boston Celtics – The Celtics haven’t had these expectations – of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals – since Doc and the gang left town. Boston was solid last season before fizzling out in the First Round against Atlanta. Head Coach Brad Stevens had all the role players one could ask for but no “top dawg” to get them over the hump. They acquired Al Horford in the summer but look for them to make another splashy move. Isaiah Thomas should continue to improve and Avery Bradley will hound opposing guards as usual. Rookie Jaylen Brown has already flashed glimpses of greatness that may come.
Charlotte Hornets – The Hornets finished last season getting smoked by Miami in Game 7. This season I don’t see much changing. Charlotte finished last season with the same record as Miami, Atlanta, and Boston but as those teams improved; the Hornets stayed the same. Kemba Walker is back and so is freshly re-signed Nicolas Batum. The likes of Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee, and Jeremy Lin all left town. In return Roy Hibbert and Marco Belinelli strutted in. Think that’s enough talking about the “Crying Jordan Faces”.
Indiana Pacers – The Frank Vogel Era ended on a sour note after a tough Game 7 defeat to Toronto. The Hick From French Lick tasked Nate McMillan with the duty of bringing exciting offensive play to Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Nate will do so with an exciting mix of players. There’s recent Team USA Gold Medal recipient Paul George who has been tabbed by a few (including myself) to have a MVP caliber season. Promising big man Myles Turner returns with the sharp shooting C.J. Miles and volume scoring guards Monta Ellis and Rodney Stuckey. In the off season Indiana picked up Al Jefferson, Thaddeus Young, and swapped out fellow Indianapolis native George Hill for Jeff Teague. Indiana lost Ian Mahinmi, Jordan Hill, and Solomon Hill to free agency. The Pacers are expected to be one of the top 4 teams in the East. In order to make that happen they’ll need to gel quickly and get that expected MVP – level play from Paul George.
Detroit Pistons – Detroit returned to the playoffs last season after a 6 year hiatus. Andre Drummond was 3rd Team All-NBA and received a new contract as a result. The Pistons did the opposite of what I mentioned about Charlotte. Detroit brought in Boban Marjanovic, Jon Leuer, and speedy point guard Ish Smith. The acquisition of Smith is huge because Reggie Jackson will be out 2 months with knee and thumb issues. Detroit had no major departures and is loaded with wing players as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson, and Tobias Harris return. Stan Van Gundy is expected to lead this group to more than a First round cameo.
Chicago Bulls – Chicago Bulls management went NBA 2K and cleaned house. After taking a sip of their favorite beverage they picked up the controller and went straight to the random rosters mode. The results were hilarious as Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol, E’Twaun Moore, Aaron Brooks, and most recently Tony Snell are all out of the Windy City. In are Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Michael Carter-Williams, Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine, and a few others. Fred Hoiberg had to think he was back at Iowa State when this recruit…I mean group of NBA players walked into training camp. No clue what to expect from this team other than Rondo showing his ass at some point. If the Cubs win the World Series then this NBA season won’t even matter. Go Cubs!
Washington Wizards – The Wizards had a disappointing .500 season and wound up firing Randy Wittman (it was long overdue). Now they have former Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks. Brooks gets to coach another set of clashing young players. This time it is John Wall and Bradley Beal. Both often injured guards have made their feelings known and it appears that Wall is waiting on an opportunity to bolt. He’ll have to wait on his knee to heal before doing so. Beal inked a new contract over the summer has missed a season worth of games over his four year career. Bradley will be expected to carry the load while waiting on Wall’s return. Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris will help too. Ian Mahinmi should provide solid defense. It’s also make or break time for Otto Porter while Kelly Oubre Jr will look to avoid the sophomore slump after a less than stellar rookie season.
Orlando Magic – Orlando’s summer included bringing in Frank Vogel to be the head coach and trading for Serge Ibaka. Ibaka came to Orlando via a draft day trade that sent Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and Domantas Sabonis(11th pick of 2016 NBA Draft) to OKC. They also signed the most confusing player in the league – Jeff Green – and re-signed Evan Fournier. The always active Bismack Biyambo joined the Magic via free agency and the “Hungry Husky” Shabazz Napier was traded to Portland for those good ole cash considerations.
Milwaukee Bucks – Before trading Michael Carter-Williams, the Bucks had to have players with 3 of the longest last names in the NBA. The talented Giannis Anteokounmpo remains and they brought in the Curry Stopper Matthew Dellavedova this summer via free agency. They’ll be without the much needed shooting of Khris Middleton for 6 months due to a torn hamstring. Looking at their roster I have no clue where they’ll find shooting. The additions of Tony Snell and Jason Terry won’t be enough. Jabari Parker has looked strong as he continues to build strength from his ACL injury. Rookies Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon will see some time. O.J. Mayo was banned from the NBA for 2 seasons after problems with substance abuse. Jason Kidd has a lot of work to do.
New York Knicks – Super Team in the house! At least that’s how Derrick Rose feels. After a dismal 32-50 record last season; the Knicks revamped their roster. They sent away Jose Calderon, Jerian Grant, and Robin Lopez in return they got Derrick Rose, Justin Holiday, and a 2017 2nd round pick. New York added more via free agency when they signed Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee, and Brandon Jennings. The new signings coupled with the return of Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis has Derrick Rose feeling “super”. Jeff Hornacek is the new head coach but he has Phil Jackson ringing a triangle in his ear. The Knicks find their way back into the Playoffs with anything beyond the First Round being a surprise to all.
Brooklyn Nets – Terrible last season and the forecast looks to be the same this season. Jeremy Lin was brought in over the summer along with a bunch of other players they needed to fill the cap and make a team. We know A Tree Grows in Brooklyn but what about some wins?
Philadelphia 76ers – “Trust the process” they said. Trusting the process has landed them with another Top 5 pick injured before the season starts. The overall number 1 pick from the 2016 NBA Draft – Ben Simmons – is out for 3 months with a broken foot. On the bright side, Joel Embiid is back on the court…dancing. But that means the log jam of young power forwards has reached maximum capacity. Nerlens Noel has already hinted at wanting to leave. Jahlil Okafor was rumored in various trades all summer. Add Croatian rookie Dario Saric to the mix. Somebody has to go and Elton Brand who decided to retire isn’t who I meant. The team is still incredibly young – 17 players with 4 years or less NBA experience – were listed on the preseason roster. I can’t trust the process but I definitely trust them to lose a bunch of games.
Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions (in order):
New York Knicks
Close but no cigar: Washington, Chicago, and Miami
Look for the Western Conference preview on Monday.
All stats, rosters, team transactions and more courtesy of http://www.basketball-reference.com/