2016-2017 NBA Eastern Conference Preview
It's been four months since LeBron James cemented his spot among the greatest 5 players in NBA history by bringing a championship back to Cleveland in an epic seven-game NBA Finals. Can LeBron make it back to a staggering seventh straight NBA Finals? What else is going to happen in the East? Here it goes...
Atlantic Division 1. Boston Celtics - While they could not land Kevin Durant, the C's did pick up a perennial All-Star in Al Horford. Combine him with All-Star Isaiah Thomas and a bunch of young, athletic players and you got all the makings of a division winner. To top it off, Brad Stevens is a top 5 coach in the NBA already and Danny Ainge could still pull something out of his hat at the trade deadline to get this team into the Cavs' stratosphere. 2. Toronto Raptors - The Raptors were able to convince Demar Derozan to re-sign long term but do face their own impending free agency issue again with Kyle Lowry already declaring he will opt out next summer. I think we saw that this team needs more to compete with the Cavaliers, and unfortunately, they lost Bismack Biyombo in free agency. I think the more competitive division will bring them down. 3. New York Knicks - In adding Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, the Knicks have added motivated, passionate and talented former All-Stars, who are also very injury prone. My concern is that if these two want to play at 90 percent of their old selves, they will only be able to do it for 50 percent of the games. That being said, the signing of Brandon Jennings could be their best one. Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis will lead them back into the playoffs 4. Philadelphia 76ers - Yes, the Sixers will finally have someone worse than them. How much worse remains to be seen, considering their prized #1 pick Ben Simmons will be out going into the season. My eyes are more in the front office, as I have to think it's only a matter of time before they move Noel, Embiid, or Okafor 5. Brooklyn Nets - The signing of Jeremy Lin, notwithstanding, this team looks as bad as any of the Sixers teams of the recent years. What makes it ten times worse is that they do not even have their first round pick for the upcoming draft, which is expected to be incredibly deep at the top with maybe seven or eight guys who could have gone #2 after Ben Simmons in the draft that just past. Central Division
1. Cleveland Cavaliers - While losing Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov, they found great replacements in Chris Andersen and Mike Dunleavy, Jr. The core group will have another season together under Ty Lue's system and be able to experiment on things and space out rest throughout the year. Add to that, they are in the rare position of being a defending champion with virtually no pressure due to last year's win and the offseason signings elsewhere.
2. Indiana Pacers - The Pacers are the East contender nobody is talking about right now. Paul George is in his second year back from his gruesome leg injury and has made it clear he wants to be the league MVP and the additions of Al Jefferson and Jeff Teague could help him accomplish that. Nate McMillan should bring a bit of fresh air to the team and I think they grab a top four seed.
3. Chicago Bulls - While I have the Bulls third here, I do think they are a step behind the Pacers and certainly way behind the Cavaliers. While the additions of Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade are great on paper, I think they do not improve the team all that much with their limited capabilities from the three-point line and on the defensive end. It also would not shock me if all of these personalities do not mesh well with second-year coach Fred Hoiberg.
4. Milwaukee Bucks - Many thought the Bucks would take a step forward last year but they moved in the opposite direction. Jabari Parker needs to show why he was touted as almost equal with Andrew Wiggins and who-knows-how-old-he-really-is rookie big man Thon Maker could make an immediate impact, while the Greek Freak could approach All-Star status.
5. Detroit Pistons - While the Pistons made a great sleeper run to the playoffs last season, the offseason for them was very quiet. There is the old saying that if you are not moving forward, you are moving backward. Andre Drummond is going to need someone much better than Reggie Jackson to help him if they are going to avoid taking a step back.
1. Atlanta Hawks - I think the Hawks have another very Hawks-like year; win the division and bounce out of the playoffs early. Dwight Howard returns home and I think he actually has a solid year, approaching a 20-point, 10-rebound campaign again. But, with the departures of Teague and Horford, the offensive power is lacking the true punch necessary to compete for a conference title.
2. Washington Wizards - I think any of the rest of these four teams could really finish second in the division. I am going with the Wizards with the thinking that the arrival of Scott Brooks and the potential of getting a full season of John Wall and Bradley Beal together will be enough to get this team into the playoffs.
3. Charlotte Hornets - I think the Hornets overachieved last season and though it may not appear so, I think the losses of Al Jefferson and Jeremy Lin will actually have a noticeable negative effect on this team. Kemba Walker had a career year last year and I am not convinced he can duplicate that again this campaign.
4. Orlando Magic - The additions of Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, and new coach Frank Vogel should bring some defensive stability and veteran leadership to the young core. Offensive efficiency should be the team's biggest problem, but I think they take a step into the right direction this season.
5. Miami Heat - This is the my boldest call for the East, but it comes with a little bit of an asterisk, in that I think Pat Riley makes a move or two in season, looking ahead to the summer. Between the loaded draft and the crazy deep free agent class on the horizon, it will be time for Riley to work his magic and clear out some cap room and veterans, which will cause the record to dip.
8. New York
Cleveland over Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals