Breaking Down the Beasts of the East
Another NBA season is nearing its commencement as the Cleveland Cavaliers look at repeating and building on the success of the year prior. Their journey to the top will be far more difficult this season as plenty of Eastern Conference teams have done their offseason homework, bolstering their already talented rosters in an effort to compete with the NBA’s elite.
The Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, and Indiana Pacers among others are ready for the challenge of dethroning the kings!
Will it happen this year? Will a none LeBron James-led Eastern Conference team make the NBA Finals? Is it even possible? Only time will tell, but before the season does begin, let’s analyze the East and see who stands a chance against the mighty Cavs!
15) Brooklyn Nets
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Jeremy Lin SG: Randy Foye SF: Bojan Bogdanovic PF: Luis Scola C: Brook Lopez
Courtesy of the brutal Brooklyn Nets management, the Nets are in for another disgusting season. There is very little talent surrounding their oft-injured big man, Brook Lopez, and very little hope for the future at this point. The Nets are a team that is stuck in limbo at the bottom of the Eastern Conference ladder, trading away almost all of their draft picks for aging veterans on their last wheel all for naught.
The time to cut ties with Lopez may be approaching, as the Nets will have to do something to trigger a rebuild, to acquire draft picks and to start looking toward the future.
14) Philadelphia 76ers
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: T.J. McConnell SG: Jerryd Bayless SF: Ben Simmons PF: Jahlil Okafor C: Nerlens Noel
Is this even a surprise? One must wonder what the end goal for this Sixers team is. A team that constantly does everything in their power to finish with the first overall pick has not seen any signs of development or improvement over the past several years. That is not to say that the team does not have talent. Over the last number of years the Sixers used heir picks to grab the likes of Dario Saric, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and most recently, Ben Simmons.
Only issue: they are all big men! The Sixers are essentially a super talented squad that cannot develop their players as they all play the same position and having all of them on the same team just clogs the paint.
With Simmons showing signs of future superstardom, it may be time for the Sixers to explore trading one of Noel, Embiid, or Okafor. It must happen sooner rather than later, delaying the inevitable will only slow down whatever process the Sixers’ brass is preaching.
13) Orlando Magic
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Elfrid Payton SG: Evan Fournier SF: Jeff Green PF: Serge Ibaka C: Nikola Vucevic
The Magic finding themselves at the number 13 slot is a testament to how tough the Eastern Conference has become as Orlando does have their fair share of talent, but unfortunately, took a huge step back this past offseason.
After being robbed by the Thunder, acquiring Ibaka who is in the final year of his contract, the Magic handed out a couple more bad contracts, losing Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in the process.
Plain and simple, these are the type of moves that could get managers fired. Instead of further developing the talents of Oladipo, Sabonis, Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, and Mario Hezonja, the Magic have attempted to “fast track” thinks down in Disney Land, giving a random one year deal to Jeff Green and grossly overpaying for Bismack Biyombo.
Can the Magic still surprise anyone? Sure, but It is much more likely that we see the best version of the Magic, following the 2016/2017 season.
12) New York Knicks
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Derrick Rose SG: Courtney Lee SF: Carmelo Anthony PF: Kristaps Prozingis C: Joakim Noah
Should we be buying into all the hype revolving around the new-look Knicks? Derrick Rose certainly is. Unfortunately for D-Rose, as much as I respect his optimism, the reality is, the Knicks are far closer to their expiration date than they are to even reaching the postseason.
Can this team defend? Not particularly. Are Rose and Joakim Noah able to remain healthy and return to their top Chicago Bulls form? Very unlikely. Can Melo stay healthy? Also a question mark.
Oh and what is the status of the Knickerbocker bench? Utterly horrid. Can the Kyle O’Quinns and Brandon Jennings take your second unit far? Definitely not.
Rose may not want to accept reality and yes, the Knicks will be a never-ending show on a nightly basis at the grandest arena in the world, Madison Square Garden, but alas, for all the wrong reasons.
11) Washington Wizards
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: John Wall SG: Bradley Beal SF: Markieff Morris PF: Otto Porter C: Marcin Gortat
Where did it all go wrong? Two years removed from just missing out on the Eastern Conference Finals, the Wizards find themselves scrambling to find a way to get back into the playoffs. With rumours of friction between the star backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, and an awkward mix of talent, one must seriously question, what are the Wizards even doing?
With the addition of Trey Burke to fill in as Wall’s back up, the Wizards guard play will be amongst the game’s elite. Scott Brooks was a great hire as well. The problem is everything else.
For a backcourt that will love to push the tempo and play at a rapid pace, the Wizards management couldn’t put role players any worse around their stars. Lack of shooters, slow bigs and a brutal bench to match.
Let’s put it this way. Drew Gooden was a nice player maybe half a decade ago, but when you have to convert him into your go to stretch four, there is a problem.
10) Miami Heat
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Goran Dragic SG: Dion Waiters SF: Justice Winslow PF: Chris Bosh C: Hassan Whiteside
Hold up, the Miami Heat are not a playoff team? With Chris Bosh returning, Hassan Whiteside re-signed and Goran Dragic in the fold? May I be crazy, or may I just be a genius who has a grip on reality? I like to feed my own ego, so I will opt to go with the latter. The Heat are in a bad, yet interesting spot.
Dwyane Wade is now gone. The years of the ‘Big 3’ are now long gone and only Chris Bosh remains. Speaking of the returning Bosh, what can we expect from him? Will the blood clot issues returning? There is a strong possibility of that for sure. Can Dragic bounce back from a horrible first year with the Heat?
There are a lot of questions that will need to be answered for Pat Riley, the master puppeteer who is undoubtedly looking towards the future already, a future, which may not include Bosh in it. If I were to take out my magic crystal ball for a second, it may be very likely that Riley is ready to move on from the ‘Big 3’ and focus on building around his prized big man through the draft, free agency, and trades. Josh Richardson and Justice Winslow are great pieces to add to the young core the Heat possess. It is now up to Riley to figure out a way to get out of Bosh’s contract and see whether or not Dragic is his point guard of the future.
9) Milwaukee Bucks
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Giannis Antetokounmpo SG: Kris Middleton SF: Jabari Parker PF: Mirza Teletovic C: Greg Monroe
This is the year Giannis becomes an All-Star and a dominating one at that. The Bucks are the dark horse team coming into the season. They have length, they have grit, they have versatility, and they have talent.
Mirza Teletovic, Jason Terry and Kris Middleton offer some shooting, Jabari Parker is ready to take the next big step, Matthew Dellavedova is ready to kill someone, and Michael Carter-Williams, AKA the ‘trusting the process’ guy who still needs time to develop, is still around. The core is in place, as well as a quite formidable supporting cast
This is Jason Kidd’s time to shine. With Parker, Giannis, Middleton and Greg Monroe at the centrepiece of the organization, it is time for the Bucks to break into the playoffs and quite possibly surprise a few teams. Worst-case scenario, the ‘Greek Freak’ will be a highly coveted fantasy player!
8) Chicago Bulls
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Rajon Rondo SG: Dwyane Wade SF: Jimmy Butler PF: Nikola Mirotic C: Robin Lopez
Buckle up Bulls fans because similar to the Knicks fan base, you are in for a wild ride of which will include a little bit of everything. Some wins, some losses, some locker-room tomfoolery between Rondo and Wade, some coaching issues, and some more headaches. That is the Bulls in a nutshell. Well that and the statistically worst shooting backcourt in the NBA.
After moving on from the injury-riddled Rose and Noah, the Bulls Management promised a youth movement, surrounding the likes of Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, Doug McDermott, Jerian Grant and Mirotic. The stereotypical Bulls, by which I mean, the scrappy guys. The dudes who play with a chip on their shoulders, can shoot and play physically.
A week or two later, Rondo and Wade are in the fold and well; get ready for quite a bit of Drama. All I know is, maybe the Raptors finally stand a chance against these new look Bulls.
7) Detroit Pistons
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Reggie Jackson SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope SF: Tobias Harris PF: Marcus Morris C: Andre Drummond
There are good news and bad news when it comes to the Pistons. The good news is that Stan Van Gundy has finally brought the Pistons back to the playoffs. The bad news is, they did not improve by much if at all over the offseason and Andre Drummond can still not shoot free throws.
Of course the starting line up should be great. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a very underappreciated backcourt mate of Reggie Jackson and Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris, complement Drummond very well.
The issue will come with the second unit. Stanley Johnson is a player to watch. The Yugoslavian giant, Boban Marjanovic can offer something on both ends of the court simply by being a building with feet.
Then what? The answer is nada. A spot in the playoffs seems very likely although the Bucks can pose a threat, but does this team have what it takes to take on one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams in round numero uno? No.
6) Charlotte Hornets
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Kemba Walker SG: Nicolas Batum SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist PF: Marvin Williams C: Roy Hibbert
Will Charlotte be able to build on last year’s success? It will be tough no doubt and Kemba Walker will be forced to carry a very heavy load. If this Hornets team makes it to the postseason, and Walker is not an All-Star, I will roll up in a ball and cry for Walker.
If you have not noticed, I am a big fan of Walker and think he is one of the more underrated point guards in the game.
What did his royal airness, Michael Jordan plug around him? Some real nice role players, who can shoot, spread the floor and defend. The Bobcats will not have the sexy names most teams do, but Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lamb, Cody Zeller, Marco Belinelli, Frank Kaminsky, and Marvin Williams are a good batch of complementary pieces that can help the Hornets make the playoffs.
The problem will come when in the playoffs. Can a team win with only one star? Let alone win a single round? Home court advantage will be very unlikely to achieve and as good as Walker is, he is mortal. The Hornets are a pesky team who will give a playoff team a run for their money, but ultimately just do not have enough to compete.
5) Atlanta Hawks
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Dennis Shroder SG: Kent Bazemore SF: Kyle Korver PF: Paul Millsap C: Dwight Howard
After a big offseason that consisted of a few vital changes, the Hawks return with a few new looks to their starting five. Dennis Schroder finally gets his Christmas wish in starting for the Hawks and Dwight Howard has come home taking the place of the veteran all-star Al Horford.
Despite constant injury and drama concerns when it comes to Dwight Howard, when healthy and demanding the ball, he can still dominate ball games, as for Shroder, he is a quick guard that deserved to start – if not in Atlanta then definitely elsewhere.
The Hawks are still the weaker Eastern Conference version of the San Antonio Spurs. The leadership and play calling of Coach Bud is elite, the team moves the ball around really well, have a lot of great role-plays that move well without the basketball, and they play solid defence. Although a playoff team, their lack of a legitimate closer or proven scorer will continue to be their main downfall.
4) Indiana Pacers
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Jeff Teague SG: Monta Ellis SF: Paul George PF: Thaddeus Young C: Myles Turner
Very well played, Larry Bird, exceptionally well played! Probably the most improved Eastern Conference team this season will be the Indiana Pacers. A team that took the two-seed Toronto Raptors to the limit in round one of the 2016 NBA playoffs, Bird went out this past offseason and brought in some much needed support for his superstar, Paul George.
The additions of Jeff Teague, Al Jefferson, Aaron Brooks and Thaddeus Young adds both some star power, consistency, depth, and more veteran presence to go along with the likes of C.J. Miles, Lavoy Allen, and Rodney Stuckey.
Lastly, Myles Turner has the makings to be a star and is a definite core piece on the Pacers team. With Jeff Teague playing the point, and Paul George on the wing, this will be a very dangerous team, maybe even a team better then the Pacers teams that took the Miami Heat to the limit in the conference finals!
3) Boston Celtics
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Isaiah Thomas SG: Avery Bradley SF: Jae Crowder PF: Amir Johnson C: Al Horford
After missing out on the big fish of free agency, Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics grabbed the biggest big man on the market in Al Horford, a player that can catapult the Celtics into the Eastern Conference elite with the Raptors and Cavaliers.
With the addition of Horford, the Celtics finally have a legitimate star and two-way big, with the likes of former Raptor Amir Johnson, Tyler Zeller and Canadian Kelly Olynyk being solid depth pieces behind him.
Brad Stevens may be one of the best coaches in basketball despite his age, and Isaiah Thomas is an All-Star in his own right. Similar to the front court formation of a star big and solid support pieces, the same applies for the backcourt with Thomas as the centre piece and Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart adding great defense and depth. The Celtics will also have Jae Crowder to provide wing support and stout defence.
Another interesting piece to keep an eye on with Boston will be the super athletic rookie out of California, Jaylen Brown.
With the abundance of draft picks, and rumours coming out of places like Sacramento and Los Angeles, is this the year Ainge pulls the trigger and goes all in?
2) Toronto Raptors
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Kyle Lowry SG: DeMar DeRozan SF: DeMarre Carroll PF: Jared Sullinger C: Jonas Valanciunas
Coming off the best season in franchise history, the Toronto Raptors are ready to go back to war against the defending champion Cavaliers yet again with a newly re-signed DeMar DeRozan, and a healthy Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll. Kyle Lowry also appears healthy after an elbow injury hindered his play in the 2016 NBA playoffs.
Not much has changed over the offseason north of the border. Mainly Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo have found new homes, while the Masai Ujiri made a questionable signing in Jared Sullinger. For a franchise that preaches class and professionalism, Sullinger has undergone some off court issues while in Boston while also struggling to maintain good weight. Make-up aside, Sullinger is still a major upgrade over the veteran Scola with the ability to stretch the floor, rebound, and defend.
Aside from the DeRozan signing, the big key will be Carroll returning to full health. Not being at full health all post season left the Raptors finding for answer be it in Terrence Ross or an unproven Norman Powell. The Raptors now come in deep and talented. The playoffs are a sure thing after which health will become the deciding factor of how well they can do in the postseason.
1) Cleveland Cavaliers
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Kyrie Irving SG: Spot being saved for J.R. Smith’s re-signing SF: LeBron James PF: Kevin Love C: Tristan Thompson
Deli may no longer be there, but LeBron James is still the best basketball player in the world and with Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and of course Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers will be hard to dethrone from their NBA crown, let alone their Eastern Conference crown.
If opposing teams want optimism, Tristan Thompson is currently dating a Kardashian. Will the Kardashian curse strike again as it did with James Harden, Lamar Odom, and Kris Humphries? It may be the only hope the Eastern Conference has!