2015-16 Eastern Conference Preview

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Photo: @celtics/Instagram 
Atlantic Division

Boston Celtics

NBA Titles: 17

Head Coach: Brad Stevens

2014-15 Record: 40-42

New Faces: Amir Johnson, David Lee, Perry Jones.

Celtics Fans Should Be Excited About: The most talented Celtics team in the post Big Three Era. The Celtics have a nice combination of young, raw talent (Marcus Smart, James Young, etc.) and, in the form of newcomers David Lee and Amir Johnson, some veteran savvy.

Celtics Fans Should Be Worried About: The team being caught in no man’s land, where coach Stevens leans too much on his veterans in order to win now—or least scrape into the playoffs—and the youngsters on the team fail to get sufficient playing time.

Prediction: Stevens is one of the best young coaches in the league and this is the most talented roster he’s had to work with since entering the NBA. As usual the Celtics, under Stevens, will execute the fundamentals and will be hard to beat: 2nd in the Atlantic, 7th in the Conference.

Brooklyn Nets

NBA Titles: 0

Head Coach: Lionel Hollins

2014-15 Season: 38-44

New Faces: Andrea Bargnani, Shane Larkin.

Nets Fans Should Be Excited About: Living in a post-Deron Williams world. The Nets agreed to a buy-out of the fading Williams this summer (they’ve effectively stretched the payment of his salary out over the next five years) and the franchise can begin to rebuild without their former overpaid and underachieving point-guard.

Net Fans Should Be Worried About: A mediocre team with a limited ceiling and few exciting prospects for the future. The Nets’ front office and ownership sold the future in order to win now and that effort has failed spectacularly.

Prediction: In Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson (and Joe Johnson’s bloated contract) the Nets have enough middling talent to challenge for a low playoff spot, but with the East getting a little better and the Nets worse overall, they’ll ultimately come up short: 3rd in the Atlantic, 11th in the Conference.

New York Knicks

NBA Titles: 2

Head Coach: Derek Fisher

2014-15 Record: 17-65

New Faces: Arron Afflalo, Robin Lopez, Kristaps Porzingis, Kevin Seraphin.

Knicks Fans Should Be Excited About: Acquiring some semi-decent talent to surround Carmelo Anthony with. Robin Lopez is a very capable defensive centre, while Arron Afflalo—when healthy—can be a solid secondary scorer in the backcourt.

Knicks Fans Should Be Worried About: Injuries completely derailing their season. Anthony has been battling them for a while now, while Afflalo has never been known for his durability. The Knicks don’t own their 2016 first-round pick so tanking, if the injury-bug does raise its ugly head, isn’t a logical option.

Prediction: The Knicks certainly won’t be the worst team in the NBA this year—as they were last season—and their starting five should be able to compete with a lot of teams in the conference. That said, there’s not a whole lot of talent on the roster overall and the team is one Carmelo injury away from the conference basement: 4th in the Atlantic, 12th in the Conference.

Philadelphia 76ers

NBA Titles: 2

Head Coach: Brett Brown

2014-15 Record: 18-64

New Faces: Kendall Marshall, Carl Landry, Nik Stauskas, Jahlil Okafor.

76ers Fans Should Be Excited About: Watching rookie Jahlil Okafor—an extremely talented offensive big-man—pair up with second year man Nerlens Noel. Noel look good in flashes last season and his defensive abilities should complement Okafor’s skills on the block nicely.

76ers Fans Should Be Worried About: Another season of soul-crushing basketball. Sam Hinkie has been given quite the leash by ownership, and the Sixers have the sketched outline of a talented team, but if you’re going to charge people good money to come to your games sooner or later you have to give them something to cheer about.

Prediction: The 76ers will be fun to watch, with all their young, athletic talent—especially at the start of the season—but this will be another season that will try the patience of even the most diehard, Hinkie Kool Aid drinking, Philly fan: 5th in the Atlantic, 15th in the Conference.

Toronto Raptors

NBA Titles: 0

Head Coach: Dwane Casey

2014-15 Record: 49-33

New Faces: DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Luis Scola, Anthony Bennett, Bismack Biyombo.

Raptors Fans Should Be Excited About: A complete 180 turn, personnel-wise. Gone are one-dimensional offensive gunners like Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez, with defense-first grinders DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph taking over the vacant roster spots. The Raptors couldn’t stop even the most mediocre guards last season and were in desperate need of some two-way players this summer.

Raptors Fan Should Be Worried About: A roster that’s more than good enough to win the Atlantic, but tops-out in the first round of the playoffs yet again. The Raptors best players, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, are good but not great, and the big dogs in the Conference should once again be too strong for Toronto.

Prediction: The Raptors are the elite of the Atlantic Division—no doubt about that—and their new additions should help Casey play the type of defense he’s wanted to since taking over the team. If Jonas Valanciunas can play up to his new contract, and the team can play some inside-out ball, they could make some noise in the playoffs too: 1st in the Atlantic, 5th in the Conference.

Central Division

Chicago Bulls

NBA Titles: 6

Head Coach: Fred Hoiberg

2014-15 Record: 50-32

New Faces: Jordan Crawford.

Bulls Fans Should Be Excited About: Watching a team that has as good a chance as anyone of making it out of the East. The Bulls are loaded at every position—especially in the front court—and possess one of the deepest benches in the NBA. Don’t forget, this team was a Game 4 meltdown away from taking a 3-1 lead against the Cavaliers last season in the conference semis.

Bulls Fans Should Be Worried About: A lack of focus from the team. Perhaps the players were starting to tune out Tom Thibodeau, but the Bulls were uncharacteristically sloppy last season—particularly on the defense—and frequently played down to their opposition.

Prediction: New coach Fred Hoiberg should be a refreshing change for a locker-room that had begun to tire of Thibodeau’s drill-sergeant ways. The front-court will dominate games, but if Derrick Rose can play up to the standard he showed in last season’s playoffs—and Jimmy Butler continues his ascent into stardom—the Bulls will be a mighty handful: 2nd in the Central, 2nd in the Conference.

Cleveland Cavaliers

NBA Titles: 0

Head Coach: David Blatt

2014-15 Record: 53-29

New Faces: Mo Williams, Richard Jefferson.

Cavaliers Fans Should Be Excited About: Another season of watching the most explosively talented offensive team in the NBA—and a genuine title contender. The Cavaliers can run every player in the book and have the talent—three superstars—to execute those plays. Post All-Star break last season Cleveland was basically unstoppable and that should be the case from the get-go this time around.

Cavaliers Fans Should Be Worried About: Integrating Kevin Love effectively. Love made it no secret last season that he was unhappy with his role in the offense and while he was still remarkably effective as a pick-n-pop shooter, a player of his many talents needs to be more of a focal point.

Prediction:
The Cavaliers came within two games of winning the NBA Finals against an all-time great team in the Golden State Warriors, without the services of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. It was LeBron and a rag-tag group of role players. If the Cavs can stay healthy this season King James and company will waltz their way through the East: 1st in the Atlantic, 1st in the Conference.

Detroit Pistons

NBA Titles: 3

Head Coach: Stan Van Gundy

2014-15 Record: 32-50

New Faces: Aron Baynes, Steve Blake, Danny Granger, Ersan Ilyasova, Marcus Morris.

Pistons Fans Should Be Excited About: Finally shedding the disgruntled/deadweight personnel on the roster and moving towards resembling a team shaped by Stan Van Gundy’s basketball philosophy.

Pistons Fans Should Be Worried About: Lacking the shooters to implement Van Gundy’s vision. Ilyasova is a nice addition as a stretch-four, and Jodie Meeks can get hot, but both Reggie Jackson and Brandon Jennings aren’t exactly what you’d call deadeye three-point shooters.

Prediction: Andre Drummond should continue to develop into one of the most dominant centers in the league, and the Pistons will certainly have better balance and chemistry than they did last season. That said, while competitive, Van Gundy’s team will come up short in their goal of making the post-season: 5th in the Central, 10th in the Conference.

Indiana Pacers

NBA Titles: 0

Head Coach: Frank Vogel

2014-15 Record: 38-44

New Faces: Monta Ellis, Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill.

Pacers Fans Should Be Excited About: A full season of Paul George. George will hopefully be back to somewhere near his best after recovering from that devastating leg break in the 2014. On his day he’s close to being the best two-way player in the league and is vitally important to the Pacer’s chances of making the playoffs.

Pacers Fans Should Be Worried About: A lack real depth on the roster. Outside of George and new addition Monta Ellis it’s hard to see where the Pacers are going to generate offense. The team’s defense should be good enough to keep them in games, but ultimately, you need to score points to win games.

Prediction: The Pacers parted ways with Roy Hibbert and David West and are attempting a to reinvent their style—from a paint-banging, half-court team, to a small-ball, pace-and-space outfit. The team is very well coached and talented at the top of the roster, but a lack of overall depth will cost them in their attempts to make the post-season: 4th in the Central, 9th in the Conference.

Milwaukee Bucks

NBA Titles: 1

Head Coach: Jason Kidd

2014-15 Record: 41-41

New Faces: Greg Monroe, Chris Copeland, Greivis Vasquez

Bucks Fans Should Be Excited About: The continued ascent of the last season’s surprise team. The Bucks are young, super-talented and now have a little bit of playoff experience under their belt, which should stand them in good stead for the coming season.

Bucks Fans Should Be Worried About: Offensive issues. The Bucks were on of the best defensive teams in the NBA last season and they generated much of their offense by turning teams over and getting out in transition. In the half-court, however, they were brutal and it was their undoing in the Bulls series.

Prediction: The Bucks are teeming with young talent and will have the luxury of adding Jabari Parker to a roster that includes Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams. Most importantly, however, the team signed Greg Monroe who should give them much-needed offense when the game slows down: 3rd in the Central, 6th in the Conference.

Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks

NBA Titles: 0

Head Coach: Mike Budenholzer

2014-15 Record: 60-22

New Faces: Tim Hardaway Jr., Tiago Splitter.

Hawks Fans Should Be Excited About: Getting to watch the San Antonio Spurs of the Eastern Conference. Budenholzer’s team is a joy to watch—moving the ball, moving without the ball and passing up good shots for better ones. The team, with the likes of Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver possess some of the smartest and most underappreciated players in the NBA.

Hawks Fans Should Be Worried About: Some regression to the mean this season. The Hawks were excellent last season, but they got lucky with injuries during the regular season. This year they’ll be without their 3-and-D wing from last season, DeMarre Carroll, who has departed for Toronto and will be missed.

Prediction: The Hawks won’t win 60 games this season and they’ll be overtaken in the Conference standings by the Cavaliers and Bulls. They will remain a very dangerous team, nonetheless. Tiago Splitter is an excellent off-season addition and should take a lot of pressure off Al Horford’s shoulders defensively: 1st in the Southeast, 3rd in the Conference.

Charlotte Hornets

NBA Titles: 0

Head Coach: Steve Clifford

2014-15 Record: 33-49

New Faces: Nicolas Batum, Frank Kaminsky, Jeremy Lin, Spencer Hawes, Jeremy Lamb, Tyler Hansbrough.

Hornets Fans Should Be Excited About: A revamped roster that features established talent (Nicolas Batum) and young players with something to prove (rookie Kaminsky and Thunder reject Jeremy Lamb). The Hornets were very disappointing last season and desperately needed some new faces.

Hornets Fans Should Be Worried About: The loss of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Kidd-Gilchrist may not have fixed his jump shot, but he’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and one of the smartest cutters and finishes. His loss will be sorely felt.

Prediction: If everything falls right for the Hornet they could make the playoffs—as anyone in the East, bar Philly, could to be honest. But a lot would have to go right for the Hornets to scrape in and the loss of Kidd-Gilchrist will really hurt the team defensively: 4th in the Southeast, 13th in the Conference.

Miami Heat

NBA Titles: 3

Head Coach: Erik Spoelstra

2014-15 Record: 37-45

New Faces:
Gerald Green, Amar’e Stoudemire, Justise Winslow.

Heat Fans Should Be Excited About: The potential to field one of the best starting fives in the league. After snagging Goran Dragic at the trade deadline last season the Heat’s season was derailed by injuries; but if their big guns—Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Chris Bosh can play significant minutes together this season the Heat could make some noise.

Heat Fans Should Be Worried About: Injuries derailing their season once again. Bosh is thankfully back fit and healthy after last season’s major health scare, but Wade hasn’t been able to play a full 82 games in years and Deng is hardly a spring chicken anymore.

Prediction: The Heat are loaded with talented and if they stay healthy and get some contributions from their young talent—particularly Duke standout Justise Winslow—they should be a lock for the post-season: 3rd in the Southeast, 8th in the Conference.

Orlando Magic

NBA Titles: 0

Head Coach: Scott Skiles

2014-15 Record: 25-57
New Faces: Mario Herzonja, C.J. Watson, Jason Smith.

Magic Fans Should Be Excited About: Another season of watching one of the more exciting backcourts in the NBA: the duo of Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton. The Magic may not win a lot of games this season, but those two will give it all they have every night.

Magic Fans Should Be Worried About: A team that has yet to find an identity and a roster that’s an unbalanced mix of young talent and so-so veterans. It’s been three years since Dwight Howard left town and Magic fans are starting to get impatient—understandably so—with the teams lack of progress since that point.

Prediction: There should be a little improvement this season from the Magic—their young players will have one more year of NBA experience under their belts—and Scott Skiles is a coaching upgrade over Jacque Vaughan. The team will continue to lose a lot of basketball games, however: 5th in the Southeast, 14th in the Conference.

Washington Wizards

NBA Titles: 1

Head Coach: Randy Wittman

2014-15 Record: 46-36

New Faces: Alan Anderson, Jared Dudley.

Wizards Fans Should Be Excited About: The continued maturation of John Wall. Wall has developed into the best point-guard in the Eastern Conference—a lighting quick driver, savant-like passer and relentless on defense. He’s also become a real leader and a calming influence for a team that used to be knucklehead central.

Wizard Fans Should Be Worried About: Late game execution. Last season the Wizards’ offense got bogged down late in games and Paul Pierce, since departed for the Clippers, was required to bail his side out on multiple occasions. This season other players, most notably Bradley Beal, will need to step up in late-game possessions.

Prediction: The Wizards have made the Conference Semis in each of the last two seasons and will be desperate to go one better this season. They certainly have the talent to achieve that goal and if Otto Porter, so good in last season’s playoffs, can continue to get better, Washington has a real shot to go far this season: 2nd in the Southeast, 4th in the Conference.
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