By Hocine LOUKKAF on 9/18/2018

With Lebron gone to the West one year after PG13 left for OKC, the favourites for the Eastern Conference title is probably in this division. Philly and Boston, which will recover Hayward and Irving, will need to keep an eye on Toronto, which may be really dangerous if Kawhi comes healthy. New York and Brooklyn are still in rebuilding mode and will have a hard time fighting against their division counterparts.

#1 Boston Celtics

Basically, the Celtics reached the Conference finals without their two best players and with a rookie as their best scorer in the playoffs. With Irving and Hayward returning from injury, the roster is stacked. The front office resigned Smart for a reasonable $52m over four year, an important decision as Smart is the heart and soul of this team. The core remains the same and the Celtics may even have drafted a steal with Robert Williams III, an athletic PF/C whose stock slipped due to injury concerns. Definitely the team to beat in the East.

#2 Philadelphia Sixers

Forget Lebron, the team has enough firepower to make the fans happy. Embiid and Simmons were incredible last year and well helped by Saric, Covington, O’Connell or Reddick. Unfortunately, Philly has lost some of its spacing with the departure of Belinelli and Ilyasova. Instead, Chandler and Muscala bring some much needed experience to a core of young and talented player. As usual, the draft was used to add some pieces with an interesting backcourt made of Zhaire Smith and scoring PG Landry Shamet. Jonah Bolden comes back from Europe with his versatility and outside scoring. Will it be enough against Boston’s armada?

#3 Toronto Raptors

You know what you loose but you don’t know what you get. That’s exactly the situation Toronto has to deal with as nobody knows what is on Kawhi’s mind or body. If Kawhi is healthy and willing to show his exceptional play, he could bother both Boston and Philly as he virtually is a top five player in the League. He has a good supporting cast with numerous inside options (Ibaka, Valanciunas, Siakam) and has brought with him a top shooter in Danny Green. We’ll see pretty soon if Toronto will be sucessful.

#4 New York Knicks

With Porzingis still out for several months, the youngsters will have playing time to improve and show what they got. Ntilikina will have to take his responsabilities and show that he can become a starter. Newly signed Vonleh and Hezonja, former high praised prospects, will have a last chance to prove they can be more than rotational players. Last but not least, rookies Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson, who fill needs at the SF and center position, could take advantage of the situation, with Robinson showcasing in the summer league the ability to be the rim protector the Knicks lack so much.

#5 Brooklyn Nets

After one of the worst trades of all time in the NBA, which allows Boston to bring Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Irving and still a top pick in 2019 from Sacramento or the Lakers, the Nets are still in rebuilding mode with an incapacity to sign any top players. Instead, they signed good role players with Ed Davis, Kenneth Faried or Shabazz Napier, and draft two European forwards with Dzana Musa and Rodion Kurucs. Last year, their major satisfaction was Jarrett Allen, a solid defensive presence with the potential to be efficient on both ends of the floor.

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