By Hocine LOUKKAF on 11/8/2019
Despite Kawhis’s move to LA, the Eastern Conference remain competitive with Milwaukee, Philly or Boston but also underdogs like the Heat and of course Toronto willing to get that spot to the Finals.
#1 Milwaukee Bucks
After reaching the Conference Finals and with Kawhi gone to the West, Giannis and his Bucks are the undeniable favourite to reach the NBA Finals. The biggest loss is at the PG position as Brogdon, who was used a lot as a SG, decided to leave for Indiana. Bledsoe and Hill will have to handle the duty, with Bledsoe trying to prove he can handle the pressure better than he did during the Conference Finals. At SG, Budenholzer can switch between different options with Matthews, promising second-year DiVicenzo and sharpshooter Korver. Middleton has decided to stay with an almost-max contract and will be backed up by Giannis’ brother Thanasis. The departure of Mirotic, the ideal stretch four alongside Giannis, could hurt Milwaukee’s rotation. The staff decided to take a gamble on Bender, a former highly touted prospect who has not reached expectations but is displaying good things during the preseason. Lopez, another stretch big, will start at C where he will form a second pair of brothers with the solid Robin to come from the bench.
#2 Philadelphia Sixers
With the loss of two of the most appreciated players of last year’s roster, Reddick and McConnell, and the trade of Butler, the Sixers had to basically rebuild their backcourt. Josh Richardson may never become the kind of franchise player Butler is but his ability to shoot and defend (at a pretty good price) make him a good pick alongside Simmons. He could teach some things to first round pick Matysse Thybulle, a defensive juggernaut who could become a nice offensive player down the road. Neto comes from Utah to take McConnell’s seat while second-year Zhaire Smith will grind for minutes at the SG spot. The signing of Horford, a new shooting option and a safe starter at C if Embiid gets injured, may force coach Brown to play Harris, who has signed a max contract, at SF, a position the former Clipper has barely played since the beginning of his career. If he can adjust, the frontcourt of Harris, Horford and Embiid, combined with Simmons at PG, would create one of the tallest starting five ever. Ennis, Bolden, Scott and O’Quinn give solid rotations when the starters need some rest.
#3 Toronto Raptors
Of course they lost their best player, but the Raptors still have a solid roster and a winner mentality that may push them throughout the season. After his $130 million contract extension, Siakam is set to be the face of the franchise for the upcoming years, he showed how much he improved and still has room to be a better player. With Green gone, Van Vleet will be asked to start alongside Lowry. Anunoby could be one of the beneficiaries from Kawhi’s departure as a versatile defender who can shoot the three. Inside, Ibaka and Gasol will protect the paint and bring what they can on offense. This Raptor team may lack some depth as the aging Lowry or Gasol could be asked to play a lot. If everybody is healthy by May, it’s all good, yet, if one of the starter gets injured, it will be over for the Raptors’ chance to wo all the way to the Finals.
#4 Boston Celtics
It has been a tough offseason for the Cs who lost not only their starting PG, PF and C, but also some other solid players like Baynes or Rozier. Of course, the signing of Walker could make up for Irving’s departure, but Kemba’s lack of playoffs’ experience may hurt later in the season. At least, he can count on Smart to back him up while rookie Edwards could bring scoring from the bench. Brown and Hayward will probably share both SG and SF spots, which could create some playing time for rookie Romeo Langford, an highly toute prospect who had a so-so season at Indiana. Jayson Tatum may start at PF where he may be asked to lead the team offensively, while Ojeleye, Theis or rookie Grant Williams (a rugged PF with an high basketball IQ) will bring more defense from the bench. In the paint, Danny Ainge gambled on Kanter after Horford signed with the Sixers. French Vincent Poirier was one of the best centers in Euroleague but will have to battle Fall’s hype.
#5 Miami Heat
The typical underdog over the last years, Miami needed a leader whatever move had to be done. Pat Riley he got him, Jimmy Butler, by trading away Josh Richardson and Hassan Whiteside. With the Dragic, Johnson, Winslow, Adebayo or Jones, Spoelstra already had a solid group of athletes who will be asked to run and defend hard, exactly what Butler is good at. No need to lie, it would have been hard to predict the impact of Nunn or Robinson if the season hadn’t started. They bring more shooting to this team who could bother the favourites in the playoffs with its depth.
#6 Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn GM Sean Marks was very active during the summer and basically rebuild an already solid team by adding two stars to the roster. At PG, alongside Caris Levert, Irving is one of the most dynamic scorer and is an upgrade to both Dinwiddie and Russell. The same Russell was sent to the Warriors to sign Kevin Durant, the second prize of this summer behind Leonard. Yet, Sidelined with an Achilles injury, KD is not expected to be back this year, which will allow Harris and newcomer Taurean Prince to share those SF minutes. Unfortunately, due to the lack of PF, Prince may be asked to play mainly at this position as the other inside players, Allen and DeAndre Jordan, are pure centers who can’t stretch the floor. Without KD and a real inside offesnive threat, that Brooklyn team can not expect more than a playoff berth. If KD somehow comes back this year, who knows where they can end their season.
#7 Indiana Pacers
It was a weird summer for the Pacers as they lost their starting 31 y/o PG Darren Collison to retirement and sill have to wait fo Dipo. They were lucky though as it gave them the opportunity to make a trade and get Brogdon, an high IQ combo guard and a perfect fit for the franchise. Making up for the injured Oladipo and replacing now suspended Tyreke Evans, Indiana also signed Jeremy Lamb, who hasn’t reached the expectations yet but could be a nice option from the bench. GM Chad Buchanan also had to find a replacement for Bogdanovic, who decided to leave for Utah. TJ Warren is a solid option but may not have the versatility or shooting efficiency of the Croatian. Inside, the paint is solid with Sabonis and Turner despite the loss of Young. Rookie Bitadze may turni into a steal at the 18th pick.
#8 Detroit Pistons
Since the trade of Griffin, Detroit lacks talent and depth in its roster behind the former Clipper, Drummond and Jackson. This summer, the Pistons have added good vets, but it’s not sure it will help them reach the top-tier of the conference. After a promising year with the Wolves, Rose could help the backcourt by bringing his scoring from the bench o help Jackson. Improvement is expected from Kennard and Brown too. At SF, Tony Snell, who lost playing time last year with the Bucks, will play much as first round pick Doumbouya is not ready to contribute right now. Markieff Morris is a good recruit as he could start if Griffin gets injured.
#9 Atlanta Hawks
With a potential All Star leading the team and some pretty smart moves and picks during the summer, the Hawks are on their way to a promising year. Despite the eternal comparison with Doncic he will have to endure, Young proved he was a franchise player and the cornerstone of the franchise’s future. Coach Pierce will have plenty of options at SG with Huerter, Bembry, newcomers Crabbe and Turner but also top 10 pick Cam Reddish. On the wing, NCAA champ and #4 draft pick DeAndre Hunter will bring both his offensive game and defense as the team’s glue guy. At PF, Collins, the other franchise’s face, has unfortunately been suspended for 25 games for violation of the drug policy. Jabari Parker will make up for it during the first third of the season and could be a nice option from the bench once Collins comes back. Three players will fight for minutes at the C spot, Len, Damian Jones and rookie Bruno Fernando, with Collins another option when the team plays small ball.
#10 Orlando Magic
Few changes for the Magic which will try once again, with a roster full of solid players but lacking the talent or a real franchise player, to reach the playoffs. At PG, Augustin is serviceable but limited. That could give more playing time for Fultz to finally display why he was picked #1 and maybe bring that fresh air the team needs. Like Augustin, Fournier is an OK player, but his 15pts on 34% from three is not what you expect from your best outside scorer. On the wing, as if there weren’t enough combo forwards with Isaac and Gordon, the managing staff decided to draft Okeke, who will be out for the season, at 16 and bring Al Farouq Aminu. Inside, Vucevic may have been overpaid with a four-year $100m contract, a big amount for someone who has not helped this team win so many games over the last years. Moreover, that will make it very hard for last year’s pick Bamba to reach his potential and flourish if he’s stucked behind Vucevic, one more bad decision which limits the franchise’s future.