The Title Contenders:
1. Cleveland Cavaliers:
Much to the dismay of Celtics fans, Cleveland has retained Kevin Love and most of their other important pieces including Tristan Thompson. With one year under their belt they should mesh nicely and are the likely favorites to be the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
2. Miami Heat:
Although the Heat did not make the playoffs, which was mostly due to injuries, on paper they were actually very strong. It all started with the emergence of Hassan Whiteside, netting Goran Dragic at the deadline for almost nothing, drafting Justice Winslow, the forward from Duke, then adding Amare Stoudamire and Gerald Green. I expect this team to be the main threat to Cleveland this season.
3. Atlanta Hawks:
The Hawks had great chemistry last season, which will not be going anywhere. They did lose a strong player in Demarre Carroll, but also shored up their frontcourt in a trade with the Spurs that got them Tiago Splitter. The Hawks will certainly be up there and could still win north of 55 games, but the way Cleveland picked them apart in the Conference Finals last season shows they still have a long way to go before being the frontrunners in the East.
The Second Tier:
4. Milwaukee Bucks:
The Bucks were a solid team last season with a number of bright sports, most notably (the Greek Freak), Giannis Anttetokounmpo. They lost the best player in last year’s draft, Jabari Parker to injury early in the season so he will be back and healthy. Plus the team just added Greg Munroe to be their starting center. This is a young team that will only improve as the season goes on and will make some noise come playoff time.
5. Chicago Bulls:
I was debating putting them at four due to their reputation the past five years, but there are simply too many question marks. Will Derrick Rose get injured again? How will Fred Hoiberg do as an NBA coach? Will the defense drop off without Tom Thibodeau? Nonetheless they will still be a solid playoff team that could ascend from the first round.
6. Boston Celtics:
The Celtics had a fantastic ending to the regular season last year. Once Isaiah Thomas was brought in, the team started winning games, looked like a real basketball team and even made it into the playoffs as the 7th seed. Now with David Lee coming in and a whole year of continuity, I see this team winning even more games and even making it into the second round of playoffs. The future certainly looks bright in the Bean.
7. Washington Wizards:
The Wizards have been a solid team the past few years and have made significant improvements since John Wall arrived five years ago. However, this offseason they really didn’t do much. They lost Paul Pierce and with that have lost veteran experience that helped them quite a bit in the playoffs this past season.
8. Toronto Raptors:
The Raptors may have signed Demarre Carroll, but they also lost Louis Williams to the Lakers, who was a huge scorer for that team. I still think they will be able to squeak into the playoffs, but in an improving Eastern Conference, Carroll will not be enough to help them move up in the standings.
By Spencer Roush @El_Spence_Man