The NBA Draft has come and gone, the top free agents are all off the board and most stars on the trading block have been dealt.
It seems like the dust is slowing starting to settle on another busy NBA offseason and you can finally begin to stack up the teams to see who got better and who needs to rebuild.
We all know that the Eastern Conference is pretty weak. But how weak exactly? A lot of teams have seen major changes and here is what everybody seems to be working with at the moment.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron James is still on the team so Cleveland is still the top dogs in the conference. Even if the gap has closed a bit because of Gordon Hayward, that gap still can’t be ignored. The Cavaliers are 36-5 against Eastern Conference teams in the playoffs over the last five seasons. Even the mighty Warriors have lost eight games against conference opponents in the postseason over that stretch.
2. Boston Celtics
Gordon Hayward will take a huge weight off the shoulders of Isaiah Thomas and Danny Ainge has done a nice job filling out the rest of the roster. Al Horford, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart all return while 20-year old Jaylen Brown looks to build on his Second Team All-Rookie effort from last season. Losing Avery Bradley hurts, but getting Marcus Morris – who provides a massive upgrade over the departing Amir Johnson – was a very underrated return.
3. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors had to let P.J. Tucker walk and dumped DeMarre Carroll – along with a first round pick for their troubles – on the Brooklyn Nets, but they’ve still had a productive offseason. They were able to resign both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka to keep their core together and a sign-and-trade for C.J. Miles is expected to be completed soon.
4. Washington Wizards
Here’s a team that will once again be searching for depth during the regular season. They traded a first round pick for Bojan Bogdanovic at the deadline last season in order to give the bench a boost, but Washington wasn’t able to resign him as Otto Porter wound up commanding a max deal as a restricted free agent. John Wall might be the second best player in the Eastern Conference and he’ll keep this team in the top four of this weak conference, but the Wizards could be destined for another second round exit.
5. Milwaukee Bucks
It will be very interesting to see if rising star Giannis Antetokounmpo has even another level to reach, because that would really help move the Bucks forward. The same could be said for reigning Rookie of the Year Malcom Brogdon, who is actually two years older than Antetokounmpo. Jason Kidd has been great at getting the best out of all his young players, so 17th overall pick D.J. Wilson out of Michigan could wind up being a surprise rookie this upcoming season.
6. Miami Heat
Pat Riley wasn’t able to land a marquee free agent after all the Chris Bosh money opened up this summer but there is still reason to be optimistic about this team going forward. An 11-30 start to last season wasn’t ideal, but they clawed their way back to 41-41 record by becoming one of basketball’s hottest teams down the stretch. They drafted big bruising center Bam Adebayo with the 14th overall pick and also added stretch big Kelly Olynyk to reinforce a frontcourt that was very lacking after Hassan Whiteside.
7. Charlotte Hornets
Finishing seventh or somewhere around there in the Eastern Conference isn’t too much to write home about, but that’s where the Hornets might find themselves after trading for Dwight Howard and watching a number of conference rivals around them crumble into rebuilding mode. This isn’t the Howard of old who willed a weak Magic team to contention, but he should be a big enough addition to get them back in the playoffs.
8. Philadelphia 76ers
All eyes will be on Philadelphia as “The Process” should be just about complete by now. If Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Joel Embiid are all healthy then this team should easily compete for a playoff spot after years of tanking. They’ve also been very active in free agency for the first time in years by signing veterans such as J.J. Reddick and Amir Johnson to add depth and plug holes on the roster. If things do go south for the team, Reddick and Johnson are both on one year deals and could easily be shipped off to a team that’s buying at the deadline.
9. Detroit Pistons
Taking advantage of a Celtics team that was desperate to open up cap space was a big win for the Pistons and now Avery Bradley gives them an elite defensive presence on the perimeter to pair up with Andre Drummond’s strong rim protection. 12th overall pick Luke Kennard has looked very good in summer ball so far and because so many teams in the conference got worse, this team could find themselves in the postseason next spring.
10. New York Knicks
The outlook at Madison Square Garden will change dramatically once Carmelo Anthony is gone, but this is a team that’s really stuck in the middle until this move becomes official. New York isn’t a playoff team – even in the weak Eastern Conference – but guys like Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis still give them enough talent to eclipse 30 wins once again, giving them very little hope for a good draft pick on lottery night. The Knicks also haven’t done anything to get worse – yet – this summer. Sure, the Tim Hardaway contract was stupid some teams around them like the Pacers, Bulls and Hawks have just been losing key pieces left and right.
11. Indiana Pacers
Kevin Pritchard has been very busy since getting promoted from general manager to President of Basketball Operations following Larry Bird’s resignation, and a lot of his moves have probably moved the Pacers backwards. It wasn’t all his fault after Paul George told the team he wouldn’t be resigning and Indiana wound up getting very little in return for their All-Star. Jeff Teague, C.J. Mills and Monta Ellis are also gone while the likes of Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic are on their way in.
12. Orlando Magic
This is a roster completely packed with average talent and it should make for a below average team when all put together. 26-year old center Nikola Vucevic might be their best player and has averaged a double-double in four of the past five seasons, but he’s still one of the worst defensive big men in the league and he can’t stretch the floor. Orlando’s starting lineup on paper is pretty much full of guys that every contending team would love to have in a big bench role such as Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton and Evan Fournier. Orlando could sell, sell, sell at the deadline this year and come away with a ton of picks, but no matter what happens they probably won’t be near the playoffs.
13. Atlanta Hawks
This might be hard to believe, but the Atlanta Hawks have the third longest playoff streak among major four sports teams behind only the San Antonio Spurs (20) and Pittsburg Penguins (12). They’ve been playoff bound ten straight years, but it seems like that streak is going to end as new general manager Travis Schlenk has already begun a full rebuild. Starters Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard and Tim Hardway are all gone as Atlanta is now free of any long term contracts. Dennis Schroder is the only player on their roster with any guaranteed money after the 2018-19 season, which could open the door for this to be a rather quick building process; just don’t expect too much out of the 2017-18 squad.
14. Chicago Bulls
It was reported a day or two before the draft that Danny Ainge turned down the third overall pick for Jimmy Butler straight up and that seemed very crazy at the time. Once the world saw what the Bulls wound up getting for Butler, it was clear that giving up the third overall pick could have been too much. Chicago wound up getting a decent player who is coming off a torn ACL, a player in Kris Dunn coming off an awful rookie year and wound up swapping first round picks instead of flat out coming away with an extra one. This isn’t looking like a great summer for the Bulls and the season could be even worse.
15. Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn made the first big splash of this offseason when they traded Brook Lopez and a first round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for former second overall pick D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov’s terrible contract. They’ve been pretty silent otherwise, outside of throwing out ridiculous offer sheets to players who they’ll never sign and scooping up a future first round pick while also taking on DeMarre Carroll and his bad contract. This team is on the right path with general manager Sean Marks, but they were so far behind the eight ball when he took the job that they’ll still be one of the worst teams in the NBA next season.