A post-championship hangover seems imminent for the Cavs. They will also cruise through the regular season, but still have the talent to rack a win total in the mid-fifties and finish atop the Eastern Conference nevertheless. Their energy was plainly better when Tyronn Lue took over as coach, and that should carry over to this season. Depth will ultimately be a concern, as they are presently relying on a handful of thirty-somethings to bolster their bench unit.
At this point the Brad Stevens effect is obvious, and the Celtics signed Al Horford, who will easily be the best player Stevens has coached in the NBA. Horford will improve their frontcourt offense and backline defense. This team won 48 games last year, so 50 should be attainable this season. Rookie Jaylen Brown will make an impact, and the low-key signing of Gerald Green may end up being a steal once Stevens works with him.
The Hawks signed Dwight Howard after losing Horford, hoping Howard will be rejuvenated after a messy breakup with Houston. They are also counting on Dennis Schroeder to step up into the starting point guard role after trading Jeff Teague. There has been some major turnover on this roster, but they have a nice mix of veterans and hungry youth and the reins are still held by a good coach in Mike Budenholzer. They still have the potential to be a very good defensive team with Kent Bazemore and Paul Millsap in the lineup.
Optimism is high in Canada after a banner season, but this season’s version of the Raptors has some questions that last year’s version did not. Bismack Biyombo was a rebounding menace in the playoffs, but he left to sign with Orlando. Star guard Kyle Lowry wore down in the playoffs and, over 30 now, may be beginning a slow decline towards the twilight of his career. A regression seems likely, but this team will still comfortably make the playoffs.
Skepticism is abound for this team after a strange offseason, but it has created individual chips that collectively could make this a very dangerous team. Dwyane Wade is out to prove Miami made a big mistake by letting him go. Rajon Rondo is out to prove that he is still an elite point guard. Jimmy Butler is out to prove that he can lead a team. Outside shooting will be an issue, but Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott will both help by getting more playing time. The Bulls have the pieces to be a solid defensive team, Year 2 of Coach Fred Hoiberg should be much smoother than Year 1.
Health is the key for the Wizards, as the roster, when fully constituted is one of the best in the East. The primary health concern is Bradley Beal. New coach Scott Brooks will give the team new energy and a bounce-back season appears likely.
Paul George is still one of the best players in the NBA, and he will lead this otherwise unimpressive roster to well over 40 wins. The additions of Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young will allow the Pacers to play much faster, something President Larry Bird clearly wants as he split ways with former coach Frank Vogel. New coach Nate McMillan will have to prove that he is not a downgrade from the departed Vogel.
- New York
The Knicks’ major trade which acquired Derrick Rose may not have improved the team that much, but they were on track to improve anyway. The signing of another former Bull, Joakim Noah could easily have a greater impact. Bringing in veteran guards Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings will help their fight, and new coach Jeff Hornacek could be a major upgrade. Sensation Kristaps Porzingis should continue to improve and could make a major leap. The health of Noah and Carmelo Anthony is obviously paramount, but this team should be headed to the playoffs.
The Pistons have a lot going for them, not the least of which is the mind of coach Stan Van Gundy. But there are some obstacles keep them from maintaining their momentum from last season. Starting guard Reggie Jackson will miss the first 4-6 weeks of the season. There is a decided lack of perimeter shooting on this team. Overall they will be very competitive, but just miss the playoffs, perhaps because of the missed time with Jackson. Rookie Henry Ellenson is worth keeping an eye on.
It will be interesting to see how the Heat approach the season, but they have the pieces to challenge for a postseason berth. The offense can revolve around Goran Dragic, and new guard Dion Waiters is hungry to prove his worth after a season on the Thunder. Second year man Justise Winslow can improve, and coach Erik Spoelstra quietly always gets the most out of his players.
The Magic might have had the most interesting offseason in the league, but the premise is that athleticism and defense will be the focus of new coach Frank Vogel. New additions Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka will anchor the defense (Ibaka will also help with much needed three-point shooting). A healthy Evan Fournier will help in all areas. The Magic need third year point guard Elfrid Payton to improve. They may be relying too heavily on Aaron Gordon who is very talented, but whose role is unclear. Vogel could turn this team into a defensive monster.
The Hornets had a great season last year, but they lost Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee, and Jeremy Lin from that team. They will try to offset those losses with Roy Hibbert, Marco Belinelli, and Ramon Sessions. Their depth is still nice, but they seem due for a regression as the middle of the East continues to improve.
This team was primed to improve, but the injury to Khris Middleton has thrown everything off. They traded Michael Carter-Williams to Chicago for Tony Snell, and that will not net an improvement. A lot is on the shoulders of Giannis Antetokounmpo, and while he will produce, the bench is weak. The Bucks do have a lot of pieces to employ positionless basketball, a style they should experiment with because it will lead to a bright future.
The Nets have enough pieces to be much more competitive than last season. The trio of Jeremy Lin, Bojan Bogdanovich, and Brook Lopez will be a handful on offense, but they will not provide much defense. There are some interesting young pieces on the bench. If rookie Caris LeVert can get healthy he could make a splash.
The injury to Ben Simmons may set this franchise back yet another year. The start of Joel Embiid’s career will be intriguing, but there is obviously not enough room for Embiid, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor all in the post. A trade seems necessary, but regardless the Sixers do not figure to be competitive this year.