We’ve finally made it! Well, almost. With training camp right around the corner to kick off the 2019-20 NBA season, let’s see how the Washington Wizards stack up against their foes in the rest of the Eastern Conference. Instead of ranking teams from first to 15th, I placed each team in tiers. Here they are below!
After winning the first two games of the series, the Bucks lost the next four to the eventual NBA Champion Toronto Raptors. However, that shouldn’t undermine their excellent regular season run winning a league-high 60 games and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s emergence as the one of the NBA’s best evidenced as he won the league’s MVP award.
With Malcolm Brogdon leaving for Indiana in hopes of taking on a bigger role, the Bucks will attempt to replace his production with veteran Wesley Matthews. And in what has become somewhat of a familial affair, Milwaukee added another Lopez in Robin Lopez as well as another Antetokounmpo in Thanasis Antetokounmpo.
But at the end of the day, the success of this team boils down to one player - Giannis. If Giannis can continue to play at an MVP level, the Bucks will very much be in the hunt for the Eastern Conference crown. And if he improves his jumper? That’ll make him arguably the most un-guardable player in the league and will make his team even more of a contender for an NBA championship.
The Philadelphia 76ers were just a middle of the road team defensively last year - but that will likely change this season. With Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick gone, the 76ers will plug in Josh Richardson and Al Horford making them a very very big starting five. It will be tough for offenses to score on them and as mentioned, they signed Al Horford in free agency - one of the only players in the league who can actually guard Joel Embiid.
If you’re into offseason workout videos on Instagram and believe everything you hear, you know that Ben Simmons has apparently been working on his 3-point jumper and that Joel Embiid has apparently dropped 25 pounds.
But the questions from last year remain the same for this year’s Philadelphia team. Can Joel Embiid stay healthy for an entire season and who’ll be the crunch time scorer at the end of games?
If Ben Simmons does indeed have somewhat of a three-point shot and improves his overall scoring, late game scoring might not be a problem. But if he hasn’t taken a step forward in his development and Embiid has trouble staying on the court, then things will get dicier as they no longer have Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick to rely on for scoring at the end of games.
Feisty, but not quite contenders
The Celtics underachieved last season. Many had them penciled in to make the Eastern Conference Finals and some the NBA Finals. But internal turmoil and Gordon Hayward not returning to his pre-injured self shelved those aspirations for a season. Even with the losses of Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Terry Rozier, the Celtics will be just fine this year.
Boston lost both of their frontcourt starters in Al Horford and Aron Baynes this summer but will try to plug that hole with a rebounding machine in Enes Kanter. Kyrie Irving had worn out his welcome in Boston so they let him walk and signed Kemba Walker in hopes that he’ll be able to replace Irving’s production.
With Brad Stevens still at the helm, the Celtics will be very good next year. But the one thing that can potentially elevate them into the contender category will be the play of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. After a terrific rookie season, Tatum hit the sophomore wall last year. Brown on the other hand played outstanding down the stretch of the regular season.
If these two guys can play at an All-Star level or close to that, that might be enough to elevate this team to a contender. And if they don’t, the Celtics will still be a very good team but will be just a step behind Milwaukee and Philly.
Let me preface this in saying that this all hinges on the assumption that Victor Oladipo returns to 100% health.
Losing Bojan Bogdanovic this summer stings, a lot. But the Pacers signed Malcolm Brogdon to fill that void. They signed Jermey Lamb to add depth at the wing position and let Thaddeus Young walk showing a vote of confidence in Domantas Sabonis.
The main question for the Pacers entering this season will be their frontcourt. There are mixed feelings about Myles Turner and as mentioned, Sabonis must prove that he can be counted on every night.
The Pacers will be pesky this year, it’s just the development of their frontcourt will determine whether this team can contend in the East or if their ceiling is just a hard out in an early round of the playoffs.
The Nets were a really fun basketball team last year. And this summer, they swung for the fences and hit a grand slam. Brooklyn will swap out D’Angelo Russell and will plug Kyrie Irving in for him. They sured up the center spot signing DeAndre Jordan in free agency and added depth at the wing position by signing Wilson Chandler and Garrett Temple while trading for Taurean Prince.
Caris LeVert bounced back nicely from his injury giving the Nets a very nice nucleus for years to come - not to mention, the arrival of Kevin Durant in 2020.
The main thing for Brooklyn will be, can they maintain the culture and attitude that got them here as they will now be the hunted? After trading away years worth of first round picks, the Nets were able to climb themselves out of a hole by developing young players, taking risks on young players, and sprinkling in veteran leadership.
They have a one year built in buffer to figure things out as Kevin Durant likely won’t play in a game until the 2020 season. But that doesn’t mean Brooklyn can’t make an appearance in the conference semifinals next year.
Congrats on your championship
The Raptors are going to be good next year, don’t get me wrong. They are, however, losing two starters from a championship team and the NBA Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard.
Toronto still has a nice core in Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet. However, unless you consider a Siakam a go-to scorer, they don’t have a guy who can go out and get a bucket when the team needs one.
The Raptors have a great infrastructure and have done a terrific job developing their young talent over the years. Outside of Lowry, this team doesn’t have a star on the roster so I wouldn’t be surprised to see some complacency and a little regression. This is still a very solid team and will likely be a tough out in the playoffs. I just don’t see them being a threat to the teams at the top of the conference.
Fighting for the final few playoff spots
Part of me thinks Miami will be really good next year and the other part of me feels like this will just be a .500 team who’s frisky every single night. Adding Jimmy Butler helps immediately with their scoring woes and an Eric Spoelstra coached team is always stout defensively.
The key thing with Miami is, are they done dealing? Chris Paul is currently a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder but it’s doubtful that he’ll be there long. And if there was ever a guy who could pull off a blockbuster deal right before the season starts, it’s Pat Riley.
As it stands, the Heat should be in the race for the final few playoff spots. But if they can land CP3, that’ll shoot them up the ranks.
Surprisingly, the Orlando Magic won the Southeast Division and returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
The Magic re-signed Nikola Vucevic and Terrance Ross this summer but still didn’t address the lack of shooting on the roster. They didn’t get worse this summer but didn’t really get better either. Another .500 season and jockeying for one of the final playoff spots seems like the ceiling once again for this team.
Detroit feels like they’re going to be about the same next year. Last time we saw the Pistons, Blake Griffin was hobbling around on one leg in a first round matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks. Griffin’s rise to an All-NBA team was the main reason the Pistons were in the playoffs. But, this team goes as Griffin goes and his health is a question mark.
Detroit’s biggest splash this summer, if you can call it that, was acquiring Derrick Rose and Markieff Morris. Like the Magic, the Pistons didn’t get better but didn’t really get worse either which makes me think they’ll be fighting for one of the final playoffs spots once again.
I think they’ll be better next year
Chicago won just 22 games last season and failed to make the playoffs for the second straight year. They traded for Otto Porter midway through the season last year and the #FreeSato movement will make its way to the Windy City as well.
They have a promising frontcourt in Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. to go along with the former Wizards, not to mention, drafting Coby White who many think will contribute right away.
The Bulls should be good enough to take care of all of the bottom feeders in the Eastern Conference and get back up over 30 wins. And if they can clean up their defense, that alone might give them a puncher’s chance to grab one of the final playoff spots.
Atlanta re-signed the ageless Vince Carter for one more year. They have some nice young talent in guys like Trae Young, John Collins and Kevin Huerter - not to mention their first round draft picks in Cam Reddish and DeAndre Hunter.
The Hawks look like a team ready to contend for one of the final playoff spots but that’ll all hinge on the defensive end of the court as they were one of the worst teams in the league on that end of the floor last year.
In full rebuild mode
For the first time in nearly a decade, the Wizards are in full rebuild mode. John Wall is out for the season with injury, Otto Porter is in Chicago, which leaves Bradley Beal as the man now in Washington.
Washington’s roster will look a whole lot different as they lost Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre Jr., Trevor Ariza, Jeff Green, Markieff Morris and Bobby Portis - all guys who averaged double figures in scoring. That leaves just Bradley Beal and Thomas Bryant as the only two players from last year’s roster to average double digits.
Insert rookie Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. and Mo Wagner as the younger guys who’ll get plenty of opportunities to prove themselves as NBA players next year. Look no further than opening night as it’s very possible that Hachimura could find himself in the starting lineup while Brown Jr. will have to wait a few weeks as he recovers from a calf strain.
Throw in a bunch of veterans on one and two-year deals like Ish Smith, Isaiah Thomas, and CJ Miles and you have yourselves a team in the midst of a full rebuild.
Patience will be key for next year. Not only amongst the players but with the fanbase too. There’s a new regime and this will be Year 1 of the plan after essentially hitting the reset button. It’ll be tough, but fans need to stay patient when the losses start to mount.
New York Knicks
After landing Kevin Durant, the Knicks have now positioned themselves amongst the Eastern Conference powers. Oh... wait.
After whiffing on Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, the Knicks turned to Plan B in signing Julius Randle in free agency along with a bunch of other veteran forwards on short-term deals.
Of course, all eyes will be on RJ Barrett, the Knicks rookie and third overall pick in this year’s draft. New York will hope that Barrett establishes himself as a building block for the future as they keep one eye on the summer of 2020.
Ugh.... Close your eyes
The Cavs are going to be really bad again next year. And if they can find a trade partner for Kevin Love, they will be battling with the Hornets as the worst team in the NBA.
Charlotte lost their franchise player in Kemba Walker and replaced him with Terry Rozier. On top of it all, Michael Jordan just sold his minority share of the team. Buckle up Hornets fans, it’s going to be a cold winter.