As crazy as the NBA off-season has been so far, a lot of movement has been to the Western Conference where teams are looking to add pieces in hopes to dethrone the surging Warriors. However, on the other hand, the Eastern Conference is looking pretty skimpy, with the Cavs facing recent drama and discovering holes in their game, to the amount of teams either beginning or suffering through a rebuild.
So, when we look ahead to the 2017-18 season, which Eastern Conference teams could be up for the test and due for a trip to the NBA Finals either now, soon, or later?
The Boston Celtics –
This one seems quite obvious. The Celtics, who successfully pushed the Cavs away from grabbing the number 1 seed last season, have been loading up in hopes to take over the East.
The recent acquisition of Gordon Hayward should allow the team to fight heavily again for the top seed in the East. He should fit seamlessly in with the system combined with Brad Stevens and Isaiah Thomas. In retrospect, Hayward is the one piece Boston truly needed to push the Cavs to a 7 game series. He will prove himself worthwhile on both the offensive and defensive end of the floor, allowing the Celtics to play more man-to-man type defense while opening options for the team on offense.
The Celtics also acquired Marcus Morris from the Pistons in exchange for Avery Bradley. The trade, which is somewhat of an eyeopener for the team that heavily relied on Bradley in the clutch last season, should work in the favor of both teams. The Celtics receive a versatile big man in Morris, who is an aggressive play maker, something they have been lacking for years. Detroit gets a potential starter in Bradley, who plays well both off the ball and with it in his hands.
The Washington Wizards –
The Wizards have been on the brink of a truly successful season for quite some time now. John Wall has proven not only to the team, but to the entire league, that he is a top 5 point guard and that he can carry this team as far as they’ll let him. That being said, the Wizards haven’t let him do that, as the team continues to slip out of the playoffs in some tough, tough series.
But this team needs to act sooner than later. John Wall is in his prime, and should hopefully remain there for a few more years. The Wizards have acknowledged their willingness to go neck and neck with the Celtics and Cavs, and it starts with building around Wall. They key: sign another star.
Though the NBA off-season isn’t quite over yet, the Wizards really haven’t made much noise this summer. They have signed role players like Jodie Meeks and Mike Scott, but that will in no way help John Wall push this team against the Celtics or Cavs. It might be a year or two before this team can truly make the push, and I believe it starts with adding another star to support John Wall.
The Toronto Raptors:
The Raptors have been in a similar position as the Wizards the past few years: falling short of their goal time after time.
In my eyes, the Raptors are on a slower schedule in terms of being the best in the East as compared to the Wizards. Even with two all-star caliber players in DeRozan and Lowry, the team continues to dismiss the fact that they need to make some serious changes. And that doesn’t have to include the departure of either of their stars.
Yes, Toronto is a somewhat small market for the NBA, and it isn’t the most attractive location, but within the next few years the team needs to create some cap space and sign a big time player. A big three in Toronto would be the ultimate way to compete in the East not only immediately, but for an extended time period. However, the Raptors seem as though they might not make a move like that for another season or two, and that’s why I say they are soon to compete. Let’s just hope they make a move before one of their star players decides to leave The Six in the dust.
The Milwaukee Bucks:
This team is still in the rebuilding stage, however they are closer than most teams in finding success. The Bucks seem as though they have fully comitted to building around Giannis, and who can blame them? However, they need to prove themselves before it’s too late.
And too late means before the Greek Freak reaches free agency and is offered a monster contract by a more attractive looking team. The Bucks sure do have hope though. Their potential star and rookie of the year winner Malcolm Brogdon needs to continue to shine. In the case that he does, the team becomes a much more attractive location for free agents, which could power this team forward in the near future.
And not to point out the negatives, but the Bucks certainly have a high chance to be a bust as well. As mentioned, the teams young players need to develop quickly. If they do not, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Giannis hit the high road and go compete for a championship in somewhere like….
The Miami Heat –
The Heat are also in the midst of the rebuilding stage, and are not far off from being where the Bucks find themselves. However, this team still has some major work to do, and I think it will be a few years until we see them as a true threat in the East.
Miami’s signings of Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk will only help so much. They are all-stars in this league. And yes, the East is not looking like a very strong conference, but this team might find themselves as a 6-8 seed at best.
In order for them to reach their potential, the Heat will need to continue to develop their young players over the next few years and eventually free up some space to sign a star (Greek Freak??). This however, is going to take some time, so don’t expect the Heat to be competing for the Eastern Conference championship quite yet.
The Philadelphia 76ers –
Sixers fans, you’re almost there! (We think)
This team is capped with potential. From Embiid, to Simmons, to Okafor and Fultz, the 76ers can finally be hopeful in the dream to be a competitive team again.
However, this like most things, is going to take time. The 76ers aren’t going to come flying out of the gates dominating, but they will surely win more and more games as they progress and develop a fluid season. The off season acquisition of JJ Reddick should also help the young players in developing their offensive presence. Fingers crossed for Philadelphia.