WILL DEEPER EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALLY DETHRONE LEBRON AND THE CAVS?
The NBA’s Eastern Conference has been the punching bag of Lebron James for several years now. But, things could be changing. His running mate for the last couple of seasons is now in Boston, the Milwaukee Bucks are making their presence felt, and ‘the process’ seem to finally be paying dividends in ‘The City of Brotherly Love’. For the first time in a long time, there’s some doubt if the King can continue to defend his throne.
But, that’s all talk right now. With the season about to get underway, it’s time for one of these teaWe’ll do just that with THE Sports & Swag Report’s NBA Eastern Conference Preview 2017……
1. CELTICS – In what turned out to be the craziest, longest, and most insane off-season ever, the Celtics were the most active team. Picking up Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are major wins. However, giving up Avery Bradley (Pistons) could prove costly. That’s not to mention the gigantic trade that actually might help Cleveland beat the Celtics again in the Eastern Conference Finals, if the Celtics are fortunate enough to get there. Isaiah Thomas is injured and older than Irving. But, Jae Crowder is exactly the versatile player the Cavs need off their bench. Also, team President Danny Ainge, did little to address the Celtics’ biggest weakness…….rebounding and rim protection. Not exactly the best way to catch your competition.
2. RAPTORS – Toronto has more than likely missed their opportunity to become that second team or better in the east. Last season was disaster. Plain and simple, and there aren’t any major additions this season. The biggest questions are will Kyle Lowry ever show up in a playoff series, and why did DeMar Derozan re-sign for more mediocrity? Still, their experience should give them the edge to place second in the Atlantic. But, is that really saying anything anymore? The future is not bright North of the Border.
The future is very bright in Philly, and fortunately enough for Sixer fans; ‘The Process’ is actually starting to yield some fruit. Markelle Fultz could be the final piece that ultimately creates a ‘Big 3’ in Philadelphia. We should see a lot more of Joel Embiid in action, and he’ll finally be joined by Ben Simmons in the front-court. Adding a veteran like J.J. Redick. who can knock down three’s with the best of them, should also help the 76ers compete for a playoff spot and possibly push Toronto for second place in the division.
4. KNICKS – It’s not a good thing when your best off-season move is getting rid of a hall of famer and future hall of famer. But, that’s exactly the case in New York finally getting rid of Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony. Jackson shouldn’t have ever been hired in the first place. Getting Melo’s contract off the books gives the Knicks flexibility going forward that they haven’t had in forever. That’s not going to help Kristaps Porzingis this season, but it should help the Knicks find someone to play next to him in the future. Porzingis, is now the face of the francise, like he should be.
5. NETS – Not much has changed in Brooklyn. That’s of course, not a very good thing. D’Angelo Russell, and Allen Crabb are decent additions next to Jeremy Lin in the back court. They also signed DeMarre Carroll for the front court. But, there are just far too many holes on this team. Losing Brook Lopez (Lakers), whom they received in exchange for Russell, was really the last straw. The positive of that is Jarrett Allen, the big guy they drafted out of Texas, should get a lot of playing time. But, in the end, this franchise will have to look toward the future for any success.
1. CAVALIERS – Lebron James all of a sudden has quite a bit more help, especially off the bench. Last season the age and lack of versatility of players like Deron Williams caught up with them. This season, Jae Crowder, whom they received from Boston in the Kyrie deal will give them flexibility to play small against teams like the Warriors. Crowder, is an excellent defender and is a decent shooter. Isaiah Thomas is injured and won’t be available until at least late December. However, if he’s anything close to the player he’s been the last couple of seasons, the loss of Kyrie Irving will be minimal. By the way, they also signed Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose. A nice off-season that should get the Cavs closer to beating the Warriors.
2. BUCKS – Giannis ‘The Greek Freak’ Antetokounmpo is a legit MVP candidate. He’s turning himself into a top 5 player right before our eyes. But, he needs Jabari Parker to stay healthy and reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon to continue his progression into an elite point guard. Another important piece of Milwaukee’s puzzle is center Greg Monroe, who was a major disappointment last season. Anything short of a top four finish and trip to at least the second round of the playoffs should be looked at as a failure.
3. PISTONS – Looks like another mediocre season in the Motor City. Adding Avery Bradley should help point guard Reggie Jackson. But, Jackson has to be more consistent on both ends of the floor. Andre Drummond is solid on the interior, but leaves you wanting more. Drummond could easily be one of the league’s best big men. But, like Jackson, he must be more consistent. The most important piece, however, may be swingman Steven Johnson. His shooting can’t get any worse and the Pistons likely won’t get better until it does. The Pistons aren’t far from being a playoff team, but time is slipping away from them fast.
4. BULLS – The Bulls are in rebuild mode, and it’s probably the best move they’ve made in years. However, that doesn’t mean they weren’t busy in the off-season. Picking up Zach Levine and Kris Dunn from Minnesota are great moves. But, that’s only if Levine can stay healthy. Lauri Markanen, a long and lean sharp-shooter, could be one of the steals of the draft. Then, there’s Bobby Portis who’s shown flashes of being on of the more versatile power forwards in the league. Things are looking up in Chicago. It just might take them a while to get there.
5. PACERS – Not sure what direction Indiana is heading, but it definitely isn’t up. The extremely questionable trade of Paul George to Oklahoma City was beyond bizarre and yielded them pretty much….nothing. Which is a shame seeing they could have gotten much more in return. All of a sudden, Myles Turner is now the face of the franchise. Turner, is a pretty good player when he wants to be. But, he not a premier player. It’s gonna be long couple of season in Indianapolis.
Many people think the Wizards should have been in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. They’re probably right. The star power is there with John Wall, and Bradley Beal. They also have nice pieces around them like Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter. However, the chemistry that’s so abundant in Boston, isn’t so abundant in Washington. That, and the lack of scoring off the bench was ultimately too much to overcome. Until those two aspects are fixed, it’s hard seeing them advancing any further in the playoffs.
2. HEAT – The Miami Heat were the biggest surprise of last season. Head coach Erik Spoelstra proved he can be a good coach with or without Lebron James. Making the playoffs last season was a major accomplishment. But, what do they do for an encore? At least, they have their big man Hassan Whiteside back and in effect. Heat fans hope that he starts to play offense the way he rebounds and plays defense. Also back is Josh Richardson at the shooting guard spot. Richardson was one of the more surprising players around the NBA last season. Goran Dragic joins Richardson in the back court to form one of the more underrated back courts in the league. Dion Waiters provides depth. The one player that needs to step up for Miami to take another step up in the standings is Justise Winslow. The talent is there. He just needs to bring it all together, especially offensively. Miami will be dangerous once again, and a lot of fun to watch.
3. HORNETS – Dwight Howard is the new big man in Charlotte. Dwight has outgrown his welcome in just about every locker room he’s been in. Atlanta was the latest, and his teammates (the few that remain in Atlanta), reportedly couldn’t have been happier. The opportunity to play with a guy like Kemba Walker, you would hope would bring the best out of Dwight. The biggest edition came through the draft with number one selection Marcus Monk out of Kentucky. Monk should be that guy that will help stretch the floor, while at the same time take some pressure off of Walker to do everything offensively. The Hornets are pretty good on the wing with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Marvin Williams. Their big weakness is the interior, and if Howard just does his job, it could become a strength. If that happens, the Hornets are capable of making the playoffs and doing a little damage.
In Orlando, point guard Elfrid Payton has been largely a disappointment. The Magic need him to step up his play. If he does, Orlando could have a pretty nice back court tandem. Evan Fournier is not a household name, but he can fill it up. Picking up Jonathan Simmons (Spurs) and Terrence Ross (Raptors) should bring some much needed depth. Much is expected from number one pick Jonathan Isaac out of Florida State. He’s super athletic and will be a huge presence on the defensive end. The question is his offense, but despite being a little raw he was able to step out and make perimeter shots with the Seminoles. Isaac has an excellent shot at being the face of the franchise for a long time to come. On the interior, the Magic need continued growth from Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo, and Aaron Gordon. The Magic have a long way to go toward respectability, but the pieces may be in place.
5. HAWKS – The Atlanta Hawks are deep in rebuild mode. Gone are point guard Jeff Teague, and Paul Millsap. They were essentially the last men standing after Al Horford left for Boston last season. The good news is they let Dwight Howard walk. Why they signed him in the first place….no one knows. While, the next season or two will be painful to watch for Hawks fans, starting over from scratch is absolutely the best thing for this franchise. Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore return to form a pretty decent back court, but that’s about it. The Hawks should now have a lot of flexibility in the off-season to get better pretty quickly.
EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS
1. CAVALIERS over 8. HORNETS
5. HEAT over 4. BUCKS
2. CELTICS over 7. SIXERS
3. WIZARDS over 6. RAPTORS
CAVALIERS over HEAT
CELTICS over WIZARDS
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
CAVALIERS over CELTICS in 6 games…….
So, no…….I don’t expect anyone to beat Lebron and the Cavs when all is said and done. But, the Eastern Conference has come a long way in the last few seasons and should be very competitive with the West. The competition should be hot and heavy within the conference as well.
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