Here is how we see the Eastern Conference rankings from 1-15.
1. Milwaukee Bucks: The Kings of the East
In the season finale of Game of Zones, Giannis Antetokounmpo was crowned The King of the East. A fictional title he took from LeBron after he took won MVP and LeBron took his talents to Los Angeles.
The Bucks essentially brought the gang back this season minus Malcom Brogdon, who signed a quite large restricted offer from Indiana and Nikola Mirotic decided to head back to Europe and play in Barcelona.
They brought in Wesley Matthews on a minimum contract and signed Brook Lopez’s brother Robin.
All signs point towards another huge win total and a deep playoff run. This time there won’t be a Kawhi Leonard in the same conference to get in their way.
2. Philadelphia 76ers: The tallest of teams
Another victim of Kawhi Leonard and the champion Raptors last playoffs were the Philadelphia 76ers. They made some franchise-altering decisions this off-season and embraced ‘tall-ball’ by pairing Joel Embiid with Al Horford.
Their biggest weakness last season was their depth and they seemed to have fixed those issues: one of Horford and Embiid will always be on the court and rookies Zhaire Smith (who missed his rookie season) and Matisse Thybulle project as players that can play straight away.
We don’t know if this ‘tall-ball’ will succeed in the playoffs, but as a regular season team, they’ve got plenty of players to rack-up wins.
Also, Ben Simmons and Kendall Jenner have apparently split which means the Kardashian Curse no longer lingers over our Australian star. Expect a bounce-back year coming up, it’s science.
3. Boston Celtics: Kyrie… Kyrba… Kymba… Kemba
There wasn’t much time to mourn the loss (or celebrate the departure) of Kyrie Irving for Boston fans as they quickly pivoted and signed Kemba Walker.
Losing Al Horford will hurt but Kanter on two years, $10 million is palatable. Especially since Kemba routinely ranks high in pick-and-roll frequency and those two should be a deadly combination.
Another year of development for Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and maybe a healthy season from Gordon Hayward.
I don’t know how they’re fare on defence but at least they’ll score enough points to outbalance it.
4. Indiana Pacers: An entire teams hopes rest on the right knee of Oladipo
Victor Oladipo is set to return around Christmas and hopefully he’s not returning to a minus-500 team. Darren Collison retired to become a Jehovah’s Witness and he was replaced by Malcom Brogdon after the Pacers offered him an unmatchable restricted offer.
We’ll see if it pays off. The injured combo-guard came back into the playoffs and added much-needed and stable play for Eric Bledsoe who had underperformed. Indiana will be hoping he stays healthy because they’ll need him in place of Oladipo to begin the season.
Also, the Pacers are another team heading into the season with a two-big lineup, theirs boasting Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis.
This team will go as far as Oladipo can take them. They might not win many games in the season due to his injury, but watch them as a sneaky Conference Finalist if everything bounces right for them. Finals berth? Anyone?
5. Brooklyn Nets: Boston Celtics 2.0
The biggest early winners of free agency, the Brooklyn Nets signed Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Unfortunately we likely won’t see Durant in a Nets jersey for at least a season, but Kyrie is still healthy.
He’s now playing for another young, talented team that exceeded expectations. I hope he doesn’t ruin this situation too.
Maybe that’s too harsh on him and last season was an aberration. Next season will be their time to make a Finals run, this season is more of a feeling-out period.
6. Toronto Raptors: The Kyle Lowry thank you tour
It’s been Masai Ujiri’s dream to tear down this Raptors team since he first arrived. He even started the tear-down when he traded Rudy Gay to Sacramento for a collection of spare parts. It was always joked that the press release for Dwayne Casey’s firing had been written for five years. They just kept winning.
But now, with the first championship north of the border and Kawhi Leonard been and gone, it’s time to rebuild.
BUT THEY’RE NOT.
The team has come out and said they’re not looking to trade veterans Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol this season and will just play it out, per Josh Lewenberg. I guess Masai has to wait another year to tear it down.
Every time this team plays in Toronto, they’re going to get introduced as the NBA Champion Toronto Raptors and everyone will love it. One year before blowing it up will be good for the teams image.
7. Orlando Magic: The treadmill of mediocrity
When a team is stuck in that seven to ten seed, never winning enough to go deep in the playoffs or low enough to draft a marquee prospect it’s like they’re trying really hard to achieve nothing much. The treadmill of mediocrity.
They’ve got a collection of athletic defenders around their lone All-Star in Nikola Vucevic and young prospects in John Isaac, Mo Bamba and Markelle Fultz (is he going to play basketball soon by the way?).
There isn’t much talk about Orlando getting involved in the Russell Westbrook trade discussions but if I were them, why not? He either pulls you up in seeding or drops you down miserably. Do it.
8. Miami Heat: Jimmy’s team
Miami didn’t look like they’d be players in free agency for another season until Jimmy Butler signaled he wanted to head to South Beach. An offer quickly materialised and a sign-and-trade ensued.
Unless Justise Winslow takes a leap forwards, completely reasonable possibility, Tyler Herro is the second-coming of Donovan Mitchell, a bit less likely or their bench players can capture the magic from two seasons ago, this team looks like an eighth seed fighting with Detroit.
I put them over the Pistons simply just for injury concerns. Outside of that, flip a coin for the rights to get swept by the Bucks.
9. Detroit Pistons: Your 2012 NBA All-Stars
If this team was to go through a time machine and it featured an in-prime healthy Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin, they’d be insane. But that didn’t happen and it’s 2019.
This team is in the same boat as Orlando with just a lower ceiling. And just like Orlando, they should try insert themselves in the Russell Westbrook trade talks if not for Westbrook but just to send Reggie Jackson back to the team he left for his big break.
This team won exactly half their games last season and didn’t exactly improve as much as everyone else around them. They’ve made some smart acquisitions for Tony Snell, Svi Mykhailiuk and Thon Maker in the past as well as drafting French prospect Sekou Doumbouya so they’re not asset poor.
There is a chance this team can grow into something in the future. But maybe I’m higher on their prospects than most. For now, they’re battling for the eighth seed.
10. Chicago Bulls: Why isn’t Coby White starting?!
Head Coach Jim Boylen recently announced his starting five heading into the 2019/20 season. Why?
It’s Summer League, training camp is nowhere near starting and you can test lineups in the preseason. Why is he saying this now and why didn’t he mention Coby White’s name?
After selecting him with the seventh overall pick this draft, White is set to come off the bench behind Kris Dunn, the point guard the Bulls acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade.
Dunn, heading into his age 25 season looks like he’s about done…
Puns aside, Dunn averaged 11 points last season on 42 percent shooting from the floor. Later on I mention how bad of a pick-up Terry Rozier may be for the Hornets because he wasn’t very effective in all the shots he jacked up. Out of all players who played at least one-thousand minutes, Dunn was the fifth worst (!) in the league in effective field goal percentage which factors in two-point, three-point field goals and free throw efficiency.
You’ve invested a high pick in White, you’re not going to win many games so just throw him out there and let him develop.
11. Atlanta Hawks: The final season of rebuilding
The Atlanta Hawks are almost there. Trae Young will get another season under his belt, De’Andre Hunter gets to play his first NBA season, Kevin “Red Velvet” Huerter grows some more and the rest of the team gets to play together.
After this season, the Hawks will get another shot at the draft with their pick and Brooklyn’s if outside the lottery and almost all their bad contracts they took on in recent seasons come off. This will give GM Travis Schlenk over $70 million to play with and build around his core.
Draymond Green to Atlanta anybody?
Next seasons free agency is expected to be a bit of a weaker class but they can sign short-term deals and have a shot at the 2021 with big names such as LeBron, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo potentially available among others.
12. Washington Wizards: Buying time until John Wall returns
John Wall isn’t expected back until after the 2019/20 All-Star Game. Until then, this team waits with Isaiah Thomas and Ish Smith at the point guards. The former, Thomas who barely touched the court in the previous two seasons.
Bradley Beal missed out on an All-NBA Team selection but had a case for the third team and is seemingly the only player this team can look to for elite ball-handling and creation. It’s a big task to ask of the Florida guard and trade rumors will be swirling around all season as long as the Wiz keep losing games.
How much will Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant and Troy Brown Jr. impact this team and can they prove to be pillars of the next Washington playoff team?
Next season some of their big contracts come off the books and John Wall should (fingers crossed) be fully healthy and ready to make a playoff run. Hopefully for his sake; Beal is still on the roster when he returns.
13. New York Knicks: The RJ Barrett show
After missing out on the big free agents, the Knicks surrounded their young core of RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson with role players on short contracts.
In a very New York fashion, they’ve structured the deals so that they can go aggressively after the 2021 free agency class. Until then, they’ll be eager to prove their young nucleus has potential to succeed.
They embarrassingly lost two free agent targets in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to the little brother Brooklyn Nets, a team that has a much more exciting young core and made the playoffs before signing their star free agents.
Their consolation prize: Marcus Morris, Bobby Portis and Julius Randle.
If they’ve learnt anything from this, they should put their young prospects on a pedestal and inflate them as much as possible. Try and prove that you’re a young, up-and-coming team and be a free agent destination for more than just your location.
They’re even going all-out with their Summer League team by playing second-year players who had heavy NBA reps, something teams try and avoid.
14. Cleveland Cavaliers: The remnants of the LeBron championship are on the move
Tristan Thompson and Jordan Clarkson are entering the final years of their contracts, J.R. Smith has been waived. If any team sees them as positive value for a single-season playoff run in these Cavs players, Cleveland will be happy to give move them.
The big name left over from the championship team is Kevin Love who’s due approximately $30 million a season through the 2022/23 season. If anybody can take him (Portland?) then the Cavs really start the rebuild.
Until then, new coach John Beilein will try his best at being competitive while also developing the young guards of Darius Garland and Collin Sexton. Good luck Mr. Beilein.
15. Charlotte Hornets: What’s the opposite of a league pass must-watch?
The Charlotte Hornets are about to pay Terry Rozier more per season than in any season ever for Kemba Walkers.
Let that sink in.
Out of all players that played at least one-thousand minutes last season (199), Rozier ranked 184th, per basketball reference.
Kemba was the alpha and omega for a Hornets team whose second-leading scorer was Jeremy Lamb.
Kemba is in Boston, Lamb is in Indiana and you try and tell me who the best player on this team is now? Nicolas Batum? Cody Zeller?