The probable Eastern Conference title contenders have shifted during the NBA’s wild offseason. Kawhi Leonard left the Toronto Raptors, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant joined the Brooklyn Nets, and the Philadelphia 76ers revamped their roster. These moves, alongside others, changed the landscape of the Eastern Conference for next season.
Eastern Conference Title Contenders
The Milwaukee Bucks will always be a contender as long as Giannis Antetokounmpo remains in their city. Antetokounmpo is the reigning MVP of the league, and arguably the most unstoppable player in today’s game.
Khris Middleton was Antetokounmpo’s sidekick last season. Middleton had a terrific season, accompanied by his first All-Star appearance. He was handed a massive extension this offseason, keeping the Bucks alive as a championship threat. Brook Lopez and George Hill also stayed with the team this summer.
Eric Bledsoe is an integral piece to the Bucks’ backcourt, but Malcolm Brogdon‘s departure leaves question marks at the other guard position. Wesley Matthews will likely start, but his decline has already begun. Time will tell if Matthews can make up for the loss of Brogdon.
The Bucks still have a solid bench featuring names like Kyle Korver, Robin Lopez, and Ersan Ilyasova. The recent signing of Dragan Bender can prove to be a shrewd pick up for the Bucks as he was a top-five pick just a few drafts ago. Milwaukee will need Bender to carve a niche as a productive stretch-four to ease the loss of Nikola Mirotić.
The 76ers lost one of the NBA’s superstars in Jimmy Butler. Normally this would stifle a team’s chances as contenders, but the 76ers reloaded quite well.
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are still on the team. Both are among the top players at their position. Embiid is a bonafide superstar while Simmons is a triple-double threat who can join the elite tier if he develops a better jump shot. Tobias Harris, a fringe All-Star and great scorer, opted to re-sign after being traded to the 76ers midseason.
Instead of losing Butler for nothing, the 76ers acquired Josh Richardson in a sign-and-trade with the Miami Heat. Richardson is a decent shooter and a very solid backcourt sidekick to Simmons. In a surprising move, the 76ers also managed to sign Al Horford away from the Boston Celtics. Horford can stretch the floor playing with Embiid and is a strong defender. Horford won’t light up the stat sheet but is one of the more impactful big men in the league.
Philadelphia has one of the best starting fives in the league. There are plenty of questions surrounding their bench, however. The main contributors are likely to be Zhaire Smith, James Ennis, Trey Burke, Mike Scott, and Kyle O’Quinn. The 76ers are banking on a big jump by Smith for their bench to be somewhat competitive.
Potential Eastern Conference Title Contenders
The Celtics lost Irving in the offseason to the Nets. They remain a threat, however, due to them picking up the best replacement available in Kemba Walker. Walker is a proven All-Star with a desire to win. He was a great addition to a team with plenty of young talent.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are both studs. Both players have future All-Star potential but need to make that jump this season. Tatum had a stellar rookie season but didn’t show much improvement the following year. Brown is entering his fourth professional season and needs to prove he can be more than a third or fourth option.
The Celtics still have their dark horse in Gordon Hayward. He was on the cusp of stardom before his gruesome leg injury a few seasons ago.
Losing Horford was a major blow to the Celtics, as they replaced him with Enes Kanter. Kanter is, by all means, a decent center, but better suited off the bench. Kanter is looked at as more of a spark plug than someone to protect the paint.
Marcus Smart is a strong option off the bench, but much of the bench remains unproven. The Celtics have a strong crop of rookies in Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards, and Tacko Fall. If these players are immediate contributors then the Celtics may be better than some think.
The Pacers lost Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Darren Collison, and Cory Joseph this offseason. They did a strong job finding replacements, however. T.J. Warren, an underrated scorer, came in to replace Bogdanovic. Young was replaced by Domantas Sabonis. Sabonis was already on the roster and ready to improve his role for a couple of seasons now. Adding Brogdon from Milwaukee was an upgrade over Collison, while Jeremy Lamb and T.J. McConnell provide backcourt bench help. Lamb was already an NBA starter, and should decently fill the void for Oladipo until he returns.
Myles Turner remains the team’s center. He has continued to improve and has future All-Star written all over him. Behind him, the team has Goga Bitadze, a rookie with potential from the country of Georgia.
Indiana does not have a star-studded roster, but should not be slept on when healthy.
Fringe Eastern Conference Title Contenders
The Nets had the best off-season in the league behind the Los Angeles Clippers. This, of course, is due to them adding Irving and Durant. The league will have to wait to see the true potential of this duo, however, as Durant is likely to be sidelined all of next season.
With that being said, the Nets will still be a solid team. Irving is going to have a great supporting cast around him in Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Taurean Prince, Spencer Dinwiddie, Rodions Kurucs, DeAndre Jordan, and Jarrett Allen. LeVert continues to improve despite dealing with injury concerns. Harris is one of the league’s elite three-point shooters. Prince, Dinwiddie, and Kurucs are excellent role players who fill their niches quite well. Jordan remains one of the top rebounders and shot-blockers in the league, while Allen becomes the top big man bench option in the league.
After his stint with the Celtics, there are questions surrounding Irving’s ability to be a leader. He’s one of the most talented players in the league, but the Nets aren’t likely to be an immediate threat as Eastern Conference contenders next season.
The Raptors lost Leonard, but they are still the defending champions. The team kept a large portion of their players from last season, and they know how to win.
Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol are two of the best veterans in the league. Lowry’s stats dipped last season with Leonard taking over a lot of duties, but he’s still an above-average point guard. Gasol is a strong presence inside, but also a modern center with great vision and the ability to stretch the floor.
Pascal Siakam won the NBA Most Improved Player award last season, and should only get better as he is likely to become the team’s number-one option. Don’t be surprised if Siakam becomes an All-Star. OG Anunoby, a terrific defender, returns after missing the playoffs as well.
Another big loss for the Raptors was Danny Green. Green is an elite three-and-d player and will be replaced by Norman Powell. Powell has been a solid bench option, but it remains to be seen if he can become a successful starter. The Raptors cap situation did not allow them to hunt for another star to replace Leonard, so they opted for low-risk, high-reward deals in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson.
Chris Boucher lit up the G-League last year with averages of 27 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocks per game. He may become a sneaky good pick-up for the Raptors. The Raptors will still be on the hunt for a successful playoff run come next April.
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