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How Will the East Play Out?

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Thinking about the lesser NBA conference.

Boston Celtics v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Four Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Good morning everyone. I hope you are well as we turn the calendar to August, the most boring month for the NBA.

We’ll just have to soldier through.

I thought I’d ask everyone how they think the Eastern Conference will play out this season, but before we get to that, look, I’m no Steve Bannon trying to suck my own cock, but we got a very nice shout from Kevin O’Connor in The Ringer yesterday:

The writers at Wolves blog Canis Hoopus have done remarkable work covering the development of Wiggins, who after his third year is still an inefficient, high-usage player who plays apathetic defense.

He linked to terrific pieces by both Dane and Josh, so great job guys. Always nice to get some validation.

Anyway, I was thinking about the Eastern Conference yesterday, and realized I had no idea how it would play out. So I thought I’d ask. I mean, the Celtics probably got better adding Gordon Hayward, but did anyone else? The teams that finished seventh and eighth both traded their best player (Pacers, Bulls.) The Hawks, who finished fifth, have broken things up.

On the other hand, it’s not as if the teams who struggled and finished out of the playoffs made obvious improvements this summer to catapult them toward the upper reaches of the conference.

So here’s my quick take on the East, team by team. I want you to tell me where I’m wrong.

Celtics: Won 53 games, added Hayward, drafted a good looking rookie (Jayson Tatum.) Lost Avery Bradley in a trade for a Morris. They are very deep and talented, and should wind up better than last season. Whether it’s enough to overcome the Cavs remains to be seen.

Cavs: Obviously the team to beat over the last three seasons thanks to the incomparable LeBron James, they still have James, and thus will still be good. What happens with Kyrie Irving obviously looms over the rest of the summer, but it’s hard to see how they have gotten better. They had little choice but to bring back much the same roster after striking out on trades for Paul George and Jimmy Butler. Replacing Deron Williams with Derrick Rose doesn’t move the needle.

Raptors: Running it back, a year older. Brought back both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka for big money, let Patrick Patterson walk. They really need one of their younger players to blow up in order to improve on what they’ve been: A tough, quality team not quite good enough to win the conference.

Wizards: Also running it back. After matching Otto Porter’s sheet, and signing John Wall to a massive contract extension, their perimeter core of those two and Bradley Beal are now locked in for huge dollars over the next several seasons. Is it good enough? I could see them putting it together and grabbing a top two seed in the conference, perhaps not this season but if James leaves Cleveland...

Hawks: Rebuilding. Traded Kyle Korver in season, moved Dwight Howard for parts, and saw Paul Millsap leave in free agency. Their three highest paid players this season are Kent Bazemore, Dennis Schroder, and Miles Plumlee. Hopefully some of their interesting younger guys like rookie John Collins and Taurean Prince get some run.

Bucks: One of the themes here is that most of these teams’ personnel either got worse or stayed the same. The Bucks are another that are more or less running it back, but with a young Giannis as the centerpiece, there is more upside here. Hopefully Khris Middleton stays healthy all season. They are by no means a great team, but this is one club I could see taking a step forward both because of their own improvements, and the downgrades elsewhere.

Pacers: Top three salaries: Victor Oladipo, Thad Young, Bojan Bogdanovic. Yeah. They appear to be setting up to have significant cap space in 2018 and/or 2019, with only Oladipo with a long term, big dollar contract. But it could get ugly this season.

Bulls: After trading Jimmy Butler, they are pretty bereft. Could be a great opportunity for Zach LaVine if he’s healthy. Dwyane Wade can no longer carry a team, but there’s not much else.

Heat: Just missed out on the playoffs last year, only real addition of note is Kelly Olynyk. Paying $10M+ to: Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, James Johnson, and Olynyk. Yikes. That said, I actually expect them to make the post-season in this conference: teams above them got worse, and Erik Spoelstra can coach.

Pistons: Another team committed to significant contracts for second and third tier guys, their talent is not commensurate with their payroll. They continue to add pieces around the edges (Langston Galloway, Anthony Tolliver,) but it is not a great roster. Allowed Caldwell-Pope to walk as an RFA. Again, could possibly make the playoffs by default.

Hornets: Surprisingly poor last season. Traded for Dwight Howard, so we’ll see how that goes. They have some decent pieces, and I would expect more wins this season, but don’t have a great feel for what they are going to be.

Knicks: A mess. Will Carmelo Anthony be on the team? Clearly the Knicks want to move on, but Anthony has a no-trade clause, and will presumably use it if it’s not a destination he wants. They have a young core piece in Kristaps Porzingis, but beyond that...signing Tim Hardaway to a $70M contract was pretty nuts. Need to get that house in order.

Magic: New management appears to be taking it slow, trying to figure it out. Added Jonathon Simmons as a free agent, other than that more or less the same team that was awful last season. Another team with significant money tied up in some pretty marginal guys, with not a lot of upside. Things could look better if Aaron Gordon makes a big step forward, but that’s a lot to expect.

Sixers: Signed a couple of vets to biggish one year deals (J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson) in an attempt to kick start things. But obviously their fate rests in the health of Joel Embiid, the health and ability of Ben Simmons, and the quality of Markelle Fultz. If Embiid can actually play most of the season, they could take a major step forward in terms of wins. The other two are rookies, and there will be struggles. No sense of how much winning this team does, but should be fascinating to watch.

Nets: Still digging out from that disastrous trade with the Celtics. Sean Marks is doing what he can. Added a young talent in D’Angelo Russell. Took on some salary in DeMarre Carroll to get a draft pick. This won’t be a good team, but might be less atrocious than last season’s entry.

Talk to me about the Eastern Conference. How many wins will it take to make the playoffs?