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An Offseason Review of the Eastern Conference After Mitchell Trade

With recent trades, star players returning and new top-end draft talent, we’re in store for some fun in the East in 2022-23.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

James Harden took a “pay cut” to stay in Philadelphia, it looks like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant will remain members of the Brooklyn Nets for at least the beginning of this upcoming season, and Donovan Mitchell was just traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.

Are the Sixers now the favorites to come out of the East? Will a healthy Milwaukee Bucks team bounce back? Is Malcolm Brogdon’s health the final puzzle piece to a Boston Celtics championship run? Without making any blockbuster moves, did the Miami Heat regress? Does Dejounte Murray lift the Atlanta Hawks out of the play-in?

Let’s get into it.

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Seven Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Beasts of the East

Beginning at the top of last year’s Eastern Conference standings, here are the Heat.

PJ Tucker started 70 games for Miami last season, playing 28 minutes per game. Losing him likely won’t send the Heat into shambles, but they’ll certainly have to adjust without him in their rotation.

Drafting Nikola Jović was a home run swing, and time will tell if they knock it out of the park. Outside of Jović, the Heat’s only move was bringing back Victor Oladipo on a two-year, $18.2 million deal. However, it’s hard to see how Miami got better this offseason. With the series of moves made by teams near them in the standings, they seem a likely candidate for (slight) regression.

The Boston Celtics, Miami’s Eastern Conference Finals foe, made a splash by acquiring point guard Malcolm Brogdon from the Indiana Pacers for five players and a 2023 first-round pick.

Marcus Smart was Boston’s go-to point guard/lead facilitator last season, perhaps forcing him to do slightly more than should be asked of him. They made it to the NBA Finals, so clearly he’s capable, but a true point guard like Brogdon should be a big boost for Boston. Their new addition’s biggest question mark is health (hasn’t played more than 56 games since ‘18-’19), but when he plays he provides spacing, defense and creation, a seamless fit for the Celtics (and basically any other team).

Boston also signed Danilo Gallinari this summer, but he unfortunately tore his ACL this past week playing for Italy in a World Cup Qualifying game. In a summer where the Brogdon trade and Gallinari signings were their biggest moves, it comes as a significant blow to their 2022-23 rotation.

2022 NBA Playoffs - Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The Bucks opted to resign the key members of their 2021-22 championship team, inking Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton to new deals. Signing Jevon Carter, Serge Ibaka and Joe Ingles round out their offseason moves.

Ingles is coming off an ACL tear (which he suffered at Target Center), but if healthy he can add a nice punch of facilitation, shooting, playoff experience and veteran leadership. Health is certainly a question mark with guys like Ibaka and Ingles, but they could prove to be important pieces for a team that can make a deep playoff run.

Countering their addition of 35-year-old Ingles was selecting 22-year-old MarJon Beauchamp with the No. 24 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. Beauchamp provides a burst of energy on the wing, with the size, length and skill to provide versatile defense. Selecting the G League Ignite wing was exactly what championship contenders should do in the draft: take a swing at prospects at the end of the first round that have the ability to turn into impact players.

The Philadelphia Rockets 76ers were busy this summer, starting things off by acquiring De’Anthony Melton on draft night, sending the No. 23 pick (Minneapolis native David Roddy) and Danny Green to the Memphis Grizzlies. Melton will provide Philly with some additional two-way help on the wing, and is a 36% career 3-point shooter.

Then, of course, they made their most significant move in re-signing Harden to a two-year, $68 million contract. Despite your feelings about Harden, he makes the team much better and provides them an excellent lead guard to pair with Joel Embiid.

Doing his best Tom Thibodeau impression, Daryl Morey brought in Tucker and Danuel House Jr. to get the band back together in Philly. Both impactful signings, Tucker will give the Sixers rock-solid minutes — even at age 37 — while House’s 3-and-D abilities will be a nice addition to the rotation at minimal cost.

Morey deserves credit for his work this summer, as he seems to have addressed team needs and put this team in a position to fight for an NBA Finals appearance and potential NBA Championship.

Philadelphia 76ers Introduce James Harden

Will they be back?

The Celtics, Bucks and Sixers each made moves to either improve or maintain their spot at the top of the East, but the Heat is a bit more difficult. They surely have the talent to finish in the top four again, but due to a lack of moves — and losing Tucker — a repeat finish atop the East’s standings seems unlikely.

Middle of the Pack

Outside of the top four, things get muddy. It was thought Brooklyn was headed for somewhere other than the playoffs about a month or two ago, but at this moment they’ve solidified their spot in the hunt for a top-six finish. Atlanta’s trade for Dejounte Murray — and other moves — bumps them up. The Chicago Bulls are a bit of a wildcard, but certainly have the talent to stick around the top six.

As for the Toronto Raptors, well, Nick Nurse has proven they’ll be good no matter what the roster looks like.

They resigned Chris Boucher and Thaddeus Young, locking down pieces of their front-court rotation. Added to that group was Christian Koloko, the 7-foot-1 center from Arizona. They poached recent NBA Champion Otto Porter Jr. from the Golden State Warriors on a two-year, $12 million deal, which could prove to be invaluable, like Porter was for the Warriors. Finally, they added former Wolf Bo Cruz Juancho Hernangomez on a one-year deal.

Nothing too flashy, but they’ll be back.

Toronto Raptors v Chicago Bulls
Precious Achiuwa backs down Zach LaVine
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Bulls were able to get Zach LaVine to resign, which was priority No. 1 headed into the summer. Therefore, was the offseason a win? Basically.

Other than LaVine, they made a few head-scratching free agent signings. Andre Drummond now mans the backup five spot, while Goran Dragic will rotate in at point guard. Gaining some ball-handling depth was smart considering Lonzo Ball’s injury concerns, but perhaps it was a bit of overkill to sign Dragic, draft Dalen Terry at No. 18, and still have Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu? That may not have been their plan this summer, but the guard rotation has become a bit complex with so many options and no consolidation taking place to this point.

What a ride it was for the Nets this summer. After nearly losing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, they’re now poised to make a championship run if they can quell all of their drama. That sort of run would require Irving to play more than 29 games, which seems likely. Joe Harris will bring back his sharpshooting ability, and Ben Simmons is in line to return as well (I guess you never know, though). Adding a big wing in Royce O’Neale at the cost of a first-round pick will prove to be valuable, as he’ll be able to space the floor and defend. Losing Bruce Brown hurts, but O’Neale should be able to step into that role right off the bat.

On paper, this team is stacked. That’s been the story for a few years now, though.

Brooklyn Nets v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks mortgaged their future for Murray, a move that we’ll truly have to wait and see on. He’ll give them some much-needed facilitation outside of Trae Young — and great defense — but they sure paid for it (three first-round picks and a swap).

Ultimately, Atlanta struggled with a clogged rotation and for a while, and now it’s a bit more clear. Even after trading Kevin Huerter to the Sacramento Kings, they have plenty of wings with De’Andre Hunter, recently-drafted AJ Griffin, former five-star Jalen Johnson, Justin Holiday and Maurice Harkless. Gallinari’s departure likely opens the door for more Onyeka Okongwu minutes, and the addition of Frank Kaminsky brings depth up front.

They’ll be an intriguing team to start the year, as the Young/Murray pairing will be fun to watch.

Also getting an important upgrade in backcourt is the Cleveland Cavaliers. They sent Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, Ochai Agbaji and three first-round picks (plus two swaps) to the Utah Jazz for Donovan Mitchell on Thursday.

A new Darius Garland-Mitchell-Jarrett Allen-Evan Mobley core is really exciting, especially with guys like Ricky Rubio, Isaac Okoro, Caris LeVert and Kevin Love still on the team. It doesn’t seem like a crippling price for Cleveland, and they bring in a premier scoring option with important playoff experience in return.

It’s tough to predict where they sit after the trade, with Brooklyn and Atlanta also getting better this summer. However, they now have their clear-cut No. 1 option on offense, with a two high-quality secondary options in Garland and LeVert.

Charlotte Hornets v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Will they be back?

It’s hard to find a reason for these teams not to again finish in the 6-10 range in the East next season. You could argue each of these teams got better, with possible exceptions for Toronto and Chicago. If I had to choose a team to regress it would be Chicago, but perhaps not because they got worse, simply because the teams that follow them in the standings got better. Cleveland and Brooklyn are poised to finish higher than their No. 7 and No. 9 places, respectively, from last season.

Fighting for a spot in the playoffs (includes play-in)

The Charlotte Hornets didn’t do much this summer except for select Duke center Mark Williams in the draft. He’ll be the interior size they’ve needed for a while and a PnR rim threat for LaMelo Ball, stopping their struggles with playing undersized.

Restricted free agent Miles Bridges probably won’t be suiting up for Charlotte — or any other NBA team — as he faces three felony charges for domestic violence and child abuse.

The Hornets are a prime candidate for regression, but did sign Cody Martin to four-year $31 million contract in July. Williams, as well as Kai Jones, James Bouknight and Jalen McDaniels, will be fun to watch as they get gain NBA experience.

Charlotte Hornets v New York Knicks Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The New York Knicks got their guy. By embarking on a salary-shedding spree to sign Jalen Brunson to a four-year, $104 million contract, they lost pieces of their rotation, but they made a few important moves for their future, too. Extending RJ Barrett for four years and $120 million was somewhat expected, and signing Mitchell Robinson to a four-year $60 contract was about right for a young player with significant upside at center.

Isaiah Hartenstein was a very nice addition, as he can step into a big role in the front-court right away. They chose three first-round picks from the Oklahoma City Thunder over selecting at No. 11 in the draft, which makes one think about what’s to come.

After acquiring Monte Morris and Will Barton from the Denver Nuggets, as well as drafting Johnny Davis, the Washington Wizards are attempting to push for a play-in spot in 2022-23.

However, the highlight of their offseason was signing Bradley Beal to a supermax contract extension, totaling $251 million over five seasons. They gave Beal a full no trade clause, which is mind-boggling considering his trade value goes down drastically if he asks out of Washington (which is more likely after signing his new contract).

In general, I can’t say Washington got much better — if at all — this summer, unless you want to argue that having Beal for more than 40 games next season makes them better.

Will they make it out of the play-in in 2022-23?

In short, no. Each of the Hornets, Knicks and Wizards have big hurdles to overcome in 2022-23.

New York and Washington may have exciting runs throughout the year, but they’ll rely heavily on secondary options like Julius Randle and Kristaps Porzingis to get them to the play-in.

The rebuilders/rebuilding

The Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic have things to be excited about — they truly do. The Pacers look to enter their next chapter with explosive scoring guard Bennedict Mathurin, while the Pistons drafted both Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, and the Magic chose Duke’s Paolo Banchero with the No. 1 overall selection in the draft.

Indiana won’t win a ton of games next year, but that’s a short-term phase. Building around Tyrese Haliburton and Mathurin is the priority, and it’ll be exciting to watch them grow next year.

One of the hotter names this offseason was the Pistons after they got what was considered great value after drafting Purdue star Ivey at No. 5 and then also selecting Memphis big man Duren. They’re now two pillars of Detroit’s rebuild, a rebuild that’s going quite well after adding those two to their duo of Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey.

The same can be said for Orlando as they now have the supremely-talented scorer Banchero joining their already-solid core of Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr. and Jalen Suggs.

They’ll also get Markelle Fultz back next year, which will add yet another talented young player to their rotation.

This will be another year of growth for all three of these teams, one that likely won’t carry too many wins but will surely excite watching their young talent develop.

The Eastern Conference will prove to be highly competitive once again next season, with the days of the East being the weaker conference slowly fading away (not that West is getting worse, just that the East is getting better). The Heat, Sixers, Bucks and Celtics will hover around the top of the standings unless something drastic happens, but there won’t be any shortage of interest in watching teams like revamped Cleveland and Atlanta vying for a top-six spot.