NBA Eastern Conference Preview

Hank Noah, 23Sports 

For those of you who are unaware, the NBA season starts here shortly on October 17th. If this season is anything like the offseason, this is shaping up to be one of the most exciting years in NBA history. No longer will we be forced to sit through a grueling eighty-two game season only to watch the Cavaliers match up against the Warriors in the finals. During the offseason, some teams who no one thought would have a chance against Golden State have shot themselves into the discussion. In preparation for the months of thrilling professional basketball that is ahead of us, I felt it would be fitting to project the records and standings for all fifteen teams in the Eastern Conference. Without further ado, let us jump into who I think will be the worst team in not only the Eastern Conference, but the entire NBA this season: the Chicago Bulls. 

#15: Chicago Bulls 

Projected Record: 12-70 

The Bulls made no quality additions this offseason. They had one solid draft pick in Lauri Markkanen, a seven-foot power forward from Arizona, and he may currently be their best player. This year’s Bulls team will be lucky if they win double digit games, and their only goal this season should be to target the number one pick spot. The Bull’s won’t be trying to tank, they will simply be so awful that it will be difficult for the team to win anything. With a projected starting lineup of Kris Dunn, Justin Holiday (until Lavine returns), Denzel Valentine, Lauri Markkanen, and Robin Lopez, the Bull’s fans and organization should accept the fact that this year is the start of a rebuild. Just be happy everyone has finally moved on from the Derrick Rose era. 

#14: Atlanta Hawks 

Projected Record: 19-63 

The Hawks are also a team in rebuilding mode this year as they are looking for someone to step up and take a leadership role on this team. We all know the East is weaker than the West competition wise, and this may in fact be the year that it shows the most. The Hawks will most likely use this year to start a rebuild, much like the Bulls are, but I feel that they have more chemistry and less uncertainty than the Bulls do this year. With a starting lineup of Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, rookie John Collins, and Dwayne Dedmon, Hawks fan should expect a down year but stay optimistic, as the team is well coached and everyone is ready to start again. 

#13: New York Knicks 

Projected Record: 21-61 

The New York Knicks did a terrific thing in ridding themselves of Phil Jackson. Jackson, although a terrific coach, was an absolute train wreck as a general manager and the worst possible person for that job. Carmelo also did the right thing in leaving, as he finally has a chance to make it somewhere in the playoffs and can finally leave his years in New York behind. The Knicks have many terrific young pieces such as Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway, Doug McDermott, Kristaps Porzingis, and Willy Hernangomez. These young up-and-comers also happen to be the Knick’s projected starting five. Knicks fans should not worry, as although this may be a down year for New York, these young players are getting a chance to develop alongside one another. This will help them learn each other’s games and hopefully become a much better team in future years. 

#12: Brooklyn Nets 

Projected Record: 24-58 

The Brooklyn Nets made a solid trade this offseason when they dumped Brook Lopez to pick up Timofey Mozgov and D’Angelo Russell. Unfortunately, the Nets had to give away their 2018 pick and the rights to Kyle Kuzma in the process, but I believe this was a solid trade overall. D’Angelo Russell will pair up nicely with Jeremy Lin and create one of the most underrated backcourts in the league. With Lin and Russell playing alongside an up-and-coming Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a veteran defender and decent shooter in DeMarre Carroll, and an okay post defender in Timofey Mozgov, the Brooklyn Nets will look to build team chemistry and add pieces in the coming years to become the team they wish to be. 

#11: Indiana Pacers 

Projected Record: 27-55 

This season will sting a little for Pacers fans. The loss of Paul George is a massive blow to the team, but an even bigger punch in the gut may be what little Indiana received for George. Victor Oladipo is a young guard who has athleticism for days, but has never truly reached his full potential. Indiana fans also have many questions about how he will fit with Indiana’s new golden boy, center Myles Turner. Domantas Sabonis is a raw power forward who has a ton of work to do if he wishes to play consistently in the pros. The Pacer’s starting lineup this year will most likely be Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo, Boban Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, and Miles Turner. Like most of the teams ranked behind them, the Pacers will use this year to figure out the identity of their team and decide how to best move forward in the coming years. 

#10: Orlando Magic 

Projected Record: 31-51 

The Orlando Magic picked up Jonathon Simmons, a former Spur who greatly improved as a player last year, and drafted Jonathon Isaac, a lanky power forward from Florida State. These two players are highly underrated pieces that will help the Magic improve from last year, if only slightly. With a starting lineup of Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Jonathon Simmons, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Vucevic, the Magic will improve a bit from the 2016-2017 season, but will need to search for a team identity going forward. 

#9: Detroit Pistons 

Projected Record: 39-43 

The Detroit Pistons were rather quite this offseason. They picked up arguably the best shooter in the draft with Luke Kennard and traded for Celtic’s shooting guard Avery Bradley, improving their backcourt from last year. They also have an up-and-coming player in small forward Stanley Johnson, who many people will be watching this season because he dropped eighty-six points at an OVO Bounce game in Toronto this summer. Detroit also has arguably the best rebounder in the league with Andre Drummond, but he will need to improve his scoring and passing ability if the Pistons wish to make the playoffs this year. The Piston’s projected starting lineup is Reggie Jackson, Avery Bradley, Stanley Johnson, Tobias Harris, and Andre Drummond. The Pistons record may be slightly lower than last year, but they have a chance to sneak into the playoffs if things fall into place. 

#8: Philadelphia 76ers 

Projected Record: 41-41 

The Philadelphia 76ers are beginning to reap the benefits of the process. After a long stretch of mediocre seasons, it is looking like 2017-2018 may be the year the 76ers explode onto the scene. After drafting Markelle Fultz with the number one overall pick, Philadelphia is finally piecing together a decent young lineup. Their projected starting lineup is Ben Simmons, J.J. Reddick, Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, and Joel Embiid. This lineup has a ton of potential, but potential is dangerous. The 76ers have been injury prone for many years, therefore the success of Philadelphia is dependent on the health of their young stars. However, if healthy, the 76ers have a chance to improve their record immensely and make the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-2012 season. 

#7: Miami Heat 

Projected Record: 48-34 

The Miami Heat are absolutely loaded with young star power. They have a young athletic freak in Josh Richardson, a terrific defender in Deandre Liggins, a budding young player in Justice Winslow, a rookie defender in Bam Adebayo, a newfound star in Dion Waiters, and more. The Heat have a terrific future on the horizon. Last year the team finished the second half of the season with a positive record after starting 11-30. Miami will use this as a momentum boost going into the 2017-2018 season, and with Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside blossoming into NBA stars, the Heat will improve on last season’s record. Their projected starters are Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Justice Winslow, Kelly Olynyk, and Hassan Whiteside. With this group of solid starters and a young bench core, the Heat have potential to go far in the playoffs this year. 

#6: Charlotte Hornets 

Projected Record: 49-33 

Although Dwight Howard is far out of his prime, he will definitively improve the Charlotte Hornets this season. His defensive presence is massively underestimated, and he still can be one of the top rebounders in the league. He will pair well with Kemba Walker this season, as Kemba is a driving, athletic, unselfish guard who will dump the ball off to Dwight time and time again when he drives. This is the year where Kemba will solidify himself as one of the top-ten point guards in the league, and the Hornets will be better for it. The starting lineup will most likely be Kemba Walker, Malik Monk, Nicolas Batum, Frank Kaminsky, and Dwight Howard. The Hornets will be better than last year without a doubt, and they will secure a playoff spot this year. 

#5: Toronto Raptors 

Projected Record: 52-30 

The Raptors made few moves this offseason and the moves the did make were rather quiet. Toronto traded a DeMarre Carroll and a few picks to the Nets for center Justin Hamilton. They also moved Cory Joseph to the Pacers for CJ Miles. The real moves the Raptor’s made this offseason came in the form of contract extensions. Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka each resigned for three years. The Raptors did not make as many moves as some of their counterparts in the league, but they are still competitors as they kept their core starters. Their projected starting lineup is Kyle Lowry, DeMar Derozan, C.J. Miles, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas. The Raptors will make it to the playoffs with the help of their core stars, but they unfortunately do not have enough star power to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. 

#4: Washington Wizards 

Projected Record: 53-29 

The Washington Wizards hardly made any moves this offseason as they were hindered with contractual issues. They chose to match a five-year, one hundred-million-dollar deal to retain Otto Porter, and John Wall signed a multiyear extension as well. The Wizards hardly made any other moves, and their roster is basically the same as last year. The projected starting lineup for Washington is John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Mike Scott, and Marcin Gortat. Washington has a chance to move far into the playoffs, but if they wish to make it to the conference finals, they must show that someone besides John can be consistently clutch, and their bench play has to improve. 

#3: Milwaukee Bucks 

Projected Record: 55-27 

The Milwaukee Bucks organization and their fans should prepare themselves for a breakout year this year. Their budding star Giannis Antetokounmpo has potential to win the most improved player of the year award back-to-back, a feat that has never been accomplished in NBA history. The Greek Freak also has a solid chance to win MVP this season. Along with Antetokounmpo, the Bucks also have rookie of the year Malcom Brogdon, a young Jabari Parker, a sharp-shooting Khris Middleton, a top rebounder in Greg Monroe, and many more valuable pieces. The projected starting five for the Bucks is Giannas Antetokounmpo, Malcom Brogdon, Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, and Greg Monroe. This will be the year that the Buck’s team starts to come together, and the NBA is waiting. 

#2: Boston Celtics 

Projected Record: 61-21 

The Celtics made some big moves this offseason. Boston traded for Kyrie Irving, signed Gordon Hayward, and drafted a potential rookie-of-the-year candidate in Jayson Tatum. The Celtics are stocked full of hard working, committed players, and are led by a young but talented coach in Brad Stevens. The projected starting lineup for the Celtics is Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford. The Celtics have added many pieces this year, but have not added anyone to help with their rebounding issues. I believe that this will hold the Celtics back against better teams, and it is the reason why I have them as the number two behind Cleveland. 

#1: Cleveland Cavaliers 

Projected Record: 63-19 

The Cleveland Cavaliers started off the offseason extremely quiet. Everyone around them was making moves to compete with Golden State and it seemed like Cleveland was simply staying with the same roster. With only a few weeks left in the offseason, Cleveland started adding to their roster. Picking up Jeff Green and Derrick Rose were two amazing signings as both are starting caliber players. They will make up the second unit, and as we’ve seen in the preseason, they play well together. Cleveland also made many other trades and signings to add to their roster’s depth. The Cavaliers starting lineup will most likely be Derrick Rose (until Isiah Thomas returns), Dwayne Wade, Jae Crowder, Lebron James, and Kevin Love. 

This NBA season is sure to be a fun one as we finally have teams who have a chance to compete with the Warriors. No longer is it the NBA finals matchup a certainty. This is a luxury NBA fans have not had for the past three years. The NBA offseason and preseason has been full of stories, and this has been one of the most exciting offseason’s of all time. NBA fans should be prepared for an extremely thrilling season, and I’m here to keep you all up to date on the Eastern Conference. I’m Hank Noah from MUTV, make sure to stick around and read this weekly article, it is sure to be a great season.