After what seems like one of the craziest off-seasons in the history of the NBA, the regular season is just around the corner. Seven different All-Stars from last year have found new homes, as well as future Hall of Fame point guard Chris Paul. These wild trades and signings have caused lots of noise and hype around the 2017-2018 NBA season, which seems to be the most anticipated in recent years.
Will Kyrie Irving be able to lead the Celtics past LeBron and the Cavs? Will someone finally have an answer for the Warriors? Will the new-look Thunder actually be able to share the ball and win games? Will Lonzo Ball revitalize Laker basketball? These questions will be answered soon when the season tips off October 17th as the Rockets visit the Warriors. For the mean time, here is how the lackluster Easter Conference’s race for the playoffs will play out over the next couple of months.
- Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers are one of the most intriguing teams in the NBA, largely due to their recent years of tanking. It finally seems that they have their young core together and ready to take the next step and land a playoff spot. However, the 76ers have been injury-plagued, with star rookie Ben Simmons missing the entire year last year with a broken foot, as well as Joel Embiid only playing 31 games due to a torn meniscus. The 76ers also drafted Markelle Fultz with the first overall pick in the this year’s NBA Draft, as well as signed sharpshooter J.J. Redick. These additions, as well as a healthy roster, could finally push the 76ers into the playoffs.
- Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets disappointed last season, winning only 36 games and finishing in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. However, in the offseason the Hornets acquired center Dwight Howard in a deal with the Hawks and drafted Kentucky standout Malik Monk. Although Dwight Howard’s glory days are far past him, he is still an upgrade at center for the Hornets compared to Cody Zeller, who started 58 games last year. Howard will be a great rim protector for the club, as well as aid Kemba Walker in pick and roll situations on offense. However, don’t expect the Hornets to make too much noise, if any, in the playoffs.
- Toronto Raptors
The Raptors remained fairly quiet this offseason, spending the beginning of the offseason focused on resigning star point guard Kyle Lowry, who eventually agreed to three-year deal for $100 million to stay with the team. They also were able to retain forward Serge Ibaka. In the process, however, the team did lose wing DeMarre Carroll in free agency to the Brooklyn Nets. Carroll started in 72 games for the Raptors last season and averaged 8.9 points per game. To replace Carroll, the Raptors were able to acquire C.J. Miles from the Pacers in a sign-and-trade. Although the Raptors finished third in the East last year, it seems like they have already reached their peak in the 2015-2016 season. Many other teams made moves while the Raptors remained quiet in the offseason, resulting in a slight fall in standing for the club.
- Miami Heat
The Miami Heat were a strange team last season, starting the season 11-30 but ending it 30-11. Dion Waiters seemed to revitalize his career in Miami last year, averaging 15.8 points per game and being a key contributor in the team’s success in the second half of the year. Waiters was injured throughout the year, only playing in 46 games for the Heat. The Heat also have Justise Winslow returning from a season-ending injury, and signed big man Kelly Olynyk in the offseason. The Heat were able to retain almost all of their from last year, as well as have a few key new additions. If they remain healthy, the Heat could make some seriously surprising waves in the Eastern Conference.
- Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks were able to maintain almost their entire roster over the offseason, setting themselves up for a successful 2017 campaign. Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is entering his fifth year, and is seen by many as being on the verge of being an MVP candidate. Antetokounmpo’s point totals have steadily gone up over the past four years, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they increase again this upcoming year. Antetokounmpo, along with Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, and a healthy Jabari Parker, have potential to become legitimate threats to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, the young Bucks may still need a few more years to unlock their full potential.
- Washington Wizards
The Wizards look to improve in the Eastern Conference after finishing fourth in the conference last season. John Wall and Bradley Beal will continue their campaign as one of the top duos in the Eastern Conference. Wall, who recently claimed he was the best point guard in the Eastern Conference, will look to prove his point to his doubters. The Wizards key offseason move was resigning unrestricted free agent Otto Porter Jr, who put up career numbers last year, averaging 13.4 points and 6.4 rebounds. They were also able to sign Wall to a contract extension, keeping him in Washington through the 2022-2023 season. The Wizards are clearly on a long-term, upward trend, and this season should be no different.
- Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics are a completely new look team coming into this season. The Celtics were first able to sign All-Star forward Gordon Hayward, who averaged nearly 22 points per game last season. They then traded star point guard Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and two draft picks to the Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving in a blockbuster trade that nobody saw coming. In this process, the Celtics did have to trade away their top defender Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons, a move that weakened the depth of the roster. Although the Celtics offseason has been wild and many believe they’ll take down the Cavs to win the East, they still need to get used to playing together and all the pieces have to come into place. Due to their early struggles building chemistry and getting accustomed to the new look team, the team will be the number two seed heading into the playoffs, but definitely have the potential to dethrone the Cavaliers once the Eastern Conference Finals come around.
- Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers seem to be the beneficiary of the Kyrie Irving deal, as they added depth and two picks. Although Isaiah Thomas’ health is in question due to his hip and could potentially miss half the season for it, they will still finish as the top seed in the east. The Cavaliers signed Derrick Rose early in the offseason, who seems to be Thomas’ replacement while he is injured. Rose is looking to revitalize his career in Cleveland and LeBron James just might be able to do that with him. Acquiring Jae Crowder in the Irving trade, as well as the signings of Jose Calderon and Derrick Rose, make the Cavs an even deeper team than last year. Their offseason was topped off with the signing of star guard Dwyane Wade, who signed with the team on a one year deal after reaching a buy out with the Chicago Bulls. All this depth surrounding LeBron James sets up the Cavaliers as the best team in the east, and makes LeBron James a heavy favorite for MVP.