2019-2020 NBA Eastern Conference Preview

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2019-2020 NBA Eastern Conference Preview

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 The 2019-2020 NBA Season is less than two weeks away from tipping off, and I have never been more excited for a season to begin in my eight years of being a devout and extreme NBA superfan. Opening Day of the season is October 22, 2019, which coincidentally happens to be the day of my 17th birthday and driver’s license test, so you can imagine how unbelievably excited I am for this day! In any event, we are going to preview the upcoming NBA season, specifically the 15 teams in the Eastern Conference and the expectations I have for each of these ball-clubs.

 

  1. Charlotte Hornets: Before even stepping onto the court for a scrimmage or pre-season game this season, the entire Charlotte Hornets organization from the front office to the players, (even if they don’t want to admit it to themselves), know deep down inside that they essentially are going to be one of the worst teams in the entire league. This summer, in the first HOUR of NBA Free Agency on June 30th, the Hornets lost their franchise perennial All-Star Point Guard, Kemba Walker. Essentially since it was publicized more than an entire year ago that Walker was going to be a free-agent in the summer of 2019, it was highly predicted that after another poor season in 2018-19, Walker would be on his way out of town. After he signed a huge contract in Boston, the Hornets are left with quite a few below average players, as their best player is now Terry Rozier III, who arrived this summer coming from Boston, essentially swapping spots for the starting Point Guard role with Kemba Walker.

 

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Coming off of a horrendous 19 win-63 loss 2018-19 season last year, the Cavaliers would be very lucky to even just improve to the 27 or 28-win mark this season.. The aspirations are not too high in Cleveland, as almost no offseason free agency moves were made at all. The only real bright spot for this team was landing the 5th overall pick in the draft this summer, selecting 19-year-old promising point guard Darius Garland from Vanderbilt University. Garland will pair along in the backcourt with 2nd year combo-guard Collin Sexton, coming off a relatively impressive rookie season last year. Although the Cavs will not be able to contend this year with many other teams in the talented Eastern Conference, with these two young players, the organization has a very promising future ahead of them in a few short years.

 

  1. Washington Wizards: The Wizards finished as the 11th seed in the East last year, and although they did not necessarily get worse, many of their competitors got better. The team’s franchise player, five time All-Star point guard John Wall, was sidelined with a severe Achilles injury for most of last season, and played only 32 of 82 games. With Wall’s absence, an opportunity arose for Wall’s backcourt mate, up-and-coming shooting guard Bradley Beal to be the star of the team and first go-to weapon on offense. With this opportunity, Beal flourished tremendously, putting up a career-best 25 points per contest and earning his 2nd All-Star appearance. Coming into this season, I predict Beal will for sure continue this individual statistical success; Although, the team as a whole will struggle, probably with very little chance at a playoff spot in 2020.

 

  1. Chicago Bulls: The Bulls are a very talented, up-and-coming team with several extremely promising young players that have a bright and long future ahead of them in Chicago. This summer, the Bulls took North Carolina point guard Coby White with the 7th pick in the 2019 draft. White will pair alongside in the backcourt with 24-year-old high-flying dunker, Zach LaVine. LaVine, who is coming off a career-best 2018-19 season, was nearly selected as an All-Star last season because of the phenomenal offensive skills he showcased. To go along with this young, athletic backcourt tandem, the Bulls also have Finnish 7-footer Lauri Markkanen who will look to make a significant impact in his third season with the team. To top it all off, Chicago signed 13-year NBA veteran Thaddeus Young to a three-year contract in free agency this June. The Bulls have an electrifying youthful core of players to build around for years of success in the near future, but they do not have enough experience under their belt yet to contend with other powerhouse-teams.

 

  1. New York Knicks: There are two different perspectives one could come from when evaluating the 2019 Summer offseason for the New York Knicks; Many people may say the organization failed entirely because their master plan of acquiring free agent superstars Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving, (or possibly both), did not pan out. Knicks fans were hoping and praying to the basketball gods for months that Durant would make the decision to come play in New York and lead their team to a championship ring… And he did… JUST THE WRONG BOROUGH OF THE CITY! When Kevin Durant decided to take his talents to Brooklyn, many Knicks fans viewed this as a huge loss and disappointment, because in a way, it is; Who wouldn’t want to have a Top 3 Player in the entire league on your team?! Although, not signing Durant meant that all of the cap space the Knicks were allotting in order to sign him was now still up for grabs. The Knicks were able to sign a few great free agents such as Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, and Marcus Morris to build around their extremely young core of Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, and Dennis Smith Jr. Along with acquiring these new free agents, New York also possessed the 3rd overall pick in the draft, and selected R.J. Barrett, a highly recruited small forward from Duke University who has enormous potential and expectations just as high to rise to playing under the bright lights of Manhattan. With almost half of the players on the roster this season being new to the team, the Knicks may surprise everyone if team chemistry works in their favor and pieces fall together smoothly.

 

  1. Atlanta Hawks: The Atlanta Hawks are yet another very young team with very high aspirations for this upcoming season. Atlanta was able to grab 2 of the Top 10 picks in this summer’s draft, acquiring the #4 pick De’Andre Hunter from New Orleans and taking 20-year-old forward Cam Reddish with the 10th pick. With these two promising draft picks, the Hawks now have five players under the age of 22, which means they are a super young team but also a super inexperienced one. As rookie-of-the-year runner up Trae Young now heads into his sophomore season in the league, not nearly even close yet to the prime of his career, Atlanta already has a decent shot at being a borderline-playoff team this coming year.

 

  1. Orlando Magic: The Orlando Magic are sitting right behind the line of being able to be a contender in the coming years, but they still need quite a few pieces to climb over that hump of being a fringe-playoff team. The Magic made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2012, which was an awesome step in the right direction for the franchise. Led by their first time All-Star big man Nikola Vucevic to go along with athletic forward Aaron Gordon, Orlando has a great core to build around, and the time is now. Although unfortunately, the organization was unable to attract any big-name top free agents this summer, which will be a main reason they will be unable to compete with teams who have multiple superstars on their rosters when the playoffs roll around in April.

 

  1. Detroit Pistons: The Detroit Pistons are a team that has a bit of a problem. That problem is that they are stuck in what many fans and analysts alike refer to as the NBA’s “No-Man’s Land.” This essentially means that the franchise is stuck right in the middle of the pack; Not really good enough to be a serious championship contender, and not really bad enough to tank, or lose games purposely in order to acquire a high draft pick for the following year. Detroit does have the extremely talented six time All-Star forward Blake Griffin to lead the way. Alongside him, 26-year-old rebounding machine Andre Drummond lines up in the frontcourt, which makes for a dominant physical duo. As far as acquisitions this summer in free agency, the Pistons were able to sign former MVP Point Guard Derrick Rose, whose nearly entire career has been plagued by terrible knee-related injuries. To go along with the other primary guards on the team, Reggie Jackson, Joe Johnson, and Luke Kennard, Rose will look to continue the rejuvenation of his career after almost returning to his old-form last season with Minnesota where he averaged 18 points per game. Detroit very much has a shot at making a playoff push for a low seed in the East this year.

 

  1. Miami Heat: Miami Heat fans and supporters were on cloud nine the afternoon of July 6th, when the news became official that four time All-Star Jimmy Butler announced he’d be leaving Philadelphia and heading to South Florida after playing just 67 games for the Sixers in 2018-19. In the very complex Jimmy Butler deal which involved four teams signing and trading players, the Heat lost a cornerstone guard in Josh Richardson to the 76ers. Although, they are still left with many versatile young players to surround Butler such as Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, and sharpshooting rookie Tyler Herro. This season will be the first year without one of Miami’s best players of all time that has ever played for the franchise, soon-to-be Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade. Wade played his last of 15 seasons with the team last year and helped bring 3 championships to Miami over the past decade and a half before retiring in April at the age of 37. After just barely missing out on the playoffs last season, the Heat look to make a strong push to get back into the form of a postseason-caliber organization.

 

  1. Toronto Raptors: In 2018-19, the Toronto Raptors won an astonishing 58 of 82 games to grab the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference, just two wins behind the 60-win Milwaukee Bucks. However, the actual regular season record did not matter too much in this scenario, because the Raptors went on to defeat the Bucks in a six-game series in the Eastern Conference Finals in May to advance to their first NBA Finals appearance in the franchise’s history. Led by the otherworldly and statistically historic performance of forward Kawhi Leonard and significant contributions from Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol, Toronto went on to win the 2018-19 NBA Title in June. However, just 23 short days after becoming crowned champions, Kawhi Leonard announced that he’d be leaving Toronto as a free agent to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. After being traded from the Spurs and arriving in Canada just 11 months earlier, Kawhi Leonard had brought a championship ring to the city of Toronto, become the Finals MVP, and then left. Although this is somewhat devastating to the Raptors to lose a Top 5 Player, this creates more opportunity for young players to develop and will give the recently crowned Most-Improved Player of the league Pascal Siakam a chance to bloom and blossom from the star player he his now to potentially a Top 10 Player in the league himself one day in the near future. To go along with Siakam, Toronto also possesses the undrafted-gem point guard Fred VanVleet who played significant minutes and exceptionally well for the team in the Playoffs and Finals. As for this upcoming season though, it is almost impossible to expect the Raptors to come even close to the NBA Finals for the second year in a row, but they will definitely be a team to contend with in the competitive Eastern Conference.

 

  1. Brooklyn Nets: This summer in free agency, the Brooklyn Nets made out like bandits. The Nets, who had been clearing up cap space for years, were able to sign both Kevin Durant from the Golden State Warriors and Kyrie Irving from the Boston Celtics, arguably 2 of the top 10 players in the entire league. But, this is not to say these signings did not come with a hefty price tag; The two players alone are on contracts worth over 305 MILLION DOLLARS. Regardless of money, the acquisitions of both Irving and Durant almost immediately makes Brooklyn a top championship contender in the league; The only reason they are not higher on this list is because of Kevin Durant’s major Achilles injury. Durant will miss the majority, if not all, of this season sidelined with the injury. However, even without him, this Nets team will still be quite a contender to watch in the East. Led by Irving at point guard, to go along with Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, and newly-acquired center DeAndre Jordan, this team is destined for success and a relatively deep playoff run is very much possible.

 

  1. Indiana Pacers: The Indiana Pacers’ roster has a bit of a new look to it coming into this season, with many new faces on the team. The Pacers acquired 6 new players coming from other teams in free agency just this summer alone, which is quite a lot in a span of just a few months. A fast-paced and talented young group, Indiana will be led by two time All-Star shooting guard Victor Oladipo and versatile 23-year-old big man Myles Turner who is quickly developing into an excellent power forward/center. Oladipo and Turner are complemented by many significant role players such as Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb, and T.J. McConnell to surround them. After being swept in 4 games by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs last season, the Pacers look to bounce back and make it deeper into the postseason in 2020.

 

  1. Boston Celtics: The Boston Celtics organization has a lot to be excited for this upcoming season. With the looks of their roster, the amount of talent is there without a doubt; Now, the challenge will be to capitalize and perform the way fans know they can. After Kyrie Irving and Al Horford headed out the door as free agents this summer, the Celtics literally replaced their positions with Kemba Walker from Charlotte and Enes Kanter from Portland. With Walker running the show at Point Guard, younger players such as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have a fantastic opportunity to grow and develop their skill-sets on offense and defense. Along with the great pick-ups of promising guards Carsen Edwards and Romeo Langford through the draft this summer and all the other pieces on the roster, the Celtics should have an extremely successful season and future ahead of them.

 

  1. Milwaukee Bucks: The Milwaukee Bucks were the best team in the entire NBA last season, record wise that is. An amazing 60 win-22 loss season eventually led to being eliminated by the Toronto Raptors in the third round of the Playoffs, two wins short of an NBA Finals appearance. On paper, in many statistical areas last season, Milwaukee was the favorite to win the Finals, if they could get there, which unfortunately they could not. Although, none of this means anything now, because the Bucks are coming into this season stronger than ever. Led by the newly crowned MVP of the league, Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo, the Bucks are again at the top of the playoff predictions list because of their high expectations and clear potential. Coming off of his MVP Season, Antetokounmpo is joined by All-Star sharpshooter Khris Middleton, crafty point guard Eric Bledsoe, and versatile big man Brook Lopez. One of Milwaukee’s weak points last year, which ultimately led to their downfall, was a lack of perimeter shooters to surround facilitators like Giannis and Bledsoe. Over the summer, the Bucks fixed that problem completely, bringing in 3-point shooting specialists Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver. Now, with an inside and outside presence, Milwaukee’s offense will be more lethal than ever before and extremely difficult for opposing teams to defend. Bucks fans, stand up; You’ve got quite a year ahead of you!

 

  1. Philadelphia 76ers: Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. “This guy is biased for the Sixers because he’s obviously a Philly fan.” But, if that was maybe your thought, I one hundred percent promise you that is not true and I am being completely and totally unbiased when I rank the Philadelphia 76ers as the best team in the East. Over time summer, the Sixers lost the best outside shooter on their team, J.J. Redick to free agency. They also lost their best offensive isolation player, Jimmy Butler, to free agency. However, these roster pieces were quickly replaced by 17-point-per-game scorer Josh Richardson and defensive-minded power forward/center Al Horford. Along with these new acquisitions, All-Star point guard Ben Simmons, who in his first two years in the league has struggled mightily to develop a consistent and reliable jump-shot, has seemed to improve his shooting ability very much over the summer. And, last but not least, we cannot forget to mention the cornerstone of the franchise and one of the faces of modern-day Philadelphia sports, 7-foot-2 basketball superman Joel Embiid. Embiid had a monstrous statistical season last year, not to mention his impact on the court that can’t even be measured by statistics. Embiid and Simmons together are one of, if not the best, young duos in the NBA who have the next 12-15 years ahead of them to win playoff series and potentially even championships if they can live up to the hype. To complement the star trio of Embiid, Simmons, and Tobias Harris, the Sixers have Mike Scott, Zhaire Smith, and Matisse Thybulle coming off the bench to be the perfect supporting cast that this team needs in order to win at the highest stage. This team has got what it takes to be the head honcho, the top dog, the superior force of the Eastern Conference in the 2019-20 NBA season.