The Eastern Conference for nearly a decade has been dominated by LeBron James. He has made the finals for seven straight seasons, eight in his career, and now fans are starting to believe that in the Eastern Conference if you do not have LeBron James on your team you will likely not be in the finals.
Some teams such as Toronto, Boston, Atlanta, Indiana, and Chicago over the years have come close to beating LeBron whether he was with Miami or Cleveland in the playoffs, but they all fell short. It is no secret now that everyone makes these super teams to defeat LeBron, starting with Golden State by signing Kevin Durant last season. However, it still looks like LeBron at age 32 is not slowing down, he is getting better, and that is scary.
Honorable Mentions: Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia 76ers, in the 2016-2017 season finished as the 14th seed with a 28W-54L record. Another disappointing season for the Sixers. However, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric did show promise last season. Embiid’ s season ended early once again, due to an injury. Dario Saric led the Sixers and he averaged 12.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, and 2.2 apg. He was runner-up to rookie of the year Malcolm Brogdon last season.
The Sixers drafted Markelle Fultz #1 in the draft, signed J.J. Redick to a one-year, $23 million deal, they will get Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons back fully healthy, and may have a good chance at being a 7th or 8th seed next season. Led by Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, we will see if the Sixers have what it takes to make the playoffs next season. Will Philly fans, and NBA fans, finally trust the process? That will be soon determined.
5. Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks in the 2016-2017 season finished as the 6th seed with a 42W-40L record. The Bucks last season had their ups and downs with injuries, mainly with Jabari Parker. Parker when healthy, averaged 20.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, and 2.8 apg in 33.9 mpg. However, Jabari only played 51 games last season and missed the playoffs. When healthy the Bucks are a dangerous team to face, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo arguably a top 5 player in the league now. They could be a threat in the East for years to come if healthy.
The Bucks have a great young core led by the Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Thon Maker, and the 2016-2017 rookie of the year Malcolm Brogdon. If Greg Monroe can stay solid, they will be a dangerous team next season, especially when healthy. The Bucks’ future looks great, and they could make a push for the finals if LeBron decides to leave the Eastern Conference next season.
4. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors in the 2016-2017 season finished as the 3rd seed with a 51W-31L record. The Raptors fell short in the playoffs last season, again. However, they were able to keep the key pieces of the team, re-signing Kyle Lowry to a three- year, $100 million deal, and re-signing Serge Ibaka to a three-year, $65 million deal. They have the players needed to win led by DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, and a bench leader in Cory Joseph. But, this may be the last run the Raptors have in them, with the Celtics signing Gordon Hayward, and recently trading for Kyrie Irving, they became a better team.
The Cavs have always had the Raptors “number” in the playoffs, and the Raptors need to step up their game if they want to have a chance to make the finals. As good as the Raptors have been in the regular season, they have not been able to get past the Semi-Final/Eastern Conference hump against Cleveland. If the Raptors want to make a run in the playoffs, they need to make a run soon, because time is running out with the Celtics trading for Kyrie Irving to pair him with Gordon Hayward.
3. Washington Wizards
The Wizards in the 2016-2017 season finished as the 4th seed with a 49W-33L record. The Wizards fell short in the semifinals against Boston 4-3. The Wizards extended John Wall’s contract to a four-year, $170 million deal. They re-signed Otto Porter Jr. to a four-year $106.5 million deal. They are still a threat, if John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter Jr, get some help from guys like Marcin Gortat, and Markieff Morris and the bench needs to be consistent. Brandon Jennings left the Wizards to play in China next season, the Wizards also lost Bojan Bogdanovic to the Pacers.
However, they did add ex Pelicans guard Tim Frazier and Jodie Meeks. Time is slowly running out for John Wall and Bradley Beal to make a push for the finals, but it is fair game if LeBron decides to leave the Eastern Conference next season.
2. Boston Celtics
The Celtics in the 2016-2017 season finished as the 1st seed with a 53W-29L record. They were eliminated by the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. They signed Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $128 million deal in the free agency, and traded Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and a 2018 first round draft pick, (via Nets) for Kyrie Irving. Now the Celtics can focus on developing Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They also signed Marcus Morris in the free agency. So with Kyrie Irving pairing up with Gordon Hayward to run the show in Boston they could be a hard out, barring any injuries.
Boston may have not won the trade with Cleveland short term, but they definitely won the trade long term, especially since Kyrie is only twenty-five years old and is just getting in his prime. If Boston does not make the finals this season, they are favorites to make it in seasons to come, if they keep this team the way it is, and depending on LeBron’s decision in the next off-season.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers in the 2016-2017 season finished as the 2nd seed with a 51W-31L record. They went on to the finals for the third straight season and fell short last season to the Golden State Warriors. In the offseason, Cleveland signed Derrick Rose to a 1-year, $2.1 million deal. If Rose can stay healthy, the Cavaliers may have had one of the biggest steal signings in a long time. The Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and a 2018 first round draft pick, (via nets). Jae Crowder can take on the best SF/PF on the other end while LeBron takes care of the load on the offensive end.
Isaiah Thomas could see an increase in numbers next season when being teamed up with LeBron James. The Cavaliers have a very nice squad going into next season, with Isaiah Thomas at PG, Jae Crowder at SG, LeBron James at SF, Kevin Love at PF, and Tristan Thompson at the Center spot. The bench has more depth this year led by Derrick Rose. This team could challenge the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets, or Thunder in a potential NBA Finals matchup next season.