The Eastern Conference has been the dominion of the Heat for the last four years, but with LeBron James gone, Miami isn’t favored to make a fifth straight trip to the NBA Finals. LeBron’s new team, the Cavs, shapes up as the front-runner in the East, though a reasonable argument can be made that the Bulls have a clearer path out of the conference, as long as Derrick Rose stays healthy. Of course, Rose’s health is certainly no guarantee, since he’s been available for just a single postseason game in the last three years, and concern bubbled up once more after he sat out Wednesday’s Team USA exhibition.
So, Cleveland seems like the safest bet, but should James and soon-to-be Cavalier Kevin Love fail to mesh, and Rose struggle to stay on the court, the door would be ajar for a large pack of teams. Injuries derailed the Hawks last season, but with a healthy Al Horford to pair with Paul Millsap in the frontcourt, point guard Jeff Teague, and the sharpshooting Kyle Korver, they’re dangerous, particularly with plenty of flexibility for trades. The Heat spent more than any other NBA team this summer in an effort to make up for losing LeBron, and if Chris Bosh can play like a superstar, Miami will remain a threat. The Hornets made their second splashy acquisition in two summers when they signed Lance Stephenson to go along with Al Jefferson, and Charlotte seems like a fast riser. The Nets lost Paul Pierce, but the return of Brook Lopez and the continued development of Mason Plumlee could give them a potent inside combination like few others. The Raptors largely kept last year’s No. 3-seeded team intact, and DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas are young, improving talents. The Wizards made a run in last year’s playoffs, and they, too, possess a slew of up-and-comers, as well as the newly acquired Pierce.
There are other teams that could end up in the mix, too. The Knicks were the second-best team in the Eastern Conference in the 2012/13 regular season, and while the Pacers are reeling from the losses of Stephenson and Paul George, they otherwise have most of the roster that’s qualified for the last two Eastern Conference finals. Still, for the purposes of this poll, we’ll focus on on the six teams mentioned in the above paragraph. Feel free to choose the “Another team” option if you believe in the Knicks, Pacers or another darkhorse Eastern Conference club, and debate away in the comments.