Unlike the decade when the LeBron James-led Heat or Cavaliers were the automatic favorite in the Eastern Conference, there are several legitimate contenders that could reach the Finals next season.
Milwaukee, with MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, will enter the season with the best odds of ending its long Finals drought. The Bucks, who had the league’s best record last season, haven’t played for the title since 1974.
The Bucks were able to re-sign some key free agents — Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and George Hill — but couldn’t afford to retain restricted free agent Malcolm Brogdon. They also didn’t add any top talent. Veteran shooting guard Wesley Matthews is the most notable newcomer.
The Celtics lost free agents Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Marcus Morris. Signing Kemba Walker was a major coup and team chemistry should be better, allowing potential star Jayson Tatum to blossom. But frontcourt deficiencies could hinder their chances of going deep in the playoffs.
The Sixers lost Jimmy Butler, though the sign-and-trade brought back Josh Richardson from the Heat. They did retain Tobias Harris, albeit at a high cost, and surprisingly signed Horford. Their starting five will have a different dynamic — more size, less offensive firepower — but it should be enough for a strong playoff run if Joel Embiid can stay healthy.
It will be nearly impossible for the Raptors to repeat, though Pascal Siakam has emerged as one of the league’s top young players.
The Nets, as they wait for Kevin Durant, are probably a year away from making a run despite the addition of Irving. The Pacers acquired some interesting pieces — Brogdon, T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb — but they need Victor Oladipo to come back strong from a serious leg injury to make noise.
The Magic could make the playoffs again by re-signing Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross but may not be good enough to take the next step. The Pistons added Derrick Rose to a mix that includes frontcourt stars Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond but after getting swept by the Bucks last spring, it’s hard to see them winning more than one playoff series.
That leads us to our question of the day: With free agency winding down and most of the major trades in the rearview mirror, which Eastern Conference team is most likely to reach the NBA Finals next season?
Please take to the comments section to weigh in on this topic. We look forward to your input.