The Eastern Conference playoff picture hasn’t been entirely set yet, but at this point, it seems unlikely that a team outside of the top eight will crash the party. The 25-32 Magic, who currently hold the No. 8 seed, are far from untouchable, but they still hold a 4.5-game lead on any of the conference’s also-rans.
That means the Wizards, Bulls, Hornets, Pistons, Knicks, Hawks, and Cavaliers will likely finish the year in the lottery. Our Community Shootaround discussion today centers on which of these clubs is best positioned going forward.
Of those teams, only the Pistons weren’t also in the lottery a year ago. But much has changed since then. Longtime cornerstones Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond are gone, and Detroit only has a 2023 second-round pick to show for it. Blake Griffin, who had one of the best years of his career in 2018/19, has barely played this season due to health issues. The Pistons are headed for a full-fledged rebuild, and while there are some promising young players in the mix, including Luke Kennard, Sekou Doumbouya, and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, it will likely be a long process.
The Wizards, like the Pistons, still have an injured veteran star (John Wall) occupying a major chunk of their cap. Unlike Detroit though, Washington is potentially in position to get back into the playoff mix when that star returns next season. Bradley Beal has taken his game to another level in recent years, and the Wizards have unearthed some productive role players like Thomas Bryant and Moritz Wagner to go along with prospects such as Rui Hachimura and Troy Brown. The team also wants to re-sign Davis Bertans this summer.
The Bulls and Hawks entered the season as popular sleeper picks to challenge for the postseason in the East. That hasn’t happened though. While Zach LaVine has looked better than ever in Chicago, the Bulls haven’t gotten the production they expected out of recent lottery picks like Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., who has once again dealt with injuries.
Atlanta, meanwhile, saw its season derailed early by John Collins‘ 25-game PED suspension. Trae Young has become one of the league’s best offensive players, but the young supporting cast still isn’t ready to contend. Both the Bulls and Hawks have some cap flexibility going forward, but they’ll need more from their young building blocks in order to take a real step forward.
The Knicks and Hornets have been plagued by cap mismanagement in recent years and have lacked a true superstar. Both teams should have some flexibility this summer and beyond, and young players like Devonte’ Graham, PJ Washington, RJ Barrett, and Mitchell Robinson have promise. But it would definitely be premature to pencil in any of those players as perennial All-Stars — the management groups in New York and Charlotte will need to keep looking for potential high-end talent.
As for the Cavaliers, you could make the case that their 2019/20 season has been the worst of any of these teams. Newly-hired head coach John Beilein lasted just 54 games, veteran players like Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson have been disgruntled, and neither Collin Sexton nor Darius Garland looks like a lock for stardom. Kevin Porter Jr. has exceeded expectations and the Cavs will have some contracts coming off the books this offseason, but Love’s massive deal and the decision to acquire Drummond complicates their cap outlook going forward.
What do you think? Which combination of core players, front office personnel, and future cap flexibility would give you the most confidence if you had to pick one of these seven Eastern Conference teams? Which one do you think has the brightest outlook beyond this season?
Vote below in our poll, then head to the comment section to share your thoughts!
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