During the latest episode of The Lowe Post podcast (YouTube link), ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Kevin Pelton briefly discussed the Eastern Conference pecking order, noting that there doesn’t appear to be a clear-cut favorite to represent the East in the NBA Finals in 2024.
Pelton says he would pick the Celtics at this point, while Lowe agrees that he’d probably lean toward Boston by “default,” despite the fact that he’s unsure how losing Marcus Smart and Grant Williams and adding Kristaps Porzingis will impact the team. The Celtics’ new identity without a longtime leader like Smart is certainly something to monitor heading into the season, but several of the East’s other would-be contenders will have significant questions of their own to answer.
The Bucks, for instance, are coming off a first-round playoff exit and may feel added pressure following Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s comments about his long-term future; the Heat lost two key rotation players in Max Strus and Gabe Vincent, and they’ve been unable to complete a trade for Damian Lillard; the Sixers have yet to resolve James Harden‘s trade request.
Milwaukee, Boston, and Philadelphia were the East’s best teams during the regular season in 2022/23, while Miami had an incredible playoff run to win the conference. On paper, those four teams might be the frontrunners in the East again, but that hierarchy could easily be upended, Lowe notes.
“Maybe in two months this will just be nonsense,” Lowe said. “(Maybe) James Harden will be back and playing well, and the Celtics will look awesome. (Maybe) Milwaukee will be totally fine and who cares what Giannis said two months ago, they’ll be 23-4. It just feels a little more unstable than it did last year.
“… Like, if we woke up in the conference finals and New York or Cleveland or Team X was one of the two teams in it… I’m not sure I’m going to pick that, but right now I wouldn’t be surprised.”
The oddsmakers at BetOnline.ag currently list the Celtics, Bucks, Heat, and Sixers, in that order, as the best bets to come out of the East. Those four teams are followed by the Cavaliers (+1100) and the Knicks (+1800), with the rest of the East’s clubs, including the Hawks (+3300), Raptors (+4000), and Nets (+5000) viewed as extreme long shots.
We want to know what you think. If you had to make your pick today, which team would you choose to come out of the East? Which of the potential concerns for the conference’s top teams do you view as legitimate and which ones are overblown?
Make your pick in our poll, then head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!