Sidenote: Before you read this, be sure to check out Part 1 which covers the Western Conference.
Without further do, let’s get into this.
1. Boston Celtics
Key Additions/Re-Signings: C Robert Williams
Key Losses: N/A
This Boston Celtics team is the ultimate contender to at last dethrone the Warriors should these two teams meet in the Finals. Derailed by injuries last year, this team led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, managed to take LeBron‘s Cavs to seven games, ultimately just falling short. May I remind you, they managed to do this without All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Robert Williams was a steal late in the first round, and he can be the successor to Al Horford if they choose not to keep him down the road. And with James out of the picture, expect them to battle it out in the Eastern Conference Finals with another friendly foe.
2. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors have taken a huge risk by trading for Kawhi Leonard, but a smart one at that. As I said in the piece I wrote analyzing the trade itself, the Raptors were essentially going nowhere if they kept the same core. So, in an all-or-nothing move, Masai Ujiri has now tasked himself to try and lure Kawhi Leonard away from the glitz and glamour of Staples Center. If he returns to his MVP form from the 2016-17 season, he can lead this team, along with Kyle Lowry, to the NBA Finals. And that is something basketball fans up in The Six have desired for a very long time now.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
Even though they didn’t manage to bring in the superstar to “complete The Process” that they were hyped to this off season, they have still set themselves up to contend in this Eastern Conference. Bringing back J.J. Redick was key for them to provide floor spacing along with Robert Covington in the starting lineup. Moreover, drafting Zhaire Smith should also provide them some scoring off the bench. Overall, they will definitely be competing for the East throne along with the Raptors and Celtics.
4. Indiana Pacers
Key Additions/Re-Signings: G Tyreke Evans
Key Losses: G Lance Stephenson
Like the Celtics, these Pacers gave LeBron’s Cavaliers all they could handle during their seven-game series loss in the first round. Victor Oladipo blossomed last season as the leader of this team during the post-PG era, and Domantas Sabonis emerged as a young, talented big man. Both of these players were involved in the trade that was supposed to be a highway robbery for OKC last year. Signing Tyreke Evans should provide a great scoring load off the bench; however, losing Lance Stephenson might be prove to be more costly than people think. This team will only go as far as Oladipo takes them, and Myles Turner also has to make the jump as the future of this team hangs in the balance of his growth this upcoming season.
5. Milwaukee Bucks
Key Losses: F Jabari Parker
In order for the Bucks to make a deep run in the postseason, Giannis Antetokounmpo needs to mimic LeBron’s herculean efforts carrying the overmatched Cavs team last season. Khris Middleton is a borderline All-Star shooting guard, but aside from those two, this roster isn’t looking too sharp, especially with Jabari Parker taking off to Chicago. A common theme last season was the inconsistent three-point shooting, as they shot 35.5% from three, but new additions Donte DiVincenzo and F Ersan Ilyasova should help out their struggles. New HC Mike Budenholzer needs to find a way to put it all together for the team, as they are expected to take a huge step this year.
6. Washington Wizards
Key Losses: C Marcin Gortat
It’s now or never for HC Scott Brooks’ Washington Wizards this year, who year after year have succumbed to disappointing early playoff exits. Signing Austin Rivers will provide some good depth at the 1 and 2 spots, and Dwight Howard is for sure an upgrade over the aging Marcin Gortat. However, whether he’ll be able to link up with the All-Star back court of John Wall and Bradley Beal is a concern. After all, he hasn’t found a place to call home due to his locker room antics, as he’s bounced around the league for a while. John Wall needs to lead this team.
7. Detroit Pistons
Key Additions/Re-Signings: HC Dwane Casey, F Glenn Robinson
Key Losses: N/A
Some people might debate that the team is placed a little too high in the rankings; hell, some people will say that they are not even a playoff team. But to be honest, there’s just too much talent for this team to not make some noise this year. And with COY Dwane Casey taking over for SVG, you’ve got a recipe for success. New signing Glenn Robinson should make a significant contribution off the bench, and guard Luke Kennard showed enough flashes last season to start along oft-injured Reggie Jackson. A common theme with a lot of teams in the East this year, how far they will go will depend on the success of one or two players, and in this case, it’s Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond.
8. Chicago Bulls
Key Losses: N/A
Wow, what a difference does an offseason make. After tanking their way throughout last season, the acquisition of Jabari Parker, along with the drafting of Wendell Carter Jr., this Bulls team looks to be a dark horse candidate. However, that is only if this young core can actually put it together behind the tutelage of HC Fred Hoiberg. Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine figure to lead the team in scoring again, but this team is going to have to figure out a way to succeed defensively. After all, with their projected starting lineup of Kris Dunn, LaVine, Parker, Markkanen, and Carter, we can see that only Dunn and Carter pop out as good defenders.
Just missed out: New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat.