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by Christopher DiGeronimo

 

 

The NBA Preseason is underway, and that means the regular season is just around the corner. I am here to fill you in on what this season has in store. This week I will be giving you a season preview of all 15 Eastern Conference teams. I can guarantee that this season is going to be filled with highlight reel dunks, sick passes, and monster blocks but I can’t guarantee that the Brooklyn Nets are going to win more than 20 games (let’s be honest, nobody can guarantee that). All jokes aside, the Eastern Conference has been the weaker of the two conferences for the past four years but with a lot of teams getting bigger and better via free agency and the draft, we will see if the East can make some noise.       

Atlanta Hawks– Atlanta has been a fixture in the playoffs for the past three seasons under head coach Mike Budenholzer. The Hawks look to improve on that success this year with the acquisition of hometown hero, Dwight Howard. This could be a challenge for the Hawks, based on the fact that they let franchise player and four-time All-Star Al Horford walk to the Celtics in free agency over the summer. The Hawks also traded away their All-Star point guard Jeff Teague to the Indiana Pacers, in exchange for the 12th overall pick in the 2016 draft. The Hawks now put their success in the hands of backup point guard Denis Schroder who has a lot of potential, three-point specialist Kyle Korver, the versatile Paul Millsap, and the problematic Dwight Howard. If things do not go as planned, things will not be peachy in Atlanta.

Prediction: Playoff Bubble         

Boston Celtics– Celtics coach Brad Stevens has finally got the final piece to the championship puzzle, a big name. Over the summer the Celtics lured big man Al Horford to Beantown with a four-year, $113-million contract, that is surely going to be worth every penny. Ever since Boston’s big three left the city, the Celtics have had a hard time bringing in top free agents, but through the work of General Manager Danny Ainge, the Celtics have been able to stay in playoff contention through trades and acquiring draft picks. In 2016, the Celtics look to young players such as 3rd overall pick Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk, and Jae Crowder to mesh with the veteran presence of point guard Isaiah Thomas and newly acquired Al Horford. In this new era of Celtics basketball, the team no longer relies on three players, they rely on all five players on the court to make the right play. With that being said, with all this talent and teamwork the Celtics should not have a problem competing for the Eastern Conference championship.

Prediction: 2nd Seed             

Brooklyn Nets– What is there to say about the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets traded away their future to the Boston Celtics two years ago for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Flash forward two years and they are still feeling the effects of that particular trade. In 2016, the Nets will again rely heavily on perennial All-Star Brook Lopez to do most of the scoring, rebounding, and passing. All that pressure of being the guy for the Nets will fall off of his shoulders and onto his foot which has been his Achilles heel for the past couple of years. The Nets also acquired the talents of Jeremy Lin via free agency, they hope that he can relight the fire that he lit with the cross town rival Knicks. If all the names on this roster lived up to their potential, they would not be on the Nets in 2016. If everything goes right this year in Brooklyn, the Nets will get the first pick in the lottery and then have it swapped with the pick of the Boston Celtics.

Prediction: Do not make playoffs               

Charlotte Hornets– Charlotte as a city has had its legal troubles, but their basketball team is pretty good. A lot has changed for the Hornets since they re-adopted their new/old nickname. They went from the annually laughable Bobcats, to an up and coming young talented team that is ready to make a run. Over the summer the Hornets re-signed sharp shooter Nicolas Batum to a five-year $120 million deal. This was a good signing because it helped the Hornets keep the core of last year’s playoff team together. Nicolas Batum is not the only big name on this team, the Hornets have star point guard Kemba Walker and young complimentary piece Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to back him up. Walker and Kidd-Gilchrist have been very big contributing factors to this team, and if they keep it up the sky is the limit for these two.  All together this team is very young and athletic with second and third year players such as Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller manning the paint, along with veteran free agent signings Marco Belinelli and Ramon Sessions. With this talent assembled, I feel that this Hornets team can fly to one of the lower playoff spots in the conference.

Prediction: 7th Seed          

Chicago Bulls– Dwayne Wade pulled a LeBron and decided to go back home to Chicago after a fallout with the Miami Heat. This was a big story for the Bulls over the summer, but it was not the biggest story of the summer. The biggest story was the Bulls decision to trade injury plagued All-Star Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks. The Bulls also decided to let star center Joakim Noah walk in free agency all the way to New York City to join Rose. You might think this is a big hit to the city of Chicago and to the Bulls but in reality it’s not. In the Rose trade the Bulls received center Robin Lopez, point guard Jose Calderon, and second year guard Jerian Grant from the Knicks. These are all serviceable players and in all reality they played more games individually than Rose and Noah combined in the past two years. This trade could end up helping the Bulls in the long run, whether it be this season or two to three seasons from now. In other news the Bulls signed disgruntled point guard Rajon Rondo to a two year deal over the summer which really helps their backcourt, if everything goes as planned. The real star of this team is shooting guard Jimmy Butler who has been waiting for this team to be his for the past three years. I feel Jimmy Butler is just waiting to bust out of the seams, and is ready to have an MVP/All-Star kind of season. With all this veteran talent the Bulls also have some young talent to look forward to. The Bulls have Tony Snell and three-point specialist Doug McDermott; I feel these two players are on the players to watch list this season. In 2016, I feel the Bulls have enough talent to be competitive and possibly return to old form.

Prediction: Playoff Bubble              

Cleveland Cavaliers– Last season the city of Cleveland got its first professional championship in over 50 years thanks to LeBron James and friends. In 2016 ,as long as Cleveland has LeBron, and Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are able to stay healthy throughout the year they should be able to retain their dominance a top the Eastern Conference. One potential distraction that could deter the full potential of the Cavs could be the contract standoff with J.R. Smith. Smith is asking for $15 million a year, but the Cavs are very much over the salary cap and may be looking for cheaper options at the back-up point guard position. The Cavs signed free agent guard Tony Douglas to add some depth, but with the retirement of guard Mo Williams the Cavs might have to give in to J.R. Smith’s demands pretty soon. Other than that, I feel it is a guarantee that the Cavs finish on top of the East.

Prediction: 1st Seed      

Detroit Pistons– It is no secret that Andre Drummond is the heart and soul of this year’s Pistons team. He is a tremendous rebounder, and generally a great scorer because he is always around the rim. Last year at the trade deadline the Pistons went out and got Drummond some needed help. The Pistons traded for rising star Tobias Harris from the Orlando Magic. These two showed flashes of greatness last year, but injuries kept them both from reaching their full potential. With the guidance of President, General Manager, and Coach Stan Van Gundy both Drummond and Harris should benefit tremendously. The only thing this team was missing was a true point guard so the Pistons also went out and got Reggie Jackson from the OKC at the deadline also. Reggie Jackson had just been Russell Westbrooks back-up and never really got his opportunity to show what he could do. When Westbrook got hurt, Jackson was able to put his skills on display and this triggered his trade to Detroit. I feel Reggie Jackson could be an All-Star point guard in this league and has an opportunity to make some noise in this Pistons offense. With all of that being said the Pistons can look forward to the development of both young guard Ketavious Caldwell-Pope, and second year forward Stanley Johnson. I feel these two can really help the team grow, if they are able to reach their full potential. In 2016 the Pistons will have a good year, but injuries and lack of chemistry could end up being the downfall of this team.  

Prediction: Do not make playoffs    

Indiana Pacers– We all know that Paul George is the face of the Indiana Pacers. After being out for all of the 2014-2015 season, George came back with a vengeance and returned to his old self. The Pacers did some spending this summer and acquired some talent to help Paul George out. The Pacers acquired Aaron Brooks, Monte Ellis, Jeremy Evans, Al Jefferson, Jeff Teague, and Thaddeus Young. These are pretty high profile players and could fit well with Indiana’s blue collar style of play. Overall, I feel the Pacers are going to be a force to be reckoned with this year and are going to return to their dominant selves.

Prediction: 6th Seed      

Miami Heat– Miami’s big three is long gone, and there is a little trouble in paradise going down in South Beach. The face of the Heat Dwayne Wade decided that he had enough with the franchise that never made him the highest paid player on the team. He took pay cut after pay cut but never got rewarded for it in the end. The Heat decided they rather go after highly touted free agent Kevin Durant, than take care of one of their most loyal players in Dwayne Wade. Another big story that is going down in South Beach is the health condition of Chris Bosh. For the past two years Chris Bosh has been dealing with recurring blood clots in his lungs and it has significantly affected his play, and his value to the team. With that being said Heat President and General Manager has told the media that Bosh’s “Heat career is probably over”, and that the team is not actively working towards his return. So with two of Miami’s biggest stars gone, the Heat have to look for other options to stay relevant in the east. In the offseason Miami re-signed their center Hassan Whiteside to a four-year, $98 million contract, which gives them some stability at the center position. The Heat also have some young talent to look forward to. The Heat look to second year players Justise Winslow and Tyler Johnson to develop and mature. Miami also has a lot of stock invested in point guard Goran Dragic and they hope he can excel in the absence of Dwayne Wade. In 2016 I feel Miami does not have the pieces to stay relevant in the Eastern Conference.

Prediction: Do not make playoffs

Milwaukee Bucks– The Milwaukee Bucks made a man very rich this offseason, and that man was Giannis Antetokounmpo. They signed him to a four-year, $100 million contract. The Bucks put all their marbles into Giannis because they feel he is developing into a true superstar. Antetokounmpo is not the only valuable piece on the Bucks roster, they also have Greg Monroe, John Henson, Michael Carter-Williams, and Kris Middleton. Another player that could really put the Bucks over the top is 2014 second overall pick Jabari Parker. Parker really hasn’t played a full season due to injuries, but I feel if he could stay healthy, he will really play into the success of this young team. The Bucks also have some veteran leadership on their bench in sharpshooters Jason Terry and Steve Novak. Terry and Novak have been to the playoffs and they have been where this team wants to go so if these two can mentor these young players, I feel that would be very beneficial to the development of the team. Under the leadership of Jason Kidd, I feel the Bucks can have a lot of success this year.

Prediction: 5th Seed        

New York Knicks– Carmelo Anthony has put all his faith into President Phil Jackson, and on paper Phil has finally come through. Last year Phil Jackson drafted Kristaps Porzingis fourth overall, the Latvian mystery man that nobody knew about. New Yorkers and Knicks fans everywhere hated the move, but it actually turned out to be a great move in the end because now Kristaps is portrayed as the God of New York City. New Yorkers are not very patient people and when you put a product on the court that only wins 17 games, things are not going to end up well. With that being said, Phil Jackson scrapped whatever rebuilding plan he had in place, hired a new head coach in Jeff Hornacek and got to work. The first move was to go out and get a point guard. He did this by trading away Jose Calderon, Robin Lopez, and Jerian Grant and acquiring the talents of Derrick Rose from the Bulls. He then went out and recruited Rose’s teammate Joakim Noah to replace Robin Lopez at center. Phil was not done there, he went out and got defensive minded Courtney Lee to man the shooting guard position and Brandon Jennings to help off the bench. When all was said and done Phil Jackson sat back and realized that he had just assembled the 2011 All-Star team. All jokes aside the Knicks are greatly improved and can now actually field a team that can contend for a title in the East. The only thing that could set this team back would be injuries and off court distractions. Carmelo Anthony has dealt with injuries in the past, we all know Derrick Rose’s injury history and Joakim Noah has had ankle issues the past two years. If this team can stay healthy, and work together they have a shot at something special.

Prediction: 4th Seed                

Orlando Magic– The Magic made a lot of moves last year, and it seems like they are in a win now type of attitude. The Magic traded away franchise players Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris, in exchange for notable solid veterans Jodie Meeks and Serge Ibaka. This move added some veteran leadership to a young and raw roster filled with potential talent. Some of that potential talent includes Aaron Gordon who shined bright at the 2016 Slam Dunk Contest, second year sharp shooter Mario Hezonja, and point guard Elfrid Payton. With time these three players have the potential to be perennial All-Stars with the right coaching, and the right leadership in the locker room. The Magic’s new coach Frank Vogel should provide that leadership and can potentially do to the Magic franchise what he did for the Pacers, and make them relevant again. In 2016 I feel the Magic will remain raw and talented, but I don’t see them going very far.

Prediction: Do not make the playoffs     

Philadelphia 76ers– The 76ers finally got what they were hoping and praying for the past five years, the first overall pick in the draft. The 76ers drafted LSU star Ben Simmons to be the savior of the franchise. The Sixers have had some high draft picks in the past, but they never seem to work out the way they want them to. Last year they drafted Duke star Jahlil Okafor, he turned out ok but still didn’t live up to expectations. The Sixers have been waiting for some talent to arrive and this year they will get it delivered with Euro star Dario Saric and often injured Joel Embiid who has still not played in a NBA game. With all these draft picks and nothing to show for it, Philly will try to rely on Ben Simmons to bring all this talent together. Simmons is a big guard who can run the floor really well and can pass like it’s nobody’s business. With all these big men on the roster, Simmons should have no problem passing to them in the paint for easy buckets. The future is bright in Philly, but that light at the end of the tunnel is still pretty far away.

Prediction: Do not make playoffs   

Toronto Raptors– The two-time defending Atlantic Division Champions are back at it again. The Raptors re-signed All-Star DeMar DeRozan and basically kept the same team intact that made it to the Eastern Conference championship last year. With the help of Kyle Lowery, DeMar DeRozan can potentially take this team back to where they were last year. The Raptors lost big man Bismack Biyombo in free agency, but I don’t feel that is going to have much effect on them. Expect much of the same from the team from the north. I expect another playoff appearance.

Prediction: 3rd Seed       

Washington Wizards– The Wizards were supposed to be Kevin Durant’s top destination in free agency because he is from Washington, and going home is all the rage these days. The Wizards even went as far as hiring his old coach Scott Brooks from the Thunder as a recruiting tool. As you may know Kevin Durant spurned the whole NBA and decided to join the super team in Golden State, but that is a story for next week. This decision by Durant has left the Wizards to deal with one of the best back courts in the east, John Wall and Bradley Beal. Wall and Beal have the potential to carry the 2016 Wizards to the promise land, but they have to learn how to play with each other first. There have been some controversial comments made by both Wall and Beal saying that “they have a tendency to dislike each other on the court”. This could be a potential problem for Washington, but have no fear because head coach Scott Brooks had to deal with this same problem with Durant and Westbrook in OKC. I feel if Wall and Beal are able to work out their differences, they have enough talent around them to make a run.

Prediction: 8th Seed       

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