Where does the departure of LeBron James leave the Eastern Conference? In pretty good hands, actually, because some of the best teams in the conference should be even better this year.
The Boston Celtics, with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward joining a group that almost reached The Finals two months ago, would have been the favorite in the East even if James stayed in Cleveland. The Philadelphia 76ers didn’t add a marquee free agent, but still have two of the best young stars in the league, along with a top-five defense. The Toronto Raptors upgraded from DeMar DeRozan to Kawhi Leonard (assuming the latter is healthy).
The Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards fortified their benches, while the Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets (all solid squads) shook things up with coaching changes.
Some teams will disappoint, but others will exceed expectations. Here’s how we see the East stacking up with most of the summer’s business having been taken care of. (And here’s how the West is looking, too).
For these mid-Summer rankings, we’re looking at each conference separately and we’ll have Western Conference rankings next Monday (Aug. 6). The “Last Week” rankings are based on how teams did in the playoffs and regular season.
- April 9: Cavs and Warriors look vulnerable as regular season closes
- This time last year: West makes power moves to increase conference imbalance– Kyrie Irving hadn’t been traded yet, but Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Paul Millsap had all moved from the Eastern Conference to the West, while the biggest star to go in the opposite direction is the one who would suffer a horrific injury on the first night of the season. The Celtics and Sixers made a draft-pick swap that we’ll be talking about for a long time and Dwight Howard got traded for a mostly unplayable center on a bad contract. We ranked the Hornets too high (15) and the Pacers much too low (27).
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Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league averaged 99.6 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 106.2 points scored per 100 possessions last season.