This article will be dedicated to a brief summary of how each team in the Eastern Conference did in the 2014-2015 NBA season, and a preview into what each team might do during the offseason. The order is based off final regular season standings.
The Atlanta Hawks surprised a lot of people this past season. The Hawks were looked at by most to be battling for the 7th or 8th playoff spot, and yet they played great team ball, defense, and were efficient, leading to having four All-Star players, and getting the best record in the Eastern Conference. This success did not carry over into the playoffs, as they struggled to beat an inferior Brooklyn Nets team, and then barely squeaked by a Washington Wizards teams, without their best player in John Wall. Once they got to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Hawks lost Carroll game one to a knee injury, he still played, but was not himself. Korver was lost to an ankle injury from a dirty play by Matthew Dellavedova, and then Horford was limited by foul trouble, or getting an ejection. Although this ending can seem disappointing, the Hawks should be proud of how far they went, and exceeded expectations. The Hawks will have their hands full, trying to bring back Carroll, Millsap, and Antic, but I expect Carroll to come back, and for them to look for a cheaper replacement for Millsap in the draft, in the form of Bobby Portis, Trey Lyles, Myles Turner, or any of the projected big men projected to be around when they are due to pick at 15. I expect the Hawks to take a step back next season, still being a playoff team, but more so in the 6-8 range. This is not a knock against the Hawk’s talent, but the rest of the east is scheduled to be healthy next season(Miami and Indiana), and the rest has talent improving very quickly.
Well, losing in the NBA finals is never a fun thing. LeBron was unbelievable. LeBron showed why he is the best in the business. I am one of the biggest LeBron haters out there, but even I have to admit he was spectacular. Although, the loss stung, the Cavaliers should be proud they went six games in the finals against the best team in the league without, Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving. This offseason will be a busy one for the Cavaliers. LeBron, Love, and Smith all have player options they can opt out of. I do not see LeBron or Smith opting out, but I think Love could go explore his value in the free agent market. Thompson, Shumpert, and Dellavedova all are restricted, but are all expected to get big pay raises. Thompson is set on getting a max contract, as he has already has turned down a $13 million a year offer from the Cavaliers. Shumpert would be a good building block for a team like the Los Angeles Lakers, who could throw a big offer his way to pry him away from Cleveland. Dellavedova’s raise will not be as great as the former two, which should keep in Cleveland. I would not be surprised to see the Cavaliers let Kevin Love or Thompson walk as paying two players the max for the same position would be bad cap management. Expect one of these two guys to leave, and I expect it to be Love, even though he said he is coming back. Even with a departure from Love, I fully expect the Cavaliers to be competing for one of the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference next season.
What a roller coaster this past season was. You had the emergence of Jimmy Butler into a two-way star. Derrick Rose stayed healthy enough for a playoff run, and your front office fired a coach; some believe to be one of the best in the business. In all honesty, it was time for the Bulls and Tom Thibodeau to part ways. In no way should have it ended as messy as it was, but not everything can be pretty. The Bulls have one big objective this summer, and that is bring back Jimmy Butler. Luckily for the Bulls, Butler is restricted. Unfortunately, Butler only wants a short term deal, and has expressed interest in wanting to play for the Los Angeles Lakers. With all the being said, Butler will still be in Chicago for at least the next three seasons. I fully expect the Bulls to be competing with Cleveland for the top spot in the east next season.
Well we know the Raptors are pretenders, and not contenders at the moment. The Raptors had another good season, but lack the ability to take the next step. Their offensive is unstoppable, but their defensive is so bad it counteracts the potency of their offense. Getting a four would help, and I could see a deal with Chicago, centered around Taj Gibson, as a potential trade scenario. Gibson would give the Raptor’s a solid defensive player to guard the basket. If this deal happened, it would allow for the Raptors to target a back-up point guard in the draft. The Raptors will be competing next season for a top five seed in the Eastern Conference, more than likely falling to the fifth or six slot with the rise of Washington, Milwaukee, and then the reemergence of Miami and Indiana.
For the Wizards, their season was cut unfortunately short, due to a wrist injury to John Wall. The regular season was full of ups and downs, and unfilled potential. Luckily Otto Porter seemed to take a big step last season, and is looked upon to be a break-out player next season. For the Wizards, they do not have to worry about their core players in free agency, and just need for Paul Pierce to opt in for his final year. With a healthy Wall and Beal, the potential emergence of Porter, and the savvy veteran leadership of Pierce, the Wizards will be a dark horse contender to be the best in the east. In my eyes, the Wizards will be a top four team in the east next season, and will have another successful season, but I do not think they can get past Cleveland to get to the finals. Although they might come up short, they will have the cap space in net year’s free agency to try and entice Kevin Durant home, and with him the Wizards would easily be year in and year out title favorites with their current team.
No one surprised more people this season than Milwaukee did. This team was suppose to be at least another season, if not two from .500 or better. Jason Kidd was marvelous in taking this young team under his wing, making them a defensive stalwart, and letting them be free on offense to find their own games. Increasing their win total from 17 to 41 was impressive, even more impressive when Jabari Parker, their top pick last draft tore his ACL before the halfway point of the season. After an impressive regular season, the Bucks took on their divisional rival in the opening round. Chicago was predicted by most to either sweep the series, or win in five. Milwaukee battled it out to a six game series. They ended up getting blown out in game six after five closely contested battles, but with a return of Parker next season, a good spot in the draft to add talent and depth, and an expected busy offseason, the Bucks could look to make a lot of noise next season. Khris Middleton will be back next season, no matter the price. Then the Bucks are going to be in the sweepstakes for DeAndre Jordan, Tyson Chandler, and Brook Lopez. They will look t lure one of these centers over to fill their biggest hole. If one of these players is obtained, I think the Bucks could compete for a top four spot in the east next season.
This past season, the Celtics squeaked into the playoffs; were dismantled once there, but they were an overachieving team, so this was expected. The Celtics really benefited from injuries to Paul George and Chris Bosh, as this crippled their main opponents for the final two playoff spots. Although this season seemed bright for the future, it was not at all. The Celtics are in one of the worst NBA states you can be in. This state is being good enough to compete for a low playoff seed, but not bad enough for a chance at a top pick. Marcus Smart has a bright future in this league, but the rest of the team seems to be role players at best. With their selection at 16th in the draft, there is not many game changers projected to be around here, limiting the Celtics further from getting out of this state. A lot of people project the Celtics to try and trade up, due to their seemingly endless picks, but no one is taking to their offers. I expect the Celtics to trade away some of their players this offseason, in order to free up cap space to go after a star player. The best option for the Celtics would be Kevin Love, trade away a few of their other power forwards, and then draft a rim protector, like Robert Upshaw. If the Celtics could pull off this type of offseason, they could very well compete in the east next season. As of right now, The Celtics will not make the playoffs with a healthy Pacers and Heat team next season. The Celtics will be competitive next season because of their great coach, Brad Stevens, but he can only do so much with so little.
The Nets were an interesting story this year. They traded away Kevin Garnett for Thaddeus Young, which was a good trade for both sides. After this trade, the Nets stayed hot and received the last of the playoff berths. The Nets, once in the playoffs, stayed closely competitive with the Atlanta Hawks, who most projected to sweep them. This is progress for a Nets team, who cannot really improve this offseason, since they are so far over the cap, and their draft pick is at the back of the first round. Brook Lopez is expected to opt out of his player option, but the Nets management has said they will keep him no matter the cost. If they are paying for post trade deadline Lopez, he is worth a slight raise, but if they are paying almost max money to a guy that got benched, this is very hurtful to their team. I expect the Nets to keep Lopez around so they remain competitive. Thaddeus Young will also need to be resigned as he as said before that he wants a raise. The Nets will again be looking to trade the contracts of Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, as both are aging veterans that no longer produce for what they cost. In the draft look for the Nets to try and move up to get a player more capable of contributing now, versus a draft-and-stash player they are most likely stuck with at the 29th selection. No matter the offseason for the Nets, they will likely miss the playoffs again next season, as their aging veterans, and lack of young talent can not handle the rest of rising talent in the east.
For not having their best player for almost the whole season, the Pacers were a pretty good team. The Pacers played their usually tough defense, and were efficient on offense allowing for them to stay in almost all their games. Even though this season could be considered disappointing by some fans, they will be able to select in the lottery to help stock up their team for another run for the top in the conference. The Pacers, in most mock drafts are given around three different players, Frank Kaminsky, Myles Turner, or Devin Booker. All three would be great additions for the Pacers. Turner obviously has the highest upside, but also represents the biggest risk. Kaminsky is a guy, who will give his all for you, and you know what he what will give you. Booker, would be a nice addition on the wing to give George another floor spacer, who his lights out from range. All three would be a great addition, and I have them selecting Booker in my latest mock. I think his offensive ability will help ease the pressure off of Paul George, which will be needed next season. No matter the offseason, having George back will make the Pacers a playoff team next season. They may not be a top four seed, but they will be a tough out for whoever has to play them. They will be just as savvy on defense next season, if not better, and have their best offensive weapon back as well.
Losing LeBron James to free agency hurt, but most still expected the Heat to compete in the east this past season. The Heat had so many set-backs during the season, it was if the basketball gods wanted the Heat to miss the playoffs. Dwayne Wade had his usually knee problems, Chris Bosh was tragically lost to a life threatening health problem, Dragic was a little to late of an addition to help lead the team to a playoff berth, but they did have bright spots as well. The Miami Heat found Hassan Whiteside, they traded away nearly nothing for Goran Dragic, and they have a top ten pick in the draft now. Dragic will need to be resigned this offseason, as he is fully expected to opt out of his contract. Whiteside will need to learn to control his foul trouble for him to be even more effective next season. The top ten pick should be used to grab a guy, who can help next season, but also develop into a good player down the line. The options will likely come down to Hezonja, Turner, Booker, Oubre, Kaminsky, and Johnson(if available). Stanley Johnson and Mario Hezonja are most likely gone by this pick, so that leaves us with Turner, Booker, Oubre, and Kaminsky. Most mocks are between Kaminsky and Turner right now, with Oubre as the dark horse contender. Turner has the higgest upside, but highest bust potential, Kaminsky would improve their offensive depth at the four/five, and Oubre would give them a offensive wing to work with. All could be great additions, and will help the Heat return to the playoffs next season, which I fully expect them to do.
The Hornets suffered the injury bug to their two best players this past season, and had a failed season with Lance Stephenson. Stephenson was suppose to help the Hornets take the next step in the postseason, but instead was a cancer to the team. He was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for Matt Barnes, and Spencer Hawes. Barnes is expected to be waived, while Hawes will provide more floor spacing for the Hornets next season. Luckily for the Hornets, Al Jefferson has said he is going to opt in to his player option next season, which gives them a great offensive center to work with. In the draft, the Hornets have a top ten pick, and are expected to target an offensive wing. Most mocks have Mario Hezonja being the selection. Hezonja has a certain persona about himself that emits confidence, and that is desperately needed in Charlotte. With his addition, Walker and Jefferson healthy, and the continued development of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the Hornets could make some noise next season. I do not expect a playoff berth to come out of it, but they will remain competitive, and be a spoiler for other playoff teams.
Another team who suffered a devastating injury that destroyed their season. The Pitons were one of the hottest teams in the league until Brandon Jennings was lost to an achilles injury. Once he went down for the season, the Pistons fell apart. They tried to improve themselves at the trade deadline, with an addition of Reggie Jackson, but he could not help them make the playoffs. The Pistons face an offseason full of unknowns. They have already traded for Ersan Ilyasova, for an expected replacement for Greg Monroe, who is expected to leave via free agency. Jackson is a restricted free agent, who is expected to get some big offers this summer. The Pistons sit at a crossroads of rather to match a potential big offer for Jackson, and have him and Jennings on the same team, or just let Jackson walk. Neither option is very good. If Jackson is resigned, you face the same chemistry issues Oklahoma City faced. For a team like Detroit without veteran leadership this is a major concern. If you decide to let him walk, you traded away guys for nothing in return. This will be a hard decision for the Pistons management to figure out. Luckily in the draft, they have a prime selection to select a much needed wing. The choices will be Johnson, Hezonja, and potential Winslow, and if they want to draft a player, who could be a real difference maker in a season or two, they could target Kristaps Porzingis, if available. The Pistons will likely be looking at another season of missing the playoffs, but should see steady improvement from their young players leading to a slightly better record next season.
Although their record might not show it, the Magic have a very good team forming. All of their young players seemed to improve and this might be cause for excitement instead of their record. Vucevic, Oladipo, and Payton, all showed potential stardom as a trio, and even their role players of Fournier and Gordon showed great upside. Tobias Harris is a restricted free agent this offseason, and the Magic could look to bring him back, but I do not think this is in their best interest. Harris will be an expensive wing to bring back and with their selection at number five, they could easily look to fill that with Winslow or Johnson, who are younger and have higher upside. This leads into the draft, and I think the decision comes down to one of these two, with Porzingis being a dark horse for the pick. A lot of people project Porzingis here, but selecting a four, different types of fours, in the top five, two years in a row, is hard for me to believe will happen. Johnson or Winslow would also fill a bigger hole at the three. The Magic will continue to make strides next season, which should be seen in the standings, but will yet again miss the postseason. Magic fans do not worry, your team will be competing for titles soon. The years of developmental rebuild will pay off.
Everyone knew the 76ers were tanking this season. They were downright awful to watch. Most of the season was nothing more than low spots, like trading away KJ McDaniels, but they did have a bright spot, Nerlens Noel should great defensive potential. The only bad thing is his potential front court partner, Joel Embiid suffered a setback in his foot recover. For the 76ers to get out of this rebuild they will need Embiid. The 76er’s rebuild is geared for this year’s draft and likely next year’s draft as well. Expect the 76er’s to target D’Angelo Russell to give the a lethal scoring option, that can handle the ball. The next draft will be looking for an elite wing to pair with him. As stated before, the 76ers are looking to rebuild via the draft, so next season will likely be another losing season, dedicated to trying to find a star.
New York Knicks:
There is not a lot of good to be said about the Knicks this past season. They were terrible. Anthony was out a majority of the year with a knee injury, they traded away Chandler, Smith, and Shumpert, for next to nothing. For the Knicks, their season was for the future, and they had the hopes to tank for a top pick, and yet they still fell out of the top three, and now, Phil Jackson has no idea what to do with his selection at number four. The Knicks have the ability to go after Winslow, Porzingis, Mudiay, or Stein. The Knicks do not seem sold on any of these guys and would prefer to trade down, but besides a Ty Lawson deal, nothing is that tempting for them. Even with the draft seeming to be a complete fail, the Knicks were hopeful for a big free agent class. Well I think they will get a good player(Greg Monroe), or two, they will still have a lot of work to do to improve next season. For this reason, I would take the Nuggets offer if they are offering Lawson, so you can at least field a watchable team next season. At the 7th pick the Knicks would more than likely still have the ability to draft either Winslow, Johnson, Stein, Hezonja, or Porzingis. For next season, I expect the Knicks to be a better team, but they will be selecting in the lottery again, as this team is just not deep enough to compete for a full season with the current talent pool. I expect a 22-27 win total for next season without Ty Lawson. With Ty Lawson I can see this team in the 34-40 win total.
By: Mac Crowe, @Mac_Truck17