After a busy offseason, the NBA’s Eastern Conference has a whole new look to it. From LeBron’s decision to return to Cleveland, to Carmelo’s choice to stay in New York, it’s fair to say that Charlotte’s competition has gotten a lot stiffer due to this summer’s transactions. While there are still some names to be signed, here’s a look at how the Hornets might fit into next year’s playoff picture in what looks to be a tough Eastern Conference.
The Cellar Dwellers
Philadelphia 76ers: Overall, I really like what the 76ers have done in the NBA’s last two drafts with the additions of Rookie of The Year Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, and now Joel Embiid. Barring injuries for these players, Philadelphia has found themselves a nice core to build around for years to come. However, with a horrendous cast surrounding these young guns, the Sixers won’t improve much on last year’s miserable season.
Milwaukee Bucks: Similarly to the 76ers, the Bucks have picked up a couple nice pieces in recent drafts with Giantess Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, both of whom are potential NBA superstars. Call me crazy, but Milwaukee might be a little better than expected next season due a solid core consisting of Parker, Antetokounmpo (Google doesn’t even know how to spell his name), Brandon Knight, and Larry Sanders. Nevertheless, the Bucks still aren’t close to being a playoff team.
Orlando Magic: It seems like only the Magic would give Ben Gordon another chance. Somehow, after years of mediocrity and poor play with both Charlotte and Detroit, the locker room cancer of a shooting guard will be playing in central Florida for the next two years years on a contract worth over $9M. Who will be worse next season: Orlando or Philly?
Boston Celtics: With the Celtics’ pick of Marcus Smart in the NBA Draft, it will be interesting to see when (not if) Rondo gets traded elsewhere. Regardless, Boston won’t be anything special next season.
The Bubble Teams
Detroit Pistons: It will be interesting to see how the Pistons address their front court situation in the coming days. Last season, Joe Dumars’ experiment of putting two power forwards (Greg Monroe and Josh Smith) and a center (Andre Drummond) in Detroit’s starting lineup failed miserably for the the team. Now, the Pistons will have to decided between Monroe or Smith. Regardless of who Detroit decides to keep, the Pistons won't come close to being a playoff team next season.
New York Knicks: Despite a nice addition in PG Jose Calderon, I have a hard time believing that the Knicks will be anything special with a lackluster cast around Carmelo Anthony. Just look at last year if you want any proof.
Atlanta Hawks: This might finally be the season that the Hawks get pushed out of a playoff spot! Don’t get me wrong, Atlanta could still be a relevant team in 2014-15, but in an improved Eastern Conference, don’t be surprised to see the Hawks in the lottery next summer.
Brooklyn Nets: Even though the Nets played really well down the stretch of last season, with the departure of Paul Pierce, a possibility of Kevin Garnett retiring, and an unhappy Deron Williams, Brooklyn might find itself near the bottom of the East’s totem pole once again next year.
The Second Tier
Miami Heat: Yeah, the Heat lost LeBron James and 90% of their fan base to Cleveland this summer, but Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade will still keep the Heat in the playoff picture. However, at the moment, Charlotte and Washington clearly look to be the frontrunners in the Southeast Division.
Indiana Pacers: With the losses of Lance Stephenson and Paul George, Indiana will certainly not be the team that they were last year. Nevertheless, maybe Lance’s departure will prove to be beneficial for the team’s chemistry and result in better play from the Pacers’ surrounding cast.
Toronto Raptors: While Toronto didn’t add much this offseason, expect another solid team north of the border with the re-signing of star point guard Kyle Lowry.
Washington Wizards: With both Charlotte and Washington improving in free-agency, it's going to be fun to watch the two teams both teams battle for seeding throughout next year.
Charlotte Hornets: Overall, Hornets fans have to be happy with what Rich Cho and company were able to do this offseason between the draft and free-agency. First off, it’s fantastic for Charlotte that the team was able to get Noah Vonleh with the ninth overall selection in the draft and then come back and get a proven scorer in P.J. Hairston with their second first-round pick. Both players should certainly pay dividends in the future for the Hornets.
While Josh McRoberts’ decision to leave the Queen City for Miami is certainly a loss for the Hornets, the front office did a great job replacing McBob with a similar player in Marvin Williams. Plus, when you're able to get a guy like Lance Stephenson, it's a little easier to forget about McRoberts' choice to take his talents to South Beach.
The Cream of The Crop
Cleveland Cavaliers: With LeBron back in Cleveland, the Cavs will suddenly jump from a below .500 club, to a team with championship aspirations. But even with LeBron, is the Cavaliers’ surrounding cast strong enough to win a championship?
Chicago Bulls: For the Bulls, it will be all about avoiding injuries next year. If Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, and Joakim Noah can stay healthy for the majority of Chicago’s season, the Bulls are undoubtedly the most complete team in the Eastern Conference. If not, the Cavs are the team to beat.
Lead Hornets Writer: Jonathon Hoppe