The Eastern Conference has gotten a major overhaul this offseason. For the first time since the 2002-2003 season, LeBron James will not be playing in the East next season. For the first time since the 2009-2010 season, the Eastern Conference representative in the NBA Finals will not be a LeBron James-led team. It’s a new era in the East. But where do the Sixers stand?
The 76ers will enter next season as a consensus top-three team in the East. There’s some debate as to where they stand in that top-three, but everyone agrees that they are in it. However, I believe that there are five teams that could serve as a threat to the Sixers next season. Let’s go through them.
2017-18 Record: 44-38, 6th in East, Lost in 5 to PHI in Round 1
Additions: Wayne Ellington (re-signed), Derrick Jones Jr.
Free Agents: Dwyane Wade, Jordan Mickey
It appears that the Heat are planning on bringing back the same exact roster in 2018-19. There were some murmurs about the Heat having interest in Carmelo Anthony, but he seems destined for Houston, which is a good thing for Miami. The Heat don’t pose much of a threat to the Sixers, but they are a team that could give them some trouble in a playoff series if they tinker with their roster a bit.
2017-18 Record: 44-38, 7th in East, Lost in 7 to BOS in Round 1
Additions: Brook Lopez, Donte DiVincenzo, Ersan Ilyasova
Free Agents: Jabari Parker (signed with CHI), Shabazz Muhammed, Jason Terry
The Bucks have had a solid offseason. The Donte DiVincenzo pick was fine, as DiVincenzo will provide a scoring threat off the bench that the Bucks have lacked in the past. Ersan Ilyasova signed a multi-year contract to return to Milwaukee, and even though the Bucks gave him a little too much money and a year too long, he will help them next season.
The best thing the Bucks did all offseason, however, was signing Brook Lopez. Lopez is a fantastic fit with Giannis Antetekoumpo. He can stretch the floor, post up, and protect the rim on the other side of the court. He will be the best big that Giannis has ever played with. The Bucks also did a great thing in letting Jabari Parker walk. Parker was one of the worst defensive players in the NBA. He was a black hole on offense, and Giannis hated playing with him. Subtracting Parker should lead to an increase in wins on its own.
The Bucks also made a coaching change, replacing the inept Joe Prunty/Jason Kidd with former Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. Bud had great success in Atlanta and could do wonders with the Bucks.
The Bucks also now have the best player in the East in Giannis Antetekounmpo, and he has never had a competent coach in his career before. Couple that with the Lopez addition, and the Bucks could be a sleeping giant in the East. But with the amount of holes that still remain in the roster, they are likely to stay asleep in the 2018-19 season.
2017-18 Record: 48-34, 5th in East, Lost in 7 to CLE in Round 1
Additions: Tyreke Evans, Kyle O’Quinn, Doug McDermott, Aaron Holiday
Free Agents: Al Jefferson (signed with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers), Trevor Booker, Glenn Robinson (signed with DET), Lance Stephenson (signed with LAL), Joseph Young
The first team on the list that made massive changes to their roster this offseason, the Indiana Pacers overhauled their bench. Out went Al Jefferson, Trevor Booker, Glenn Robinson, and Lance Stephenson, and in come Tyreke Evans, Kyle O’Quinn, and Doug McDermott. Overall, these are really solid additions which leave the Pacers as the clear-cut fourth team in the East at the moment. O’Quinn is one of the best backup centers in the NBA, Evans was great in 2017-18 in Memphis, and McDermott will provide a solid shooting threat off the bench.
Indiana will return the entire starting lineup of a team that surprisingly won 48 games last year and very nearly eliminated LeBron and the Cavs in the first round. Victor Oladipo is a bonafide star, and Myles Turner has the potential to be one. The Pacers also return solid role players in Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young. Overall, this Pacers team is a sleeper to win the conference next season.
2017-18 Record: 59-23, 1st in East, Lost in 4 to CLE in ECSF
Additions: Fred VanVleet (re-signed)
Free Agents: Lucas Nogueira, Lorenzo Brown
The Raptors have done nothing of note in free agency so far. Re-signing Fred VanVleet was a huge win, but was expected. There were rumblings of the Raptors potentially shaking up the roster, but as of now they are bringing back the same exact team as last season. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. The Raptors won a franchise record 59 games last season, and LeBron James is now gone from the East. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Raptors run it back with the same exact roster and make Finals appearance.
However, the Kawhi Leonard possibility still looms. The Raptors have lurked in the shadows as a dark horse for the disgruntled superstar. The Raptors could offer a package centered around DeMar DeRozan and OG Anunoby, and if the Spurs are looking to be as competitive as possible next season they could take it.
Even if it’s not Kawhi, I’d expect the Raptors to make some sort of move before the season starts. I doubt that both Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas will start the season in Toronto. Even though the Raptors have been silent thus far, Masai Uriji has seemed determined to make some sort of shake up to the roster. Trading a member of the front court could be that shake up.
2017-18 Record: 55-27, 2nd in East, Lost in 7 to CLE in ECF
Additions: Aron Baynes (re-signed), Robert Williams, Brad Wanamaker
Free Agents: Marcus Smart, Greg Monroe, Shane Larkin, Jabari Bird
As it currently stands, the Celtics are the consensus favorites to win the East in 2018-19. After all, they took the Cavs to 7 games without two All-Stars in Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. How could they not be the favorites? Well, it’s not that simple.
Yes, the Celtics were minutes away from the NBA Finals. But they also were playing with house money. Everyone wrote them off as soon as Kyrie Irving was ruled out for the season. This year, they will be the heavy favorites. That will change the way they play. The gap between Boston and Toronto and Philadelphia is minimal.
Marcus Smart is still a free agent, and he would be a ginormous loss for Boston. He’s restricted, but if Sacramento (and that’s really the only option here) offers him the Zach LaVine contract, it’s unlikely Boston would match. Losing Smart would lessen the gap between Boston and the rest of the East even further.
In conclusion, as currently constructed, the 76ers are a notch below Boston, about even with Toronto, and clearly ahead of the rest of the East. That is a great place to be in for a core that is entering just its second year together. The inevitable Kawhi Leonard trade will likely play a big part in the outlook of the East next season. I’d bet on him getting traded to either the Sixers or the Raptors. Whichever team gets him becomes the favorite to win the East, in my opinion. This offseason is far from over.