NBA preview: Eastern conference

Embed from Getty Images

Aussie Ben Simmons will be looking to back up after winning Rookie of the Year in his first season. 

By ADAM FOSTER

LeBron James spent 16 years in the eastern conference.

During that time, he went to the NBA Finals nine times, including eight consecutive appearances from the 2010-2011 season.

With James leaving the east for the Lakers, there is an opportunity for the east conference to be filled with young and hungry teams ready to make their move.

Can Kawhi Leonard get the Raptors over the line?

With Kawhi Leonard comes mystery. What are his intentions? Is he over his injuries? How does he feel about being in Toronto?

After an off-season of questions, we are about to find out.

Toronto will do whatever they can to keep Leonard happy. After all, they traded DeMar DeRozan, one of their greatest-ever players, in the hope Leonard would take them to the finals and stay for the long term.

The typically emotionless and quiet superstar may have no interest in staying in Toronto, but one thing that cannot be questioned is Leonard’s ability on the court.

The former two-time defensive player of the year is arguably the best two-way player in the league, guarding the opposition’s best player and averaging more than 25 points per game two seasons ago.

Is Leonard going to make the Raptors a force for years to come or is he on his way to a Los Angeles team? Only time will tell.

Embed from Getty Images

Kyrie Irving returns for the Celtics and will lead their charge towards the NBA Finals. Source: Getty Images

How will Boston go when healthy?

Last season, the Celtics managed to make it all the way to game seven of the eastern conference finals despite losing Gordon Hayward for the entire season and Kyrie Irving for the playoffs.

With a healthy roster and James leaving the conference, Boston are a serious threat to win the east.

The Celtics are a rare combination of a star filled roster, depth and excellent coaching under Brad Stevens.

Stevens has innovated the game with a lack of care about positions and a focus on each player playing a specific role with a well organised strategy.

The biggest worry for Boston will be going in with an undersized team against the bigger bodies of opposition teams.

Even with that issue, the Celtics are poised to make a run at going to the NBA finals.

 Are Philadelphia the present or the future?

 The Sixers have young talent any team would be jealous of.

They made the first step to living up to their potential last season by making it to the second round of the playoffs and they will look to go even further this year.

Injuries have plagued the Sixers for years, but young stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have managed to stay mostly healthy for the past 12 months.

Former No.1 pick Markelle Fultz has also rediscovered his shooting mechanics after dealing with shoulder troubles.

For the Sixers to make a run to the finals this year, they need to stay healthy and prove that they are mature enough.

Their biggest issue, however, may be a lack of depth compared to other top teams in the east.

The Raptors and Celtics pride themselves on depth and the Sixers do not have a bench quite on their level, meaning star power will need to be the difference for them.

Embed from Getty Images

Giannis Antetokounmpo has gone from strength to strength over the last few seasons and will look to lead the Bucks to a playoff series win. Source: Getty Images

Can Milwaukee and Indiana make the next step?

 After five seasons with the Hawks, Mike Budenholzer is taking over Milwaukee.

Budenholzer’s system emphasises ball movement and unselfishness, but the Bucks have relied on heavy usage of franchise player Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Despite surrounding him with playmakers such as Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon, the Bucks lack shooting and they have tried to address that this offseason with Budenholzer’s system relying heavily on shooting.

The new system will either be disastrous, or a genius move on a Milwaukee team that has underachieved in recent years.

Whether it will enhance Antetokounmpo’s game or hold him back will be seen.

Similarly, Indiana are making moves to become a top team in the east.

Last season they put together a surprising season through under-the-radar moves that built a solid team.

Additions such as Tyreke Evans, Kyle O’Quinn and Doug McDermott should only enhance this team and if Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner can take their games to the next level, this team will improve again.

Oladipo became a top shooting guard in the league last year to the surprise of many, and with his work ethic he will be determined to prove last season was no fluke for he and his team. 

Embed from Getty Images

Kevin Love in action in the last finals. 

Who goes up and who goes down?

Many of the teams in the east are unpredictable so this season is sure to be filled with surprises.

Cleveland lost LeBron James which will be a setback, but can they remain in the playoffs led by all-star Kevin Love as their first option and prized lottery pick Colin Sexton running the show at point guard?

Washington added Dwight Howard this offseason, but his offseason has been plagued by injury and he is not the player he once was.

The Wizards look similar compared to previous seasons with star power but a lack of depth to their roster.

Detroit may be able to step up in a similar way that New Orleans were able to last season, with a team built around two dominant players, but they are not nearly as talented as New Orleans was and may struggle to improve.

The addition of former coach of the year Dwane Casey may be a big pickup for the Pistons, but he may not have enough talent on his team.