Now that the Lakers have James, their chances of winning a title increase just by having him alone. James comes to Los Angeles on an eight-year appearance streak in the NBA Finals. But that’s the West. What about the Eastern Conference. Here’s a look at the Top 15 Rankings of East Teams now that Lebron has gone to the Lakers.
1. Boston Celtics: Took LeBron to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals without their two best players, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Boston could still lose Marcus Smart, who is an important role player, but there isn’t a guy the 76ers could add – I’m assuming Kawhi Leonard isn’t going anywhere but the Lakers – to put them over Boston. In the East, 65 wins is seriously attainable
2. Philadelphia: The 76ers had a rough start to free agency, losing two cogs in their late-season run to 52 wins, shooters Ersan Ilyasova (to Milwaukee) and Marco Belinelli (to San Antonio). But they still have two of the five best players in the East, and let’s see what happens with JJ Redick. Hope you haven’t written off Markelle Fultz yet; he’s still only 20. If they don’t win 55 games, it’ll be a letdown.
3. Milwaukee Bucks: Slightly disappointing 1st round playoff exit and they don’t have much wiggle room in free agency to improve. Out goes Jabari Parker, who at least had potential; in comes a shooter in Ersan Ilyasova. Khris Middleton is probably an All-Star in the East. If Tony Snell gives the Bucks more, and Thon Maker takes the next step, 50 wins is possible.
4. Toronto Raptors: LeBron is gone, anything is possible, right? Well, not really. Will they win 59 games again despite getting a new coach after the embarrassing sweep against LeBron in the playoffs? That doesn’t seem likely, though the talent is certainly there. I can see a dip back down to 50 games as they tinker with lineups – more minutes for Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell – and perhaps fewer shots for DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, both of whom they tried to trade this offseason.
5. Indiana Pacers: Didn’t get Aaron Gordon, and they won’t sneak up on anyone this year, but with Victor Oladipo leading the way, this is a 45-48 win team. I don’t get the Doug McDermott addition, given his defensive liabilities, but that’s a big difference than having Lance Stephenson out there.
6. Washington Wizards: Glad the Wizards didn’t break up the Wall/Beal duo, because two years ago they were a quarter from the Eastern Conference Finals; this year they pushed the #1 seeded Raptors to six games. Austin Rivers is great for point guard depth. Is Troy Brown going to play much, behind Beal, Porter and Oubre on the wing? Feels like 44 wins.
7. Miami Heat: Couldn’t improve because of all the bad contracts they handed out in 2017, and now they’re handcuffed for years. Someone has to pop as a star, could it be Justise Winslow? For starters, Pat Riley won’t be able to attract any free agents until he can unload Hassan Whiteside. But the talent is still there to win 43 games and get to the playoffs.
8. Chicago Bulls: If it all breaks perfectly for the Bulls, I think they could be in the mix for the 8th seed well into February. They’re solid everywhere, but special nowhere, and let’s see what happens with Zach LaVine, who averaged 16.7 ppg in just 24 starts. More likely, they’re a year and a veteran away from the playoffs. I’ll guess 32-37 wins.
9. Detroit Pistons: Best case scenario is that Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond are a modern day lob city, with Reggie Jackson serving as CP3. I did like the Glenn Robinson signing, and they got better on the wing with Khyri Thomas and Bruce Bowen in the draft. Not sure what to make of Stanley Johnson after three uninspiring seasons. He’s only 22 years old, and I wouldn’t give up on him. The talent is there to win 40 games, but I’ll project about 36.
10. Cleveland: With Kevin Love leading the way, this is probably a 30-35 win team … or what the Timberwolves were in Love’s prime. But it’d be smart to trade him and go full tank. (In that scenario, Collin Sexton will probably make 1st team All-Rookie.) The bad: This was the oldest team in the NBA playoffs. The good: Maybe guys like George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and JR Smith play better without the pressure of pleasing LeBron.
11. Charlotte: After they trade Kemba Walker, you’re looking at a core of Malik Monk (20), Miles Bridges (20) … and what do you do with Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller? Marvin Williams has a bad contract. Tough to unload Nic Batum. Years of bad drafts are catching up with Michael Jordan. Good luck, Mitch Kupchak. Feels like 30 wins.
12. Brooklyn: They’re too young to make a run at a playoff spot, but I actually like a bunch of players they have. If D’Angelo Russell can stay healthy, maybe he can shoot straight. He is only 22. Keeping Joe Harris was smart. Jarrett Allen quietly had a strong rookie year (8.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, only 20 years old). Spencer Dinwiddie played well enough that Jeremy Lin’s probably not coming back. I’ll guess 30 wins.
13. New York Knicks: The toughest part of this prediction is the health of Kristaps Porzingis, who may miss the entire season due to injury. I did like the addition of David Fizdale, and the signing of Mario Hezonja. Kevin Knox could one day be a very good player, but he’s only 18. Feels like a 5th straight season of 32 or fewer wins. I’ll guess 29.
14. Atlanta: After they unload Dennis Schroder, you’re looking at a starting lineup of Trae Young (19), Kent Bazemore (if they can’t trade him, and they’re trying), Taurean Prince, John Collins (20) and Dewayne Dedmon. It’ll be a stunner if they win 25 games.
15. Orlando: If you want to be excited about Mo Bamba and retaining Aaron Gordon, great. I would be, too. (I have no idea what to make of Jonathan Isaac after just 27 games.) But with no point guard, this is a 20-25 win team. Silver lining: I like Jonathon Simmons!
Westgate has released new odds for next year’s NBA Championship:
Warriors – 10/11
Lakers – 7/2
Celtics – 7/2
Rockets – 7/1
Sixers – 14/1
Cavaliers – 500/1