1. Cleveland Cavaliers
-No surprises here. LeBron loves himself some Eastern conference basketball. He should march his Cavs right back to the Finals.
2. Atlanta Hawks
-The Hawks weren’t a fluke last year. Their talent doesn’t come close to the Cavs, but team basketball still wins plenty of games. Despite losing DeMarre Carroll, the Hawks still return with their cast of all-stars.
-If Fred Hoiberg is a decent coach and Derrick Rose can get through a week of basketball, the Bulls should find themselves right near the top of the East. Jimmy Butler should continue to improve as he slowly becomes the team’s leader.
4. Boston Celtics
-Boston has improved every year under Coach Brad Stevens, and there’s no reason to believe it will stop, especially with the addition of former All-Star and champion David Lee.
-Miami’s starting five looks great on paper, but there are plenty of question marks heading into the season. Hassan Whiteside needs to show he’s matured, and does Dwayne Wade even have knees at this point?
6. Washington Wizards
-The loss of Paul Pierce will hurt, but Washington should still be competitive. Otto Porter is a year better, and the backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal may be the best in the East.
-Toronto may not deliver in the playoffs, but they’ll still be respectable in the regular season. The last couple playoff spots are up for grabs, but the Raptors should be able to make the tournament.
8. Milwaukee Bucks
-The Bucks took advantage of the weak conference last year, and were able to inch their way up to the sixth seed. And despite a better looking roster, they still lack the structure,talent and experience to make much noise in the East.
-With Paul George returning and the addition of Monta Ellis, the Pacers will be in the playoff hunt the entire season. But with the loss of Roy Hibbert and David West, nobody will be surprised if they fail to make the playoffs for the second year in a row.
10. Orlando Magic
-The Magic have a promising young core, and should compete for one of the last two playoff spots. But with little experience, expect them to fall short.
-The Hornets have Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker finally healthy to go along with the addition of Nicolas Batum. But their talent level still doesn’t bring them over the top.
12. New York Knicks
-Phil Jackson should have stuck with coaching. The best case scenario for New York is winning 30 games, and even that is a stretch.
-All the bad trades and stupid contracts are finally catching up with Brooklyn. Their slow and painful decline towards the bottom of the Conference has begun.
14. Detroit Pistons
-The Pistons have been in the cellar of the East for a while, and the loss of Greg Monroe doesn’t help. Detroit should be more focused on the draft lottery than the playoffs.
15. Philadelphia 76ers
-Jahlil Okafor should show some promise, but Philly is still years away from being relevant.
-Golden State didn’t have a flashy off-season, but they’re still the best team in the NBA. Their young core should only get better, so don’t be surprised if they bring another championship to the Bay.
2. San Antonio Spurs
-San Antonio landed top free agent LaMarcus Aldridge, which should highly rejuvenate their aging core. If Kawhi Leonard can finally become that X-factor come playoff time, watch out.
-The Thunder are loaded with talent, but they still have to prove themselves after missing the playoffs last year. Questions also remain over whose team it is, after Durant watched Westbrook dominate for most of the season.
4. Houston Rockets
-Despite reaching the Conference Finals last year and adding Ty Lawson, the Rockets still aren’t a legitimate championship contender. They will be competitive, but don’t expect Harden or Howard to come up big in the playoffs.
-Will this be the year that Chris Paul can finally make it past the second round? No. They’re very lucky to have stolen DeAndre Jordan back from Dallas, but let’s not forget he’s at odds with CP3 and still can’t hit a free-throw.
6. New Orleans Pelicans
-The hiring of Coach Alvin Gentry should only help Anthony Davis ascend to the top tier of players. The West is still insanely competitive, but the Pelicans will be a team to reckon with.
-With no significant acquisitions this off-season, the Grizzlies should decline. But their gritty style will always make them tough to play.
8. Dallas Mavericks
– Dallas may have missed on DeAndre, but they still have Dirk and even though he’s getting older, the Mavs still have enough talent around him to scratch out the final playoff spot.
-The Suns had a productive offseason and always seem to be competitive. Look for them to be in the hunt for the eight seed.
10. Utah Jazz
-The Jazz finished strong last year, going 19-10 after the All-Star break. They have a young, improving core, but are still a year away from seeing the playoffs
-If everything breaks right for Minnesota, they can win a championship in five years. But they won 16 games last season, so let’s not get carried away.
12. Sacramento Kings
-Sacramento keeps proving that they’re one of the most dysfunctional franchises in the league. Bringing in Rajon Rondo may or may not solve that problem. (It won’t).
-If Kobe Bryant “leading the young guys” means continuing to take 25 shots a game, then by all means lead the young guys to the bottom of the conference.
14. Portland Trail Blazers
-The Trail Blazers lost four of their five starters last year, and have an average age of 25. Good luck in the lottery.
-The Nuggets may try to unload their veterans midway through season as they fully embrace the rebuild.
Contact Andrew Slap at firstname.lastname@example.org.