The Miami Heat topped the Eastern Conference in ‘22-’23, but their path to another NBA Finals appearance has grown a bit more complicated this offseason.
The Heat’s first round victim, the Milwaukee Bucks, have reshaped their roster following a blockbuster three-team trade that netted them seven-time NBA All-Star Damian Lillard. The trade notably cost them their starting point guard and defensive ace Jrue Holiday, yet Lillard’s elite ability to create his own shot addresses one of the biggest weaknesses of Milwaukee’s roster.
Following the Lillard trade, the Boston Celtics, whom Miami beat in the Eastern Conference Finals, wound up landing the two-time NBA All-Star Holiday via the Portland Trail Blazers. Boston also acquired one-time NBA All-Star Kristaps Porzingis last June which simultaneously solidified their front court and improved their perimeter shooting.
The Bucks now have four players with at least one NBA All-Star appearance on their roster in Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Brook Lopez. The Celtics, on the other hand, have five as Holiday, Porzingis, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Al Horford have all participated in the NBA All-Star game over their respective careers.
The wealth of star power on the rosters of Milwaukee and Boston has inevitably established this pair of teams as the Eastern Conference’s favorites heading into the new season.
Meanwhile, the Heat’s failed attempt to trade for Lillard has left their team relatively intact. What they may lack in star power is made up for by their continuity as Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are expected to be at the forefront of their attack together with Tyler Herro and Caleb Martin.
It will be a challenge for Miami to duplicate their run to the NBA Finals in the upcoming campaign, but the grit that they showed in this past postseason should serve as a reminder that it is never wise to count this team out.
The Philadelphia 76ers are another team that could be a dark horse in the East, though their chances are contingent on the resolution of their rift with their 10-time NBA All-Star James Harden. The presence of reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid means that the Sixers have a chance to win each and every night, yet their roster must be maximized if they are to be considered legitimate contenders.
Though Harden is already 34 years old, he remains a deadly playmaker and a potential All-NBA player if he can remain healthy over a full season. Philadelphia must act fast in resolving this situation–whether that means trading Harden or making peace with him–in order to shift the focus of the team from their off-court drama to producing on-court results.
Aside from the aforementioned four teams, the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks could make a leap and join the East’s elite this season. Like Miami, they have remained relatively intact and their familiarity with one another should benefit them.
The Cavaliers have a wealth of young talent surrounding four-time NBA All-Star Donovan Mitchell and finished fourth in the East following the regular season. If any of Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen can take another leap this year, they could conceivably move up a tier and challenge for a top three seed.
The same can be said for the Knicks who made a surprise appearance in the Eastern Conference Semifinals after upsetting Cleveland in the first round. Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett are rolling into the season for New York with added experience from last month’s FIBA World Cup. It will be interesting to see if they can parlay this momentum into a maiden NBA All-Star appearance this year.
The ever-changing landscape of the East is set to become one of the main storylines of this upcoming season as these teams battle it out in what looks like a wide-open race. The Bucks and Celtics have the big names, while the Heat, Cavaliers, and Knicks have the advantage of continuity on their side. The Sixers’ season depends heavily on the outcome of this Harden affair and they are going to be the wild card in this battle.
This season is all set to be an entertaining one and it will be exciting to see how it all plays out over in the East.