NBA 2019-2020 Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions
By: Ryan Stein
The dust has mostly settled for this year's free agency, with the majority of difference makers already having determined their team for the upcoming season. While there are a few trade targets that could make somewhat of an impact for a potential new squad, such as Chris Paul and Goran Dragic, there aren't any true stars expected to move at this point. With that said, here are my predictions for how the Eastern Conference will shake out this in terms of seeding this upcoming season. Predictions for the Western Conference will be coming out later this week.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
Malcolm Brogdon is a significant loss for the Bucks, and Wesley Matthews' arrival won't be enough to offset that loss. Milwaukee's chemistry and Batman-Robin duo of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, as well as their sharpshooting Brook Lopez, will still be enough to lock up the conference's top spot.
2. Philadelphia 76ers
It's hard to tell how this team will perform until they've played some games, but they will almost certainly be a top-3 seed next year. Losing Jimmy Butler means they don't have a solidified crunch time scorer. Getting back a solid wing player in Josh Richardson, as well as veteran big man Al Horford, helps, but this team will have to learn how to play together before they can compete with Milwaukee. JJ Redick's departure also puts a large dent in this team's ability to shoot 3-pointers, something they will have to address during the season.
3. Indiana Pacers
Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb will be excellent fits next to incumbent All-Star Victor Oladipo when he eventually returns from injury. While the ceiling of this team isn't as high as some of the other teams in the East, the players on the Pacers all know their roles and play them perfectly.
4. Boston Celtics
The Celtics aren't as talented as they were last year, but it's a near-certainty that team chemistry will be much improved over last year. Replacing Kyrie Irving with Kemba Walker was as good of a move as Boston could have hoped for, as Walker's leadership and sincerity represent a stark contrast from Irving. Losing Horford will hurt quite a bit, but Enes Kanter was a solid pickup that took an under-market deal. Don't expect Boston to be Finals contenders unless Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown make significant leaps.
5. Toronto Raptors
The reigning NBA Champions took a huge hit when Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard fled Canada for the Clippers. Outside of Leonard and Danny Green, the Raptors still have their core intact, and Pascal Siakam indicated throughout the season that he's ready to lead his own team.
6. Miami Heat
Grabbing Jimmy Butler was a big-time move by Pat Riley, but it's still not enough to vault the Heat into the top 4 of the East. Miami is still likely to deal point guard Goran Dragic, and if they trade him in for someone like Chris Paul, they could move up a couple spots. Until then, this team's ceiling is a second round exit.
7. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets will be legitimate championship contenders...in 2020 when Kevin Durant comes back from injury. Kyrie Irving hasn't yet proven he can lead a team to notable success, with last year's Celtics actually performing worse than they had in the previous year when he wasn't in the lineup. Brooklyn still has some solid pieces around Irving for this upcoming season, with Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, and DeAndre Jordan being solid role players that will help bring New York's best team into the playoffs.
8. Orlando Magic
The Magic didn't really get much better this offseason, outside of signing 3-and-D player Al-Farouq Aminu. They are still a probably playoff team, if the second half of last season is any indication. Nikola Vucevic's new deal was an expensive yet necessary deal for Orlando to maintain any kind of relevance.
9. Detroit Pistons
While the Pistons did get better after signing Derrick Rose, he won't be enough to bring the team to the playoffs for the second year in a row. Rose and Blake Griffin are a dangerous tandem, but both are also excessively injury-prone, which drops Motor City's team down the Eastern Conference ladder.
10. Atlanta Hawks
This may look like a too-high spot for the youthful Hawks, but you only have to look at the remaining unmentioned Eastern Conference teams to understand. Trae Young and John Collins are stars in the making, and De'Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish should become great fits next to those two if they develop properly. If player development is ahead of schedule, don't be shocked if they are knocking on the door of the playoffs.
11. Washington Wizards
John Wall will miss this season, but Bradley Beal has already established himself as the alpha dog of the Wizards. Unfortunately, Washington just doesn't have enough talent around Beal to make any noise. Hoping for Isaiah Thomas to reclaim his basketball abilities Space Jam-style isn't realistic at this point, and Rui Hachimura was a puzzling pick for the floundering franchise.
12. Chicago Bulls
Chicago made some solid moves, signing veteran forward Thaddeus Young and oversized point guard Tomas Satoransky. If Lauri Markkanen and Coby White show some real chemistry this season, Bulls fans can count on a future of playoff appearances - just not this year.
13. New York Knicks
The Knicks seem to be a broken franchise. Despite residing in the biggest market in the world and calling the most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, their home, they can't seem to attract any star players. After whiffing on players like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, and Kemba Walker, the hapless Knicks had to settle for overpaying for the services of Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, and Marcus Morris...yep, those are all power forwards. Still, New York did add some talent, and should theoretically be better than the league-worst rate at which they played last season.
14. Charlotte Hornets
Michael Jordan may be considered by most (not us) to be the greatest basketball player ever, but he is also one of the worst owners in the NBA. The Hornets have some awful contracts on their books, but mercifully they will be relieved of some of those deals following the upcoming season. Outside of Miles Bridges and maybe PJ Washington, this team does not have any real promise. Overpaying for Terry Rozier won't overcome the immense loss of Kemba Walker.
15. Cleveland Cavaliers
This team just doesn't have much NBA-level talent. Kevin Love is still an All-Star player and Collin Sexton was solid last season, but there's not enough firepower for Cleveland to win any more than 20 games. Darius Garland was the best player available for the Cavaliers to draft, but his fit next to Sexton is iffy at best.
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