The Eastern Conference has been a punchline for years, and rightfully so. Recently, there have only been two or three teams that could consistently play at high level while the bottom of the conference fought for lottery position. It's way too early in the new season to draw any type of concrete conclusions, but it seems like the East came to play this year.
Where did this mini-turnaround come from?
The NBA is a players league and that will never change, but the number one reason the East is finally playing respectable basketball is coaching.
Here in Detroit, we see first hand the difference a confident and competent coaching staff can make. Before Stan Van Gundy showed up, there was a revolving door at head coach, and the team's record reflected that.
Detroit isn't the only franchise, however, that is seeing a noticeable difference.
Brad Stevens was seemingly a college coach lifer as he turned a mid-major Butler Bulldogs program into a national contender. In the summer of 2013, Stevens shockingly accepted the position as head coach of the Boston Celtics. Many thought the young coach (then 37) was in over his head. Last year, Stevens led a less than impressive (even by the East's standards) roster to the seventh seed of the playoffs. Although they were swept by Cleveland, the Celts earned the league's respect. While he's easily considered one of the best X's and O's guys out there, his coaching style relies a ton on preparation and analytics. Boston is rebuilding and even without a notable "star" they can compete with anyone.
Jason Kidd went immediately from retirement as a player to head coach of the Brooklyn Nets. After a 9-19 start to the 2013-14 season, Kidd led the veteran team to a 44-38 finish. After just one season in Brooklyn, he took the gig in Milwaukee to lead a franchise drenched in mediocrity. The Bucks proved to be one of the league's biggest surprises last year totaling 41 wins, just one year removed from an NBA-worst 15. The 2015-16 Bucks are no doubt a flawed team but the core is talented enough to make noise.
Using defense as a calling card, Scott Skiles turned the Baby Bulls of the mid-2000s into a playoff team and directed the Bucks to their first winning season in seven years in 2010. Now he's been tasked with leading the young Orlando Magic. The roster is filled with 25-and-under talent that needs direction, and Skiles will be sure to give it to them. Currently sitting at 3-5, the Magic have already had three heart-breaking losses: in overtime to Oklahoma City and Houston, and a one-point loss to Washington. If nothing else this team will play hard.
To succeed in professional basketball, nothing is as important as talent, however, the right coaching staff can change the culture of a loser and elevate the ceiling of a winner. Add coaches like Mike Budenholzer (Atlanta Hawks), Frank Vogel (Indiana Pacers), Erik Spoelstra (Miami Heat), Steve Clifford (Charlotte Hornets) and our very own Van Gundy, and the East is poised for a lasting turnaround.
Nov. 11: Indiana Pacers @ Boston Celtics
After beating Detroit for their first win of the year last week, the Pacers also recorded victories at home against the Celtics, Heat and Magic.
Nov. 13: Charlotte Hornets @ Chicago Bulls
Chicago has been up and down all season including a blowout loss to Charlotte last week. The Bulls continue to tinker with their lineups and might put Joakim Noah back in the starting unit.
Nov. 14: Cleveland Cavilers @ Milwaukee Bucks
Despite being loaded with injuries, the Cavs keep cruising. LeBron is LeBron but having (re-acquired) Mo Williams,averaging nearly 15 points and six assists per game, while Kyrie Irving rehabs his knee is a nice addition.
Nov. 17: Milwaukee Bucks @ Washington Wizards
Bradley Beal is back on the injury report with a contusion to his shoulder. It doesn't seem serious but with Beal, you never know.
News and notes
The Mario Chalmers era has come to an end in Miami. The Heat are finalizing a deal to send Chalmers to the Memphis Grizzles in exchange for Beno Udrih and Jarnell Stokes.
Toronto Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll is dealing with plantar fasciitis in his foot and has already missed time due to the issue. Not good for the Raptors as this condition typically lingers until rested for an extended amount of time.
In good news: Jahlil Okafor of the Philadelphia 76ers recorded his first double-double of his career with 21 points and 15 rebounds on Monday vs. Miami. Undrafted point guard T.J McConnell continues to impress as he's grabbed a starting spot and had assist totals of 12, 12, 9, 8 and 5 in his last five games. The bad news: The 76ers are 0-7.